This beautifully-illustrated lecture tells of four canoe journeys across the remotest area of the North American continent in the brief summer of the tundra. A pristine wilderness of dramatic scenery and magnificent wildlife.


This half a million square miles of tundra to the west of Hudson Bay was called ‘The Barrens’ by early explorers, but in the summer, at least, it seems a misnomer. Wild flowers carpet the ground and a hundred species of birds arrive to feed and breed. Many species, including wolves, musk-oxen, foxes, lemmings, wolverines and grizzly bears live there all year round. Very large trout and arctic char populate the rivers. Most spectacular of all are the herds of caribou, numbering several hundred thousand animals, whose migrations are one of nature’s most magnificent spectacles.

 Yet even in summer it’s wise not to get too relaxed. Large lakes can remain frozen until early August, and temperatures can plummet from 25 degrees to near freezing in a matter of minutes. Sudden gales can transform calm lakes into a deadly hazard for canoeists, or keep the traveller cowering in his tent for days.

 John and his Czech companion Milan Pachlopnik have paddled 4 rivers in the Barrens - the Thelon, Hanbury, Anderson and Kazan. There are many more, earning this region the reputation for some of the best wilderness canoeing in the world

 This lecture includes the tragic story of the legendary John Hornby, the English-born ‘Man of the North’ who starved to death with his two companions on the banks of the Thelon in 1926, and where the remains of his cabin still exist. John talks about the history of the Hudson Bay Company and the early explorers, and the nomadic peoples who roamed this harsh land for centuries following the caribou.

 John gives graphic and humorous accounts of their nervousness when sleeping in flimsy tents in grizzly country, and their encounters with these bears: describes the unbelievable swarms of biting mosquitoes and blackfly;  and the thrills and terror of canoeing through such cold water where a capsize would most probably be fatal.

 And, sadly, like most wilderness areas today, there are threats to the Barrens. Climate change is opening up new shipping channels on Hudson Bay, and mining and mineral exploration is increasing. The warming temperatures are beginning to affect the caribou, and the permafrost is thawing. The Inuit communities around the coast show signs of demoralization and welfare-dependency as a once nomadic people become settled, yet rootless.