Tuesday, September 13, 2016


View from Nunavut Canada

"[We] go out into the void spaces of the world for various reasons. Some are actuated simply by a love of adventure, some have the keen thirst for scientific knowledge, and others again are drawn away from the trodden paths by the lure of 'little voices,' the mysterious fascination of the unknown." -Sir Ernest Shackleton

Nunavut, or ᓄᓇᕗᑦ as it is written in the Canadian Inuit language of Inuktitut, is the newest official Territory of Canada. As a kid, I remember fondly looking at maps of Canada for hours. One of things I remember was that Northern Canada was always just the "Yukon" and "Northwest" Territories.

This all changed around the turn of the century however. On April 1st, 1999, the Nunavut Act and the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement Act were signed, splitting the Northwest Territories up, resulting in an entirely new Territory: Nunavut. (As a side note, in 2001, the province of Newfoundland was officially renamed/rebranded to "Newfoundland and Labrador" as well).

Some interesting wikipedia points about Nunavut: Nunavut is the largest, northernmost, and least populated of all Canadian territories. Its vast territory makes it the fifth-largest country subdivision in the world, as well as the North America's second-largest (after Greenland...if included in North America). Nunavut is one of the world's most remote, sparsely settled regions, it has a population of 31,906, mostly Inuit, spread over an area of just over 1,750,000 sq. km (680,000 sq mi), the size of Western Europe. Nunavut is also home to the world's northernmost permanently inhabited place, Alert. A weather station farther down Ellesmere Island, Eureka, has the lowest average annual temperature of any Canadian weather station.

Basic political map of Nunavut

I've spent some considerable time reading up on this wonderful new Territory of Canada, and what I've discovered, is that the entire existence of it gets very complicated...particularly when it comes to the specific ways in which the border is drawn, as well as who makes claims to various parts of the land, and/or which parts have some level of self-autonomy. At first glance of the southern border of Nunavut, one can plainly see that the new territory essentially contains all land within the Hudson, James, and Ungava Bays.

The official verbiage in the Nunavut Act states:
Establishment of Nunavut
There is hereby established a territory of Canada, to be known as Nunavut, consisting of 

1) all that part of Canada north of the sixtieth parallel of north latitude and east of the boundary described in Schedule I that is not within Quebec or Newfoundland and Labrador; and

2) the islands in Hudson Bay, James Bay and Ungava Bay that are not within Manitoba, Ontario or Quebec.

But what exactly do they mean by "not within Manitoba, Ontario, or Quebec"?

It gets weirder when you consider the Nunavut Land Claims Act which only lays Nunavut land claims to the Belcher Island group within the Hudson Bay and says nothing about the smaller islands within the James Bay. I'm not entirely clear where Google Maps gets its border information from, but I did not find any specifics to why certain parts of the border were drawn the way they were. What's more, is that I have no idea why some islands that are clearly within the James Bay, are shown as being on the Quebec side of the border if the Nunavut Act states "Islands within James Bay...", unless those specific islands were already considered "within Quebec".

Very crudely drawn southern border of Nunavut

Some interesting border anomalies of Nunavut Identified (see below)

Triple point between Nunavut, Quebec, and Newfound and Labrador

Some islands in Quebec and some in Nunavut

What seem to be arbitrary lines drawn separating Quebec and Nunavut.

Why is the border drawn like this? Shouldn't all islands be Nunavut?
Is it tide or glacial-isostasy related, maybe?

Actual areas A and B of land claimed by Nunavut. 
Notice that no islands within James Bay are identified.

To go one step further, I introduce the Cree Nation peoples of the region. Indigenous peoples in Canada exercise a certain level of autonomy. On July 7th, 2010, The Cree Nation of the Chisasibi region, signed an agreement with the Inuit peoples of Nunavut, giving the Cree land ownership/claim, stewardship, and ancestral rights to the islands within the James Bay (with a few exceptions discussed later). So from an administrative point of view, the islands are part of the Cree Nation, but territorially, they are still part of Nunavut and subject to territorial legislation. Here is a map showing the specific region and a website detailing the agreement: Cree sign Agreement for James Bay. Here is the official Government Agreement.

So in other words, the islands within James Bay ARE part of the Nunavut Territory, but not part of Nunavut Lands. Make sense? Not really...

This map shows the Nunavut islands covered by the Eeyou Marine Region Land Claims Agreement. Though they lie within the boundaries of the Nunavut territory, they do not lie within the boundaries of the Nunavut land claims settlement area. (source)

As an ardent geographile (geogrophile?), I am of course drawn like a moth to a flame to places like this. So, let's go down this rabbit hole even further. Specifically, the James Bay area of Quebec and Nunavut.

Northern Quebec is compromised of an enormous (750,000 sq. km) administrative region called Nord-du-Quebec.


As of 2012, within the Nord-du-Quebec, there were three regional municipalities (or TE's).  
  • The first one was called Kativik, comprising all land north of the 55th parallel and inhabited almost entirely by Inuit. This area north of 55, is also called Nunavik (not be confused with Nunavut the Territory of course).  Nunavik is home to the Inuit peoples of Quebec, and they have even petitioned for the own territory (and even have their own flag). It is a territory, just not a Canadian legislative Territory.
  • The second one was called Jamésie and comprised most of the remaining southern portion of Nord-du-Quebec excluding small Cree village areas.
  • The third TE, was called Eeyoo Istchee, and comprised the remaining small Cree Village areas.

On 24 July, 2012, the Quebec government signed a new accord combining the existing Jamesie and Eeyoo Istchee regions and forming a new municipality officially titled, the "Eeyou Istchee James Bay Territory".

So, what's all this have to do with me?  

You may remember back in 2014 when I posted about my little visit the the exclave of Province Point Vermont, that I had said I wanted to visit Nunavut without flying.  I had found a blog post from a couple of guys out of Boston, where the talked about how they went on a road trip up to Chisasibi Quebec, and then pack-rafted out to one of the nearby islands.  By doing this, they were able to visit Nunavut, almost entirely by car (and without flying).  

Well, I finally came up on a weekend where this was possible to do, but wanted to make absolutely sure that I was in fact going to be visiting Nunavut.  I was concerned that I would drive 2000 miles and due to some technicality over land claims, that I never actually would be setting foot within Nunavut.  This is how I came to read so much about Nunavut and the area in general.

From everything I read, even with all the Cree/Inuit land claims agreements, and the Eeyoo Marine Region (EMR) designation, the biggest reason for so much confusion comes down to ancestral land claims. These islands are very important to both the Cree and Inuit from a land and resources perspective, and they simply wanted to clear up land claims since those islands were never actually part of the Nunavut Land Claims.  So, like I stated above, Territorially (as in Canadian Territory), yes, the islands are part of Nunavut.  BUT, they are entirely administered by either the Cree or Inuit peoples.  An analogy might be if you visited a Sioux reservation in South Dakota.  While on the reservation, you'd be on Sioux Nation lands, but still within South Dakota.  Still....that left one very confusing issue unresolved.  Why are some islands included inside the Quebec border and others not? Could it maybe be related to tides?  Perhaps at lowest tide, some of those islands are connected to the mainland? Could it be glacially-related isostatic rebound of the land? (discussed a bit more later). The guys from Boston mentioned above visited the unnamed islands just off the coast near the boat launch in Chisasibi.  I was not content with the way that border was drawn by Google, so chose to make my destination something more certain.

Within the Indigenous Land Agreement mentioned above between Nunavut and the Cree and Inuit peoples, there are many specifics about where borders are drawn.  I was interested in the area around Chisasibi as that was my intended driving destination. Within this agreement there are mentions of two specific islands which to me, give authenticity to their existence within the Governmental territory of Nunavut.  These islands are Tiny Island and Grass Island.  

Within the Cree/Inuit offshore overlapping zone, the lower boundary is defined with a reference to Tiny Island.  The reference states:

Schedule 1 - Geographic Coordinates of the Cree/Inuit Offshore Overlapping Interests Area
The Cree/Inuit Offshore Overlapping Interests Area (Overlap Area), as illustrated on Schedule 1a and Schedule 5, includes all the marine areas, islands, lands and waters within the following boundary:
- Commencing at the boundary of Québec south of Chisasibi, as illustrated on Schedule 1a and Schedule 1b, at the intersection of 53°45'31"N latitude and approximate 79°04'56"W longitude;
- thence west following 53°45'31";N latitude to a point at the intersection of 79°06'55"W longitude, south of Tiny Island and north of locally known Aahchikuyaaniminishtikw Island;

The reference to Grass Island related to an Inuit claim. Within the Cree district, the Inuit asked for claims to a few specific islands (likely due to existing huts or properties on them). One of these specific claims is to Grass Island.  The text from the agreement reads:

Schedule 6 - Lands Selected by Nunavik Inuit in the Cree Zone
As illustrated in Schedule 6a, the following lands are selected by Nunavik Inuit:
- Grass Island (Aamishkushiiunikaach) of which the center is located at approximately 53°47'50"N latitude and approximate 79°06'40"W longitude;

Cree/Inuit Offshore overlapping area of interest

Official Southern Boundary of the Cree / Inuit Offshore Overlapping Interests Area
Specifically identifying "Tiny Island".

Grass Island identified as land selected by Inuit, but within the Cree Zone.


In order to satisfy both my curiosity, and my desire to "hit all the check boxes" on my trip to Nunavut, I decided that I would aim to pack raft out to both Tiny Island and Grass Island.  This way, not only would I be visiting the Canadian Legislative Territory of Nunavut, but I would also be visiting Cree lands of the Eeyou Istchee James Bay Indigenous Territory, and Inuit lands of the Nunavik (Kativik) Indigenous Territory.  Crazy complicated...but I was content with my plan, considering my only REAL goal was to visit Nunavut.

My intended destinations: Grass Island and Tiny Island. I was worried that the border to the nearby unnamed island might actually be part of Quebec

Video animation showing where Tiny Island is


So finally I get to the actual trip report. The short summary of my adventure was that it was mostly a success.  I say mostly, because while I did drive up to Chisasibi, AND packraft out to Tiny Island, I did NOT make it up to Grass Island. I probably could have, and maybe should have, but the waters were just too rough in my little packraft, and it was incredibly cold.  I was completely content to spend my time enjoying Tiny Island rather than spend an additional 2 hours rafting up to Grass Island and back. I was also getting tossed around like crazy in the raft in the high winds and with the high waves (and the water was probably about 40 degrees). The waters closer to the shore were very shallow, and there were many dangerous (read: sharp) rocks that were just below the surface as well.  These made me nervous with the pack raft.  I chose to spend more time on Tiny Island, and then hit the unnamed island on the return back to the boat dock (since it was essentially "on the way").  Impending rain and storms cut my entire venture short anyway, so I was glad I did not head up to Grass Island.  The other reason I chose not to fret about hitting Grass Island is that I do still have plans to visit Northern Nunavut (specifically Iqaluit, Pangnirtung, and the Asgard Mountain Range) sometime in the future.  This region is entirely Inuit administered.

Actual Packrafting Route completed

For planning purposes, I used Google Maps to determine the most direct route.  There really are only a couple of ways to drive up to Chisasibi, and I wasn't looking to do the several-hundred kilometer gravel "North Road". I chose to go the James Bay Road route. I knew my phone wouldn't work for navigation in Canada, so I borrowed a Garmin Nuvi in order to Navigate the roads up there.  It worked beautifully and never led me astray.  As I stated above to, I relied heavily on the trip report and photos from the guys out of Boston that did this trip a few years ago.

My driving route

There were a few things I knew for sure going into this trip:
  • I wanted to keep costs to an absolute minimum.
  • I didn't want to buy a packraft
  • I didn't want to put 2000 miles on my personal car
After some investigation, I found a company the rents out Alpacka pack rafts for relatively cheap (Packraft America).  The will mail you everything the day before your trip starts, and then you simply mail it all back the day after you get back.  They only charge you for the days OF your trip.  I had them send me a Yukon raft with a free paddle and PFD to arrive on Thursday.  I had it through Monday and it cost me something like 75 bucks. For reference, to buy the Yukon, would cost about 800 dollars.  Regarding the car.  I had 2 free days accrued with National Rental car, so booked a car out of Burlington Airport for 4 days (even though I'd only need 3).  The car cost me about 50 bucks and was a little roomier inside.  This meant I could set up my sleeping bag in the back with the seats down and have a wonderful dirtbagging tent/car.  I was worried with the vehicle being an SUV-style (Nissan Rogue) that it would get horrible gas mileage, but it had an "econo" button that greatly increased the mpg.  The performance suffered a bit, but I didn't care.  It was all about saving money and maximizing my miles. The James Bay Road (if you include the 80 km side road to Chisasibi), has a stretch of 700 total km (~430 miles) that I wanted to be able to do without stopping for gas.  There is a gas station within that stretch, but I had read that it wasn't always reliable.

Packraft....all packed

I left my apartment in Vermont mid-day on Friday and was checking out my Rental car in Burlington about 2 PM (I took the day off of work).  I parked my personal car in the long-term parking at the airport (cost 30 bucks for 3 days).  Right after leaving, I crossed the border into Quebec, informing the agent I would be camping and paddling in Northern Quebec.  I was through quickly, but then hit Montreal at the start of rush hour on a Friday. For those that don't know, Montreal has some of the worst traffic of any city in North America.  I remember reading a poll once that had it listed 2nd worst behind only Los Angeles.  It took well over an hour to make it across Montreal, but once I was headed north, it was smooth sailing. By the time I passed Mont-Tremblent, it was about 6 pm and the roads were getting very quiet.  At my first stop for gas around Mont Laurier, I learned quickly that English is not really spoken north of Montreal.  I fumbled my way through some French and continued on.  
Standing at my car in Quechee VT, about to start the drive...

Things went relatively smoothly for hours as I navigated my way through the town of  Val D'Or (Valley of Gold) and up through Amos.  When I hit the town of Matagami though, my focus entirely shifted.  Matagami is the last town with any services before starting the James Bay Road (Link to a great website about the James Bay Road).  After leaving this town, you have 610 straight kilometers without anything.  As I said before, there is a small gas station somewhere in that 610 kms, but I was worried it would not be open when I drove past (turns out it was though, but I still didn't want to wake the gas attendant up at 4 in the morning to fill up my tank in the cold rain).  My goal was to do all 610 kms on one tank.  Relying on getting over 400 miles on a tank is risky, so I planned ahead.  I brought a 3 gallon fuel canister with me and filled it in Matagami while I filled my tank.  I also filled with higher octane fuel as it does yield slightly better gas mileage. At this point, I was averaging about 31 miles per gallon, and I did get about 400 miles on my last tank.  With the extra 3 gallons, I knew I'd be good to go, unless something dramatically changed in my gas mileage.  I topped off my tank as high as it would go, and left Matagami just after midnight (with 3 extra gallons of fuel sealed up in the back).  As I turned on to the James Bay Rd, I took a picture of the "Km 0" sign.

The James Bay Rd was spooky and I was utterly alone.  The gas station attendant back in Matagami told me that there were many Moose accidents on the Rd so to be extremely cautious and careful.  The last thing I needed was to be stranded hundreds of miles from civilization in a moose-busted rental car.  I drove slowly, and the miles went by even slower.  I stopped a few times to eat some food and get in some quick naps.  I made it about 400 kms at about 4 am before I finally was succumbing to tired eyes.  I pulled over at a random pullout near the turn for the Trans Taiga Road, and slept in the back of the car for a couple hours.  It was surprisingly comfortable.

Here are some fun facts about the James Bay Road and the connected Trans-Taiga Road (source):
  • THE LONGEST SERVICE-FREE STRETCH OF ROAD IN CANADA : The 381 km (236 mile) stretch of the James Bay Road that is without services is the longest service-free stretch of road in Canada, and the second longest service-free stretch of road in North America! This is second only by a hair to the Dalton Hwy in Alaska, which has a 394 km (244 mile) stretch without services. The Dempster Hwy running from the Yukon to NWT in Canada has a stretch of 363 km (225 miles) without services.
  • THE FARTHEST FROM A TOWN ON A ROAD IN NORTH AMERICA : The end of the Trans-Taiga Road is 745 km (462 miles) from the nearest town, which is the farthest you can get by road from a town anywhere in North America
  • THE FARTHEST NORTH YOU CAN DRIVE IN EASTERN NORTH AMERICA: The end of the Trans-Taiga Road is the farthest north you can drive on a road in eastern North America.
  • THE LARGEST MUNICIPALITY IN THE WORLD : The Municipality of James Bay covers an area of 350,000 square kilometres (135,136 square miles), making it by far the largest municipality in the world!
Starting the James Bay Rd.

Spooky night driving down the James Bay Rd.

As the sun rose, I woke up and pushed onward. I put the three extra gallons of fuel in the car and my "miles to empty" were showing I'd make it all the way to Chisasibi.  If it got too close, I decided I would take the short detour into Radisson earlier.  When I actually made it to the turn off for Chisasibi though, my car was still registering that I had 85 miles to empty...with about 50 miles to go.  I decided to go for it and aimed straight for Chisasibi.  My gas light came on with a "25 miles to empty" warning just as I pulled into town at around 10 am.  I learned quickly that within the town, most of the residents speak English (as well as Cree).

Overcast morning in Northern Quebec

Finally made it to Chisasibi on fumes...and the sign was in English!

I poked around town for a bit, filled up my tank, and got some coffee.  It was a pretty quiet morning there.  With not much else to do, I headed straight out for the end of the road and the boat launch area.  Once I pulled up to the little picnic pavilion near the water, I immediately recognized it from pictures.  I was super giddy and pumped to get the packraft out.  It was about 50 degrees, but the winds were gusting quite nicely.  A quick glance out to the water and I could see that I'd be in for a bumpy, wet trip.

View from the end of the road.  The Unnamed Nunavut island can be seen out in the water.

Another view of the Unnamed Nunavut island.

View to the West with Tiny Island just barely visible

Pulling up my reference map on my laptop just before heading out.

Video from the "end of the road"

Using the inflator bag (orange) to blow up the raft

All inflated and ready to go...

Even comes with an inflatable seat and backrest!

Once the boat was all inflated, I put in off of the shore near the beach, pulled out my GPS, and made my way out to Tiny Island. It was incredibly rough, very wet, and took way longer than I was expecting.  The wind and waves were moving west-to-east, so it was a hard up-wind paddle against the current.  It took over 45 minutes to get out there and I had a lot of trouble navigating around shallow areas in the water....particularly near the shore.  There were several very pointy rocks just below the surface that made me nervous. I opted to loop slightly around off course to clear some of the shallow areas.

When I did finally pull up to Tiny Island, it felt amazing.  My long journey to my remote little island had come to an end.  I stepped out of the boat, and spent the next hour exploring around the entire island.  Even more so than when I was on Beaver Island in Isle Royale National Park, I felt completely and utterly alone...as if I was truly the only person on Earth.

Before leaving, I even cooked small meal with my stove and made a portable espresso while sitting back and enjoying the solitude of my little slice of land.  

Pushing off into the James Bay (and what is actually part of the Arctic Ocean)

Here we go...

Paddling frantically...

Distant view of Tiny Island behind a closer unnamed island

Looking back to the mainland

First view from the beach on Tiny Island

About to set foot in Nunavut!

Video from first steps in Nunavut!

In Nunavut!

Another view from the beach

Beautiful glacially sculpted gneiss

View South

View from top...some short taiga grass was sparsely growing on the island.

View West (you can just make out the small rock peninsula at the end of the island that was noticeably larger due to the low tide)

View looking out West

Some video reflection while on Tiny Island

Standing at the West end on the small rock peninsula looking back East

A decaying Polar Bear pelt was on the island...crazy!

View from the top of the island where there was a small pool of fresh water

Another beautiful view of the colorful gneiss

And another...

Probably one of the coolest panoramas I've ever taken

Another shot looking back East (packraft in view)

Probably my favorite photo from the island
(at southern point, packraft in view at top)

Official documentation part 1

Official documentation part 2

Enjoying a nice handpresso coffee on Tiny Island.
Good times. Good times indeed.

Video evidence of aforementioned espresso endeavor

After about an hour on the island, I noticed that the clouds were starting to look less than welcoming. This is when I made the command decision to abort my attempt up to Grass Island.  I knew it would easily take another hour at least to get up there, and then probably 2 to get back, so I just wasn't ready to be stuck way out in the bay with a huge rain storm possibly coming.  Honestly, I was also just cold and hungry too.  When I got in the raft to head back to the mainland, I instead decided to pop over quickly to the Unnamed Island since it was essentially "on the way" and the waters were much calmer within the little embayment cove (even if I was still unsure as to whether or not that Island was truly in Nunavut or actually in Quebec).  If the rains did come, I'd be a quick paddle away from my boat luanch area.  I guess I sort of thought of it as a little tribute to the Boston guys too, since it was their trip report that really pushed me over the edge to do this trip.  

Route taken during packrafting adventure
GPS Track: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1355422280

Heading over to the Unnamed island after leaving Tiny Island

Parked on the Unnamed Island

For reference, here is that same photo with Tiny Island identified to show scale of distances.

View over to the boat dock area

View from the other end of the Unnamed Island

More incredible geology.  Banded gneiss

And more...

And more....

Awesome glacial groove

Foot for scale....

On both islands, the Geology was simply amazing. The exposed bedrock was not only visibly smoothed over and covered with striae from the last glaciation, but the rock itself was ancient Canadian shield gneiss...upwards of 3-4 billion years old.  Honestly, these rocks are some of the oldest exposed bedrock on the planet.  I was like a kid in a candy store.  I walked around looking at the different rocks for over another hour, simply trying to identify them.  Some people love sedimentary geology like what you see at the Grand Canyon. For me, nothing gets me more excited than seeing exposed rock representing truly deep time.  Precambrian rock from billions of years ago when the Earth was at its youngest. The exposed rock on Tiny Island is definitely Archean in age, so between 2.5 and 4 billion years old.  Here is an awesome document detailing the geology of the area. From what I can tell, the units I was mostly seeing on the islands were monzonites and tonalitic gneisses. 

Beautiful (and complicated) geologic map of Quebec

Some samples from Tiny Island (Banded Gneiss)

I made it back to the mainland at about 4 o'clock local time and decided to go see if I could get a ferry ride over to Fort George Island.  I drove down the small access road and when I got to the "Ferry" dock, no one was around.  I came to find out later, that there is no longer a public ferry, but if you can find a local who has a boat, for a small "fee", they'll take you over.  I decided to move on and not pursue it.  I could have pack rafted over, but just wasn't feeling it. I went back in to town, and explored a little more, but decided it was simply time to start heading home.  I wanted to give myself time so that I had extra time for sleep on the drive back. I also wanted to try and drive up to Longue Pointe.  The Longue Pointe road is an extension from the Chisasibi road that takes you up a little further north to a very remote peninsula.  I was on the fence about whether or not I wanted to drive the extra 2 hours to get up there and back, but went to at least scope out the road.  The primitive gravel road was not labeled on my GPS and I couldn't remember exactly where it started, I only knew that it was associated with one of the dam roads.  When I got to what I thought was the dam road, there was a sign in clear French stating, "l'accès du public interdit"....in other words...public access prohibited.  I had assumed that the Longue Pointe road was no longer open to access other than the local Cree and the dam workers.  I was bummed, but decided to simply start heading home.  I came to find out after I got home that I was actually at the wrong road entrance for Longue Pointe and that instead I was trying to access the dam maintenance entrance. D'oh!  The road to Longue Pointe IS open to the public.  In retrospect, I wish I would have brought better directions or at least made a screen capture of the road intersection before leaving the US.  This was my only real mistake on this trip.  It would have been cool to hit the true "End of the road".

Still, I did get to hit the end of the James Bay Road though.  Upon arriving at the intersection with the road (50 miles out from Chisasibi), I turned North and headed into Radisson.  This way I knew I'd have a completely full tank AND my full 3 gallon spare canister.  I made sure to drive all the way to the very end of the road at KM 620, just before the gated section leading to the power plant area.  I zipped up the short 5km road over to Radisson from there and stocked up on gas and food at the service station.  

From there, I began the long ride home following the same route as the way up.  Not much to say about the return trip other than I had to stop three times for sleep breaks. The back of the Rogue was surprisingly comfortable with my air pad and sleeping bag fully laid out.  It rained for over 8 hours through the night along the James Bay Road making it a very slow slog.  There were many spots where the road had large puddles which wreaked havoc on the car at 60 mph.  It was constant vigilance all the way to Matagami...which is probably why I was so tired.  I did manage to make it the entire way without fueling again, but did have to use my 3 gallon reserve.  I arrived at the Matagami station with about 50 miles to empty.  Other than to sleep, I only stopped two other times on the James Bay Road.  Once to take some pictures of the Opinaca River, and once to say high to a very large Black Bear.

Rainy view of the Opinaca River

Very large black bear out for a stroll

The 3 gallon canister that made my trip so much easier

...and that pretty much ends this very long post.  I guess as a way to close it all out, I'll repost a response I gave to an inquiry about this trip.  Earlier, I posted to a reddit group related to strange and remote places, and weird border anomalies.  I was asked if I had any pointers/tips for a trip like this...and this was my reply in case you may also be thinking of doing it:

I guess I would say a few things about this trip. First off, it was totally worth it! I've been wanting to do this for over 3 years. I live up in New England, so the drive was about 1100 miles one way, but very straight forward.
  • Traffic through montreal was horrendous both ways. I was glad I had a car GPS that worked in Canada, as I didn't have a Canadian data plan on my iphone. 
  • I brought a small ~3 gallon fuel canister. By filling up completely in Matagami, I was actually able make it all the way to Chisasibi without having to fill up...but I DID have to pour in the 3 gallons extra. When I got to Chisasibi, my fuel gauge told me I had 30 miles to empty. The gas station in Chisasibi is only open like 9-5 and is full service. I tipped the guy like 10 bucks. There is a much larger station with groceries in Raddison if you don't want to risk making it all the way to Chisasibi, but going to Radisson is about 10 miles in the wrong direction (20 miles round trip)
  • I opted to rent a car instead of drive my own (From Burlington Airport). It cost like 70 bucks to rent a car for the weekend, and I got one that averaged over 30 mpg. The border agent coming back into the USA did ask to see the rental agreement, so have it handy.
  • Areas in the south of Quebec do speak English, but once you get up into the North country, it can help to know at least basic "gas station" French. Meaning, "hellos", "thank yous", "fill up on pump 3", "no, this is everything I want, thank you", or "any moose on the roads tonight?" etc. Once in Chisasibi, the Cree inhabitants speak English. I took years of French in high school and lived on-and-off in Montreal while my partner was doing a post-doc at McGill...so knew enough French to get by.
  • Rather than buy a 700 dollar packraft, I rented one from Packraft America. They ship it to you with everything and you just ship it back when you're done. It was like 60 bucks and worked out great.
  • Regarding my choice of destination. Here is my GPS track from my packrafting itself: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1355422280 You may notice there is actually an island closer to the end of the road that google maps places in Nunavut that I did also go to. I find that the border between James Bay (Nunavut) and Quebec seems a bit arbitrary. Some islands near the shore are labeled as part of Quebec, and some part of Nunavut. The closer island is unnamed, and the border loops around quite dramatically to include this island in Nunavut. It's because of this that I chose to raft out a little further to the first "named" island in the bay. There is actually an island called "Tiny Island" that's not only listed on Google Maps, but even identified by name in a Cree document on-line discussing land access to the islands. Interestingly enough, the Cree signed a treaty with the Nunavut government stating that while the islands along the Eastern coast of the James Bay are territorially Nunavut, that the Cree Nation will administer them and have land "ownership" to them. So it is a little bit of a grey area. 
  • Not sure I recommend doing the trip in a long weekend like I did, although if you are as into Geographical oddities and borderporn as I am, I know that many of you just might anyway. I literally started driving on Friday about 2 PM, and drove straight through the night and arrived in Chisasibi at 10 am Saturday morning. I slept maybe an hour in my car. On the drive back, I slept a bit more, but was pretty wrecked when I got home.
  • In retrospect, I wish I would have gone up to Longue Point. I had identified the access road incorrectly and instead thought the road was restricted to dam personnel only...so I skipped going up there. Turns out I had actually passed up the real road. It would have been cool to go up to the very "end-of-the-road" at Longue Point.
  • Lastly, I had been juggling various ideas on how to do this when I stumbled across these guys trip report. Turns out they did the same thing back in 2013 and it sealed the deal for me. I essentially went with a very similar approach to the trip as these guys did with the exception of rafting all the way out to Tiny Island and NOT driving the longer gravel road back home.

That's it...I hoped you enjoyed reading about my little trip to Nunavut as much as I enjoyed going there.  Here is my updated visited map for North America.  All that remains is Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Northwest Territories (A territory I was within 100 miles of when I drove up to Alaska back in 2003...yet didn't visit, D'oh!).

There is one last thing I'll leave you to ponder...

Since the retreat of the large Laurentide Ice sheet (from the last Ice Age) in Canada over 10,000 years ago, the area around James Bay has been uplifting significantly due to the disappearance of all the extra ice weight.  This area has been documented to be rising over 10 mm PER YEAR....yes you read that right.  So, in as little as a few hundred years, many of the islands will rise up several meters.  This is known as post-glacial isostatic adjustment (or rebound).  Several papers have been written about it, and most show that the area around James Bay is experiencing the largest rebound of any area in Canada. In one paper (found here), several scientist have actually modeled how much the land will uplift into the future.  Incidentally, within the next several hundred years, the James Bay will lift up so much, that many of the close islands like Tiny and Grass Islands, will no longer be islands at all, but rather land-bridged and connected right to the mainland.  So, does this mean they will then become part of Quebec?  Perhaps I didn't permanently visit Nunavut, but rather got a temporary Visa which will expire in ~500 years. Ponder that for a while...

Glacial rebound uplift rates in Canada
(source Sella et al., 2007)

Heat map showing the uplift rates.  Notice the James Bay area is over 10 mm/yr

Another map of GPS measurements showing the Chisasibi area with the largest uplift rates
(source Sella et al., 2007)


stevetursi said...

Amazing report, John! I love this kind of stuff.

Unknown said...

Wow! This is truly one of the most fascinating articles I have ever read! For some reason (that I cannot explain), I have a deep fascination with Nunavut. I find myself regularly looking it up on the internet and soaking up as many factoids about it as I can. What a cool thing that you did this! It must have been a remarkable and exciting weekend! And your article is so well written. It has a great balance of being scholarly and adventuresome. Thank you so much for sharing this. It was truly a joy to read!

CCjon said...

Thank you so very much for posting this information. Have been trying for months to figure out how to ride my motorcycle sidecar rig to Nunavut, or at least set foot in Nunavut via land travel only.

Good to know there is no ferry to Ile de Fort George as it appeared the western end on the island bordered Nunavut. Further study required.

The Nunavut Tourist Bureau said that if I rode the motorcycle into the water of James Bay off Ile de Fort George or Chisasibi, I technically have left Quebec and entered Nunavut territory. Your research puts that possibility in doubt.

Do you see any possible way for me to make this idea a reality? Ride a sidecar rig to Nunavut, if only a few feet in?