Kazan River

Location: Keewatin, Unorganized, Nunavut
Region: Outside Ontario
Character: Heritage River
Length/Size: 850 km

Kazan River
By The Canadian Heritage Rivers System

Where Time and Light Stand Still

The Kazan and Thelon sweep majestically out of spruce-lined valleys, winding across the barrens through vast shimmering lakes set like mirrors in the treeless tundra, finally emptying into Baker Lake. For the Inuit of the village of Baker Lake, these rivers remain a vital source of caribou, fish and spiritual renewal.

Remains of Inuit campsites are found all along these rivers, testimony of a time not so long ago when these were the homelands of the nomadic Caribou Inuit. Paddle through a land of staring muskox, white wolves, soaring gyrfalcons and wandering grizzly bears, a land where vast herds of caribou - hundreds of thousands strong - still migrate to ancient rhythms. The Kazan and Thelon - rivers primeval.

The Kazan River flows through the cradle of Caribou Inuit culture. In the heart of the barrenlands of Nunavut, the river lies on the migration route of the 320,000 strong Kaminuriak caribou herd, the largest movement of land mammals in the world. When glacier ice retreated some 5,000 years ago, Inuit came seasonally from the Hudson Bay coast to hunt caribou. In the late 18th century, they began to stay year-round along the Kazan and Thelon rivers, evolving a lifestyle unique among Inuit cultures.

Over the centuries, the Inuit have left a subtle imprint on the rugged landscape of the Kazan valley, where tree cover is rare and the rocky outcrops of the Shield are dramatically exposed. The banks of the Kazan are rich with signs of former occupation, including rock piles called "inukshuk", standing sentinel at river crossings, campsites and caches. This unique concentration of historic and prehistoric sites adds a fascinating atmosphere to a visitor's experience. And the apparently barren wilderness supports not only vast numbers of caribou, but also numerous muskox, the rare wolverine, and more than 60 species of birds. The endangered peregrine falcon nests along the river, favouring the spectacular cliff sides of Kazan Falls, and the river's pure waters support an array of fish, including lake trout and grayling.

The Kazan, together with the Thelon, are still vital in the lives of Caribou Inuit. Some 20,000 Inuit live in the Nunavut region and 1,000 of them, the Caribou Inuit, live across the lake from the mouth of the Kazan in the community of Baker Lake. It was due to their strong desire to have the river and their traditional life on it commemorated by all of Canada that, in July 1990, the Kazan was designated a Canadian Heritage River.

The Kazan rises near Kasba Lake, close to the northern border of Saskatchewan, then flows northward for 850 km to its mouth at Baker Lake, which in turn drains through Chesterfield Inlet into Hudson Bay.

Its drainage area, which includes 5,000 sq. km in Saskatchewan and northern Manitoba, totals 71,500 sq. km. The river flows through a transitional area of boreal forest and treeless tundra, but the 615 km designated section, from the outlet of Ennadai Lake to Baker Lake, is beyond the limit of continuous trees. At the river's mouth is a large, 7 km-wide delta.

The Inuit community of Baker Lake, located on the lake's northwest shore, is at the geographic centre of Canada, 1500 km north of Winnipeg and 900 km east of Yellowknife. Although inaccessible by road, Baker Lake provides accommodation, food, supplies and outfitting services among the best available in the far north, and offers travellers the unforgettable experience of modern Caribou Inuit life.

Natural Heritage
In its upper reaches, the Kazan flows through transitional boreal forest and tundra. Near the outflow of Ennadai Lake, the forest has thinned to sparse black spruce and tamarack. Rarely more than a metre or two high, these isolated conifers are stunted by harsh winds and dry summers.

In the river's middle and lower reaches, the riverscape varies from rocky hills to plains, but is unmarked by eskers or moraines, a remarkable characteristic of the region's creation: the Kazan was not at the edge of the glacial icesheet that covered the area, but at its centre, under the Keewatin Ice Divide for much of the Wisconsin Glaciation. The ice was thickest here, spreading east and west, and it remained here longer than at any other place in mainland Canada. Greatly depressed by the weight of the ice, the land is now "rebounding" at one of the highest rates in the world - more than half a metre a century.

For most of its course, the river cuts through a distinctive rocky terrain, the Kazan Uplands. The Kazan Uplands are underlain mainly by Precambrian rocks of the western Churchill geological province. These include various forms of granite as well as metamorphosed sedimentary and volcanic rocks, some as old as 3 billion years. The rocks are generally hard and crystalline accounting for the rugged topography that typifies the Canadian Shield in this region and elsewhere. The rivers' course is strongly controlled by linear structures, such as faults. An example of this is the segment from Angikuni Lake to Big Bend, which follows an E-W fault line. Below Thirty Mile Lake and Kazan Falls, the topography flattens owing to a change in the underlying bedrock. From this point onward the river passes through "younger" Precambrian sandstones of the Kazan Formation, part of the Baker Lake basin, which extended from beyond Dubawnt Lake in the west to the eastern shore of Baker Lake. Of particular interest are tilted layers of blood-red sandstone, best exposed on the east side of the river, which were formed by giant wind-blown dunes more than 1.8 billion years ago. Slabs of this distinctive sandstone have been used by Inuit to build inukshuks and kayak stands, common along the lower reaches of the Kazan River.

A 1:1,000,000 geological map of region transected the Kazan River and the lower reaches of the Thelon River is available at www.nrcan.gc.ca/gsc/bookstore/index_e.html . Further Reading: Paul, D., Hanmer, S, Tella, S, Peterson, T.D. and LeCheminant, A.N. 2002. Compilation, Bedrock Geology of part of the Western Churchill Province, Northwest Territories and Nunavut. Geological Survey of Canada, Open File 4326, 1:1,000,000 scale colour map.

The topography varies from lush tundra to barren rock, from gently rolling hills to steep cliffs and from calm lakes to swift-water narrows and imposing waterfalls. Notable features on the river include: The Three Cascades, a series of 5 to 7 metre waterfalls between Angikuni Lake and Yathkyed Lake, and the beautiful Kazan Falls, where whitewater drops 25m then rushes for 2 km downstream through a red sandstone gorge. Along the portage above the falls, is a cairn that has been used since 1973 as a repository for messages from river travellers.

As well as being on the annual migration route of the 320,000 strong Kaminuriak caribou herd, and the occasional route of the 330,000 member Beverly herd, the Kazan supports a variety of wildlife:

Both the rare wolverine and the once-endangered muskox inhabit the area. Once decimated by 19th century European demand for muskox robes, 1,250 muskox now thrive between the Dubawnt and Kazan;

Peregrine falcons nest along the river, and tundra swans nest on lakeshores;

Kazan waters are home to lake trout and grayling, humpback and round whitefish, cisco, burbot, slimy sculpin, longnose sucker, and ninespine stickleback.

Human Heritage
Signs of the Caribou Inuit and the people who came before them are everywhere along the river, evocative of a time when they lived entirely off the land. Dene and Inuit ancestors used the river during summer for more than 5,000 years, retreating to the treeline or the coast for the rest of the year.

In the 18th century, the Dene use of the river declined substantially, while the local Inuit - the first generation Caribou Inuit began living on the river year-round, when they discovered that they could harvest enough caribou to last throughout the winter. They evolved into three distinct groups: the Ahiarmiut living south of Angikuni Lake; the Harvaqtormiut north of Yathkyed Lake; and the Padleimiut, south of the lake, between the other two groups. In his late 1800's diary, pioneer Christian missionary, Father Alphonse Gaste recorded peaceful celebrations between the Dene who used the river and the Caribou Inuit who lived there.

Chipewyan Dene introduced the first European to the barrens, Samuel Hearne, in 1770. He crossed the Kazan at Padleijuaq, where it flows into Yathkyed Lake and recorded the lake's Chipewyan name "Yathkyed", meaning White Swan, in his journal entitled "A Journey from Prince of Wales Fort to the Northern Ocean".

The Kazan was unmapped until J.B. Tyrrell, the first geologist on the river, canoed from its headwaters to Forde Lake in 1894. His name was given to the east arm of Yathkyed Lake, Tyrrell Arm, and, to the now-diminished postglacial sea in the Hudson Bay depression, the Tyrrell Sea. During his trip, Tyrrell visited 39 tents housing at least 500 people along the Kazan. Every campsite had caribou meat drying on racks or cached for the winter.

The Fifth Thule Expedition of Knut Rasmussen explored the river from 1921-24. Expedition anthropologist Kaj Birket Smith, was the first to describe the Caribou Inuit culture in Rasmussen's 1930 "Report of the Fifth Thule Expedition".

The most recent study expedition on the Kazan was the 1988 Operation Raleigh. This international youth education, research and exploration program travelled 500km of the river in 7 weeks and identified 186 archaeological sites along the river.

The Kazan's Canadian Heritage River status is partly based on its outstanding wilderness recreation focus:

Canoeing and Kayaking: Local Caribou Inuit still travel, hunt and fish on the Kazan. Today, for 6 to 8 weeks, from July to September, perhaps 20 recreational canoeists also travel the river each year. But even in July, ice can force paddlers to wait for break-up. Yathkyed Lake is called 'Hikulijuaq' in Inuktitut, meaning "the great ice-filled one". Water levels and ice conditions change from year to year, depending on snowfall and the timing of spring break-up.

Canoe trips down the Kazan usually begin by float-plane to Kasba or Ennadai Lake and take 4-6 weeks. Since Kazan topography varies, the river can offer several types of paddling in a single day, from wide stretches of river with lazy current to whitewater narrows and broad lakes. Five lakes, Dima, Angikuni, Yathkyed, Forde and Thirty Mile, make up 235 km of the river, while the remaining 380 km fall .8m/km.

Camping and Hiking: Campsites are plentiful and easily accessible. Virtually every site has been occupied in the past and travellers often feel like they are walking through recent Inuit camps, hunting grounds, trails, lookouts and gravesites, although most were abandoned long ago. Protected by law, these sites must not be disturbed. Hikers marvel at colourful tundra plant life: translucent Arctic cotton grass, delicate heathers, June blooming mountain avens the territorial flower, and August's brilliant fireweed.

Fishing: Fishing for Arctic grayling and lake trout is excellent along virtually any stretch of the river. A Nunavut Territory fishing license is required and can be obtained by writing to the Department of Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development, Nunavut Headquarters, Box 1870, Iqaluit, Nunavut, X0A 0H0.

Wildlife Viewing: Myriad caribou trails cross the tundra, and the long twilight hours of summer are often filled with the distinctive clicking of caribou ankle bones, giving rise to their Inuit name, 'tuk-to'. As well as caribou, travellers often see muskox, particularly between Yathkyed and Thirty Mile lakes. Much smaller creatures, like the Arctic ground squirrel are common and bird watching is excellent. Birders enjoy many species rarely seen in the south: Arctic terns, tundra swans, snowy owls and ptarmigans. The Kazan and Kasba Lake both take their names from the Dene word for "ptarmigan".

Visitor Information
Access: Access to the Kazan is usually by chartered aircraft from Baker Lake or from Lynn Lake and Churchill, Manitoba. Baker Lake is connected to the south by scheduled airline from Churchill and Winnipeg, and Lynn Lake is serviced through Winnipeg. The closest road and rail access end at Lynn Lake and Thompson, Manitoba. It is also possible to paddle to the Kazan from Lynn Lake, beginning near town at Reindeer Lake, up the Cochrane River, then portaging over the Kazan watershed, but the trip is very long and the canoeing season, short. Canoeists therefore prefer to arrange floatplane drop-off on Kasba or Ennadai lakes. To end the trip, pre-arranged air charter pick-up is possible from many points along the route. Most travellers, however, paddle directly to Baker Lake.

Tour operators in Baker Lake also offer day trips and flight-seeing tours on the Kazan. The 100 km trip to Kazan Falls from Baker Lake by charter floatplane or motorized freighter canoe is quite spectacular.

Accommodation and Services: Long the "terminus" for most trips, Baker Lake can now serve as the starting point as well. The community has a hotel and several lodges. Supplies are available from the Sanavik Co-operative, the Land Store and the Northern Store. Ookpiktuyuk Art, Jesse Oonark Arts and Crafts Centre and Baker Lake Fine Arts sell original 'Baker Lake' prints, wall-hangings, carvings, and crafts which are internationally renowned and collected. The community offers outfitting services and has developed hiking trails, a campground, a visitor reception and interpretation centre, and a traditional summer camp demonstrating Caribou Inuit ways.

Some supplies, accommodation, and scheduled airlines service are available at Chesterfield Inlet (pop. 300), Rankin Inlet (1700), Arviat (formerly Eskimo Point, 1300), and Whale Cove (250), Nunavut, and at Lynn Lake (1600), Thompson (14,000) and Churchill (1000) in Manitoba

Topographic Maps: The Kazan is covered by National Topographic Series 1:250,000 scale maps: 56D (Baker Lk), 55M (Macquoid Lk), 65P (Thirty Mile Lk), 65I (Ferguson Lk), 65J (Tulemalu Lk), 65K (Kamilukuak Lk), 65F (Ennadai), 65C (Ennadai Lk) and 65 D (Snowbird Lk). For research purposes, 1:50,000 scale maps are also available. The maps may be obtained from: Canada Map Office, 615 Booth Street, Ottawa, ON K1A 0E9 (613-952-7000) (http://maps.NRCan.gc.ca); Energy, Mines and Resources, 4914-50th Street, Yellowknife, NT (403-920-8299); and, Dept. of Natural Resources, Surveys and Mapping Branch, 1007 Century Street, Winnipeg, Manitoba, R3H 0W4 (204-945-6666).

Further Information
"Ten Year Report for the Kazan River", available from the NT Board member (see "Contact Us")

Services, Permits and Regulations :
Dept. of Environment,
Brown Building
P.O. Box 1340
Iqaluit, Nunavut X0A 0H0
Phone : (867) 975-5922
Fax : (867) 975-5980
Web site http://www.gov.nu.ca/sd.htm

Tourist Information - Accommodation, Air Charters, Guides and Outfitters: Nunavut Tourism, 1-800-491-7910 ( www.nunavuttourism.com); ; Economic Development and Tourism, Baker Lake, Nunavut, X0C 0A0 Tel: (819) 793-2992; www.bakerlake.org, ca.epodunk.com/profiles/nunavut/baker-lake/2000135.html; Economic Development and Tourism, P.O. Bag 002, Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, X0C OGO, Tel: (819) 645-5067; http://www.kivalliq.org/eng/rankin.html , ca.epodunk.com/profiles/nunavut/rankin-inlet/2001922.html - 20k - Travel Keewatin, Box 328, Rankin Inlet, Nunavut X0C 0G0, Tel: (819) 645-2618; Municipal Council, Baker Lake, Nunavut X0C 0A0. Tel: (819) 793-2874; Travel Manitoba, 155 Carleton Street, Winnipeg, Manitoba, R3C 3H8, Tel:1-800-665-0040 (www.travelmanitoba.com/huntfish/aircharters.html) .

Canadian Heritage Rivers System: Member for Nunavut, Canadian Heritage Rivers Board, (see Contact us) or National Manager, Canadian Heritage Rivers System, c/o Parks Canada, Ottawa, Canada K1A 0M5, Tel: (819) 994-2913, Fax: (819) 997-0835. E-mail address: donald.gibson@pc.gc.ca