White Squall on the Churchill

By Laurel Archer
(from Kanawa Magazine, Summer, 2002)

The sky to our left was soot black with a line of white along the horizon.  It looked like a March sky, when the month is about to come in like a lion.  The clouds were moving toward us so fast I thought we were in an old sci-fi movie scene.

By this time, we had long stopped talking.  The effort of paddling down the lake was more than enough to occupy us.  Then the cold blew in.  The white line hung over the black spruce on Uskik’s northwestern shore like laundry frozen on the line in January.

Suddenly the sheet of rain jumped the lake and hit us full force.  Keeping the canoe upright in the extreme gusts was a crapshoot.  We were at the mercy of the squall.  In seconds the waves were huge, and we couldn’t see more than ten metres in front of us.  We were in a blizzard of spray.  The rain slashed the waves, and then turned to hail, pelting us in a white fury.

I saw a landing place up against the rock walls, a ledge we could reach.  But we would have to come up sideways to the wind and jump out into a blow down of tangled dead spruce.  We had no other choice.

I pointed with my paddle, “There, Dave!”  Thrashing about in the whitewater maw of rollers and triangular reflecting waves, we somehow ended up in perfect position to land.

At the low ledge we both leaped in unison from the canoe, neither one of us wanting to go down with the ship.  Our craft was sinking fast from the waves coming over the gunnels, and we barely got it up on the flat rock.

The worst of the weather had passed over us before we had even reached the cliffs, but we were still relieved to be on dry land.

“Hokey doodle!” Dave exclaimed once we had determined all hands and the canoe and gear were safe.  “Can you believe it?  That was a white squall!”  I shook my head at him.  Neither of us could.  The force of the wind and the hail was a concrete wall when it hit us, trying to push us over like a sailboat caught on the open seas with too much sail on.  Luckily, we were in a position that enabled us to land quickly.  We wouldn’t have had a chance on Trade Lake.

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