An Adventure Close to Home
One Fort McMurray resident’s trip up the Fort Chipewyan Winter Road
SnowSeekers representatives Brody Jones and Jeremy Derksen on the Fort Chipewyan Winter Road. Photo by Dawn Booth.
The Fort Chipewyan Winter Road receives maintenances on a regular basis to ensure the safety of its travellers and announces updates on its condition. Photo by Dawn Booth.
Moose, wolves, foxes and bison are just some of the many wildlife spotted along the Fort Chipewyan Winter Road. Photo by Dawn Booth.
Hanna Bishop, 34, stands beside a monument at the top of the hill beside the Fort Chipewyan Bicentennial Museum. Photo by Dawn Booth
Fort McMurray resident Hanna Bishop recently took her first trip on the winter road to explore Fort Chipewyan. Photo by Dawn Booth.
Quite often, locals don’t become tourists in their surroundings. Alternatively, they unplug from their every day by escaping south or overseas to places where they can be surrounded by an unfamiliar beauty and learn a different culture – not realizing this very adventure is close to their front door. But Hanna Bishop new this.
Bishop, a 34-year-old mother of two is soon celebrating her decade milestone of being a Fort McMurray resident and she just recently took her first trip down the Fort Chipewyan Winter Road to one of the oldest European settlements in the province of Alberta. It’s an experience Bishop had an interest in for several years now.
“What intrigued me was the overall experience of this fairly remote location of the community and the accessibility of it,” Bishop shared with Your McMurray Magazine after logging in a 17-hour travel media trip to Fort Chipewyan with Fort McMurray Tourism, Travel Alberta and SnowSeekers.
Located 270 kilometres north of Fort McMurray’s downtown, Bishop travelled to Fort Chipewyan – the most northern and remote community in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.
The municipality is responsible for the annual construction and maintenance of the winter road. And, for the Fort Chipewyan residents, seasonal access provides a vital link for ground transportation and allows them to utilize the road for supply and goods delivery. For adventurers, it creates an opportunity for people like Bishop, who take an interest in exploring the wilderness in Northern Alberta.
Bishop is familiar with ice roads and wintery landscapes being formerly from Finland and was able to see the similarities and differences.
“Some ice roads in Finland are mostly made for people to access their cabins that are located on islands during the winter months, so the traffic is not heavy on the ice roads or they just use the ice on the lakes as a road to go ice fishing. However, there are some islands that have small ferries connecting them into highways and naturally these ferries are replaced with ice roads in the winter,” she explained.
When comparing the ice roads in Finland to Fort Chipewyan’s, Bishop said she realized why the road isn’t recognized as an ice road but rather a winter road because the majority of it is placed on frozen muskeg.
“I learned that they use water to build it up to be stronger and make it smoother to drive on. Therefore, it does have an icy surface but the road itself is mostly on land. Land like swamp or muskeg that you could definitely not travel on by car in other seasons,” she said. “There are parts on the way what I consider to be a real ice road that goes over the river and lake crossings and they are similar to what I have experienced back in Finland.”
The winter road is surrounded by the Boreal forest and travels alongside the Athabasca River, past habitats and natural wonders like the Richardson River Dunes Wildland and the Richardson Lake Bird Sanctuary.
Outdoor enthusiasts are be stilled by typical northern forest wildlife like moose, wolves, foxes, lynx and wolverines are among a few of the species who frequent the remote area. Closer to Fort Chipewyan, travellers enter the Peace-Athabasca Delta, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is known as one of the world’s largest freshwater deltas.
“We were lucky to encounter some wildlife on the winter road. Two big moose jumped on the road and we stopped to watch this beautiful, coloured fox hunting in the wilderness of the Delta before reaching our destination,” Bishop said.
Their destination, a small hamlet named after the Chipewyan First Nation and many of the almost 900 residents who reside today are Mikisew Cree First Nation, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and Métis.
Once arriving to Fort Chipewyan, Bishop stepped into the Fort Chipewyan Bicentennial Museum where she learned more about the community’s history from the residents who lived there.
“I was really excited to have conversations with the local people; how they see it themselves and if the remoteness affects their everyday life. For example, the access to basic services that we, living in a city, take for granted,” she said. “The local people were extremely friendly and I was able to learn about their everyday life and about the history of the community.”
The museum’s exterior is an exact reconstruction of the Hudson’s Bay store of 1870 and inside it has over hundreds of fur trade and historical artifacts. Its library also includes family genealogy records and collections from Hudson’s Bay Record Society of early explorations, including Simpson’s Athabasca Journal and Franklin’s First Arctic Land Expedition.
The museum sits at the bottom of a hill, close to the banks of Lake Athabasca. Once on top of the hill, Bishop could see Lobstick Island and High Island in the near distance, which Bishop describes as “spectacular”.
Thinking of Going?
Here are a few things Bishop suggests to keep in mind:
- Be well prepared and dress properly for the weather by packing extra sets of warm clothes, food, water and an emergency kit.
- Make sure your vehicle has four-wheel drive as the road has rough points, and ensure your vehicle has a good set of winter tires. Also, fuel up as there are no services on the road.
- Travel with a group or convoy in case your vehicle gets stuck or breaks down.
- There is no cell service, so be prepared for it and make sure you have told someone about your trip, especially if you are planning to go alone.
- Make stops during the drive to explore and enjoy the quietness and the views that the route offers.
For maintenance and conditions on the Fort Chipewyan Winter Road, call the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo’s PULSE hotline at 780-743-7000.