Lorillard River

Submitter & Author Information
Route submitted by: 
Brian Johnston
Trip Date : 
Route Author: 
Brian Johnston
Additional Route Information
220 km
14 days
Loop Trip: 
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
Total Portage Distance: 
0 m
Longest Portage: 
4000 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Lake Travel: 
Not applicable
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Route Description
Access to Put-In Information: 

We took commercial scheduled air flights from Winnipeg to Baker Lake (the hamlet). From Baker Lake our air charter is with Ookpik Aviation to the Lorillard River. It’s a single otter (DHC-3, C-FPE).


Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

Lorillard River, Nunavut

My 3 week Lorillard River canoe trip in 2011 was shortened to 220 km over 2 weeks. More on that later. 

The Lorillard River runs southeast from near Brown Lake, south of Wager Bay and east of the Quoich River, to Chesterfield Inlet, ending at Daly Bay.


The Lorillard River has intrigued us for some time. Water Survey of Canada data shows peak run-off during the month of July and minimal flows the rest of the year, think of a flat line graph. We should have sufficient water to paddle the river although we know of no previous canoe expeditions.

We plan to descend the Lorillard until we approach within 20 km of Hudson Bay, then head over to the Connery River via some tundra ponds, and continue to work our way towards Chesterfield Inlet via the Sagvaqjuaq River. In doing so, we will avoid canoeing on much of the coastline (and dealing with tides, exposed to winds, salt water on equipment, lack of fresh drinking water, migrating polar bears). In the end we will have to paddle to Severn Harbour/Hanbury Island and cross over to the South side of Chesterfield Inlet, before paddling in to the Hamlet of Chesterfield Inlet.

Human and Natural History. The Lorillard River was explored by U.S. Army Lt. Frederick Schwatka of Salem Oregon on behalf of the American Geographical Society, 1878—1880. He named the river after one of his benefactors, a founder of the Lorillard Tobacco Company, as well as Winchester Inlet and Daly Bay. 

Schwatka went up-river by dog team, overland to the Brown River, down the Hayes River, and onward to King William Island returning via the Back River, Meadowbank River, and Quoich River. 

It is worth noting that Schwatka hired and travelled with native families and followed their customary ways of travel during his entire expedition. It was reported in 1880 that the expedition comprised "the longest sledge journey ever made both in regard to time and distance" of eleven months and four days and 2,709 miles (4,360 km) and that it was the first Arctic expedition on which the whites relied entirely on the same diet as the Inuit. 

We have not found accounts of anyone going downstream. There are reports of Inuit previously living near the mouth of the river. Polar bears may come inland so we will bring two shotguns and an electric bear fence for camping along the Hudson Bay/Chesterfield Inlet coast. A few years ago some mining companies conducted geological exploration activities along upper stretches of the river and we may find the remnants of the exploration camp. The area is said to have plenty of wildlife and we expect to see wolves, caribou, fox, seals and birds of prey. The Melville Penninsula Caribou herd inhabits the area. The Qamanirjuag, Lorillard, Wager Bay heads.

The Trip. We took commercial scheduled air flights from Winnipeg to Baker Lake (the hamlet). Baker Lake, the body of water, was mostly iced over but the Kazan and Thelon Rivers were open. 

After we landed I noticed right away that one of the passengers was checking his cell phone. Cell coverage in Baker Lake—the North is changing fast. We check into Baker Lake Lodge—wireless connection is available although none of us had anything to connect.

We mail the gun case to Chesterfield Inlet, the terminus of our canoe trip and from where we fly commercial air back to Winnipeg.

From Baker Lake our air charter is with Ookpik Aviation to the Lorillard River. It’s a single otter (DHC-3, C-FPE). We fly over the Prince River, and the other river the Quoich, up the East branch—it looked superb with lots of landing sites above Lurch Lake. Some snow banks still melting and some ice on the bigger lakes. Up over the height of land—rock and no sand landings, and then the huge esker-landing site appeared, complete with a mining tent camp. The site is called Nanuq, a known landing site for Peregrine Diamonds Ltd. but unknown to us. In hindsight, we had read about it but never connected the dots. We assemble our PakCanoes. 

There was much apprehension due to the known nature of the river. After one day of paddling I can affirm that the nature of the river is proving to be ideally suited for canoeing!

Shortly before lunch we were treated to the wildlife channel, caribou on both sides of the river, approximately a dozen swam right in front of us, across the river, followed by another couple of dozen, a repeat event. Early in the morning we had seen another herd of twelve caribou.

The afternoon proved to be mostly sunny and the wind continued to blow us downstream. With river current our GPS had us moving over 10 km/h, drifting at 6 km/h. It really was a downhill ride designed for canoes. 

We stopped to check our first rock cairn sighting—a simple large base with a single smaller maker stone on top. On the top of the mound or hill there was a possible kayak stand.

You could see lake trout and arctic char in the eddy pool as well as grayling.  

I can hear a sand hill crane and now a passing loon. The odd caribou or pair of caribou are sauntering past our camp.

Caribou in camp before leaving—approximately 50 strong. Lots of current, CII, etc., CIII before lunch.

We put up the bug tent (aptly christened The Lorillard Lounge) for the first time because there were a few mosquitoes.

A relaxing hour of pancake frying complete with a double round of coffee and tea. We tried to draw in a lone male caribou that was watching us eat. 

On the water we were racing downstream because of the strong current, past cliffs at the corner rapid. Sik sik, wolf, golden eagle, bank swallows, ptarmigan—a morning of wildlife.

Took-out on the island to scout the rapids. RR was a couple of short drops, with current and rapids between. RL was a long continuous CIII that ended as a CIV or boulder fan drop. 

We opted to portage approximately 1 km RR. It was about 15 minutes each way, with a family of ptarmigan and chicks en route.

We noticed a real change in the vegetation today, lots of dwarf birch and even the odd willow. After supper and hot drink we returned to portage the canoes. The wind had dropped to the point of wearing head-nets and gloves for the portaging.

To our surprise we arrived at a mini canyon. Listening to the canyon falls. The views and area is breathtaking. There are several flat on the ground nests and a large raptor nest on the opposite canyon wall.

Lunch at noon with a young caribou and a couple of ptarmigans, in summer colours. Dark rain clouds around but only a light drizzle on us. Very smooth and flat shield rock in this area. Poor camping potential. Also rocky hills. 

I stood at the edge feeling the mist off the powerful rapid. White puffy clouds far off in the distance hiding behind the dark hills. Eating juicy and sweet cranberries off the tundra (from last year but absolutely fabulous—quite unbelievable). 

We patched a canoe hull and sidewall holes. We used a lighter as well as a pot with boiling water in it to reheat the vinyl glue once applied to the canoe and patch. I have yet to check on the results at the end of the day but I’m very optimistic. 

There were a couple of tent rings, cairns, and caches plus the sweetest and juiciest south facing sun-ripened cranberries—just unreal!

Camped at 5 p.m. RL on the lake like section. We are not the first to overnight here as there are half a dozen old tent rings at the site. 

I hiked and returned quickly when the clouds looked like rain. In the tent to wait out a short but hard rain with a howling wind. 

Our first day with black flies. Supper cooking under the tarp with bugs a galore! Eating in the wind on footstool boulders and shield rock. A seal visited us at supper.

Kite aerial photography—kite and camera up—had a difficult time retrieving it as later in the evening the wind gained force. 

With the diverse weather conditions it seems like several days all in one. A beautiful evening, sun sparkling off the lake-like river, silhouetted island, wet granite glistening in the low evening light with long shadows, bug free in the wind as small waves lap at the shoreline. 

The wind howled all night, ripping and roaring at the tent, flapping continuously and endlessly. It was loud and ceaselessly. I woke having worried incessantly all night about the wind. 

I rocked down the tent snow skirt or ground cloth as well as the pegs. It was going to be a long day of wind. Our tent site is fully exposed to the wind. Time to read and sleep—weather bound. 

Awake. No change in the weather—still being torn apart by the wind. Temperature okay. Going nowhere fast. Time for some lunch. 

Back in the tent for more reading and sleeping, then baking muffins. There are several Classic food items on this trip—potato pancakes, mousse desserts, muffins with jam & honey. You have to love that.

A day off wind and sun burning of the face and lips is most welcome!

Several seals surprised us with spectacular splashes and popped their noses and heads up to check us out. 

We stopped at the remains of the water survey station—door on the ground, floor platform, three fuel drums, etc. Not much but nevertheless a bit of a mess on the barrenlands. Lots of Inuit stone markers all around.

Tomorrow the plan is to exit the river and start our overland river hopping adventure. Tundra ponds, upstream, portaging, and the like. More known unknowns. 

There are numerous Inuit stone markers and structures on the ridges near our campsite.

We had a polar bear stalking us. We shot off a pen flare and a shotgun shell to scare off the polar bear. We camped with our electronic bear fence, circling our three tents. We also placed steel cooking pots with rocks in them on top of the food packs. The bear returned so we packed up camp. The bear was swimming and we were rock throwing, yelling, pot banging, etc. and set off another pen flare bear banger before it returned to swim across the river, where it assumed a waiting and watching position in the water, snorkelling back and forth. 

We were very concerned at this point. It had moved stealthily. We decided to call the local conservation office for advice and then made a dash downstream to Daly Bay, abandoning our trip plan of paralleling the coast by tundra pond hopping and instead ending our trip early via a boat shuttle to the hamlet Chesterfield Inlet. 

It was an incredible day of views and whitewater.

The long continuous whitewater runs continued as we descended, including one short portage RL at the end of the lake island before Daly Bay. Surprisingly there were additional rapids as we continued towards Daly Bay. We ran all from on the water scouting. It was real whitewater festival of scouting and running on the fly. 

Daly Bay was obviously salt water and the tide was coming in. 

By satellite phone we had arranged for a boat pick up at two old cabins. We quickly packed up and dismantled the Pakcanoes. Our transportation was a freighter canoe and a Zabfab (an aluminum boat). Calm seas and no wind. 

The boat shuttle ride was about 3 hours of cool air and a cold ocean chilled aluminum floor—all with wet or damp feet. At the Chesterfield dock we arrived a bit frozen to the bone. 

Chesterfield Inlet is a friendly place with visitors dropping by to say hello and waves from passing persons. The traditional Inuktituk name for this Chesterfield Inlet is Igluligaarjuk, which means “place with few houses.” We witnessed the annual sea lift arrive with the year’s supply of goods before flying onward to Winnipeg. 

In short, the trip was spectacular, with plenty of caribou, great weather, etc. The Lorillard was a gem of a river with interesting history as well as scenic canyons, rolling hills, plenty of hiking, and stretches of challenging and fun moving water interspersed with a number of short portages around big drops. There were also a few long lake-like sections, and the lower river beheld an amazing collection of Inuit sites, tent rings of entire villages, meat caches, kayak rests and so on. The route had plenty of wildlife and we saw wolves, caribou, fox, seals and birds of prey. 

After our close call with the polar bear we felt sad to have to leave the tundra early but we did not wish to risk another run-in with a polar bear along the coastline so we decided to hire a boat shuttle out instead of canoeing out and thus shortened the trip.