Meaning “Land of the Ancestors,” Thaidene Nëné is a park-in-waiting, slated for federal and territorial protection in the next few years. The park will guard the glorious East Arm of Great Slave Lake – 27,000 square kilometres of spectacular and pristine waterways, forests and Canadian Shield. Here’s why you need to visit:
Thaidene Nëné is an angler’s Shangri La. Christie Bay crawls with succulent Whitefish, Lake Trout, Inconnu and more. McLeod Bay, meanwhile, shelters Lake Trout a century old and as fat as a fireplug. All around the East Arm, Arctic Grayling leap as the base of inflowing waterfalls and Northern Pike ply shallow bays and channels. Whether you’re flyfishing at the mouth of the Hoarfrost, sinking your line into the seemingly bottomless depths offshore of Lutselk’e, angling from a paddleboard, or trolling behind your kayak, you’ll gather fish stories to last a lifetime.
Thaidene Nëné boasts stunning landscapes, but the waterscape, too, is a wonder to behold. Aquamarine McLeod Bay, glutted by streams gushing from the Barrenlands, is clear as glass and cold as fresh-melted snow. Christie Bay, with its dark, abyssal canyons that drop 2,000 feet below the surface, holds secrets dating from the ice age. Wildbread Bay, ringed by cliffs, is a liquid amphitheatre, accessible through the fabled keyhole of “The Gap.” Hearne Channel is a liquid corridor teeming with fish and waterfowl. These are just a few of the thousands of coves, cayes and creeks to explore in Thaidene Nëné.
Since time immemorial, Thaidene Nëné has been home to Dene people – especially the Dënesųłiné. Often called Chipewyans, a thousand generations of them have paddled the waters, roamed the ridges and camped in the bays of the East Arm and adjoining Barrenlands. Evidence of their enduring habitation is everywhere you look, from the numerous arrowheads shimmering on the shores of Artillery Lake to the old cabins and graves at the abandoned village site of Kaché.
Though plucky trees stud the shoreline of the East Arm, the windswept Arctic plains are never far away. Follow legendary Pike’s Portage from Fort Reliance to Artillery Lake and you’ll suddenly emerge onto the Barrens – an otherworldly zone of glacial eskers, rock-ribbed hills, and artifacts from the Chipewyan and Caribou Inuit cultures. Here are the headwaters of storied rivers like the Thelon and Coppermine, Arctic species such as open-ground grizzlies and muskoxen, and an ecosystem utterly unlike the relatively plush, friendly environs of Great Slave Lake.
Thaidene Nëné is where Northern sportfishing began. Way back in 1938, Manitoban businessman C.C. Plummer founded Plummer’s Lodge at Taltheilei (“open water”) Narrows, the gateway to McLeod Bay. Nearly 80 years later this renowned fishing mecca still draws sportsmen from all over the world. It shares Great Slave Lake’s East Arm with several other first-rate fishing destinations, including Trophy Lodge near Reliance, Indian Mountain Lodge near Utsingi Point, and Frontier Fishing Lodge just outside of Lutselk’e.
Study a map of Great Slave Lake and you’ll see it: a great ragged claw, slitting the East Arm in two. This is the fearsome spur formed by the Pethei, Kahochella and Douglas Peninsulas: an imperious prong of basalt buttresses, rising sheer from the blue-green waters. At the tip of the claw, a stunning lookout, Utsingi Point, pokes westward, toward the constellation of islands at the mouth of the East Arm. All along it, boaters will find a paradise of camping, hiking and fishing spots, and more scenery than you can shake a gnarled stick at.
This community (formerly called Snowdrift for its location near the mouth of the Snowdrift River) is the epicentre of Northern Dënesųłiné culture and the headquarters-in-waiting of Thaidene Nëné National Park Rerserve. The town is proudly traditional, with the Chipewyan language widely spoken and traditional hunting, trapping and fishing serving as the economic mainstay. It’s also home to several famous Northerners, including celebrated painter John Rombough and the revered priest, historian and activist René Fumoleau.
Built as a winter camp by George Back during his 1833 overland expedition down the river that now bears his name, Fort Reliance lies at the eastern extremity of Great Slave Lake, on the brink of the Barrenlands. The Hudson’s Bay Company rebuilt the fort in 1855, and it was later used by an American hunter, Charles “Buffalo” Jones – who, contrary to his name, kept live muskoxen here. It is now a National Historic Site of Canada, and visitors can explore the old stone chimneys and ruins of the log structures. (photo credit T. Andrews/GNWT)