Film " The New Breed" - Banff to Montreal Canoe Journey

I wold like to thank all those who have donated to the "New Breed" (NB) film project or the climbing tools series. All donations go towards increasing productions values. The film realistically will run a whopping $350,000.00 CND. Your involvement means more to me then words can say. I don't take your trust lightly and promise to produce something that you will be proud to have been a part of. A donation of $50 or more gets you a copy of the film. 

The urban native survival guide


Tyler McKay at the Metis "Back to Batoche" festivalWell funny how things change in no time at all. I was applying for a expedition grant from Mountain Equipment Co-op so I had to write a pretty detailed trip plan and the purpose of my film idea. Once I had made a couple edits I sent it to a contact that I had in the Metis Nation of Alberta (MNA). Low and behold they loved the idea and were behind the project “Guns Blazing” as they put it. 

For me personally this means a lot. While my ancestors homeland is in Saskatchewan and I feel like that is my home in a lot of ways also I have to admit to myself I am a Albertan born and mostly raised. My children were born in Banff, Alberta. ( Last of a era as maternity stuff is now done in Canmore) For me my film idea is more about these kids and their future in the ever evolving Metis Nation no matter what province. I also helps to justify the enormous personal cost in time and money. Not something that we can really afford lightly. We have bills and expenses just like everybody else. To take five months off to simply go canoeing is a luxury that comes with a fair bit of sacrifice on all parts.

My wife has to take care of two units ages 6 and 9 and anybody who has kids knows that that age they are a handful. On the other hand she also has a full time job doing mountain rescue for national parks. 

My kids are a little bit more adaptive but still they have to go without dad for awhile. So the hiking, climbing and paddling we do on a regular basis comes to a halt for a bit. I will be replaced by a child care worker of some sort.

Freighting on the Prairies; Metis Red River carts.Myself I will miss them but at the same time I am doing something I have been planning to do for well over a decade. At 58 years of age this is about as old as a person can be and safely do this trip. If I waited till they got out of school I’d be 70 and I am pretty sure it just wouldn’t happen. 

Having the blessing of the MN means that a lot more doors are open to me that would have been forced open. Interviews with key players, introductions, credibility with historic staff. The actual list is quite extensive. The promise to assist in fund raising is actually secondary though somewhat important. 

So my conversation with MNA took place yesterday. At the same time A long term client of mine has taken up the cause. Dave Wakefield has donated some cash and is presently lobbying on behalf with friends, family and corporations. 

It’s great having this feeling that things are coming along after years of planning. I guess the one thing that isJoe McKay 2010 starting to become apparent is I now have to actually produce something as I am excepting peoples donations. They are believing in me so now I have to believe in myself. For the first time in quite awhile I do believe I can create something that will actually make a difference. A contribution to the nation that helped me out when I needed it the most.

You can expect a lot more frequent updates about how things are coming along. The stages of development. The next step will be the creation of a formal script and shot list. So stick around and check in regularly we are going to be real busy over the next seven months. 



The Journey broke down into sections

Trip Description

The concept of this trip started over ten years ago. A few years ago with the passing of my father I had a realization that a great deal of our family history was being lost with the passage of time. For the sake of my children and myself i decided to retrace our Metis ancestral roots. I made the astonishing discovery that we played a role as best supporting actors in the Canadian fur trade. In Virtually all of the waterways I had planned to paddle had been traveled by my ancestors over two hundred years prior.


“Brothers John & Donald McKAY entered the fur trade by way of Montreal, and by 1788 John was working for Alexander SHAW and his son Angus SHAW at Lake St Ann (Lake Nipigon, ON).” 

As a film maker the concept arose of making an educational documentary on the Metis people. The trip ties together the past, the present and my children’s future as the Metis culture continues to evolve in a rapidly changing world.

This will be a completely non mechanized canoe trip and rely entirely on the physical strength of the participants. There are as many as 70 portages between Banff and Montreal. Six between Banff and Calgary alone. 

Stage 1 - Banff to Winnipeg

The route itself begins from my hometown of Banff, Alberta. A location that had become part of our family’s oral history as far back as 1859 when my 4th great grandfather John Richard McKay guided the Hynde expedition. The first leg follows the Bow River which eventually joins the Red Deer river and becomes the South Saskatchewan river. The Saskatchewan fills the Diefenbaker Dam water reserve. At the area known as the Elbow is the source water for the Qu’Appelle river. This river also was known as the lower fur trade route into the Interior of the North West Territories is a direct line to the Red River country. The primary hazard on this section will be the spring melt and potential flooding. A short lived event that can easily be waited out. This is the far western extension of the Qu’Appelle valley and grows slowly in it’s flow rate as the prairies shed the winter snow pack. 

Joined the Qu’Appelle get a name change at the confluence of the Assiniboine river. Three days travel from this point and the Assiniboine spills into the Red river at present day Winnipeg.  Eventually this Where the South Saskatchewan turns north I join the Qu’Appelle river which combines with Manitoba’s Assiniboine river and drains into the Red river. 

Stage 2 - Winnipeg to Thunder Bay

Follow the Red river north to Lake Winnipeg. The initial part of the outlet is a series of complex mud flats not normally recommended as a pleasurable canoe route. The maze eventually ends and Lake Winnipeg is the next objective. The shallow nature of the lake makes sudden swells a potential objective hazard. Fortunately one can beach almost anywhere along this stretch and wait out the weather if required. 

A few days travel east along the south shore and we are at the outlet of the Winnipeg River. At one time this was a bit of a grunt for the Voyagers as they fought the upstream current. These days because of hydro electric dams the river is more a series of lake with short portages. The majority of the rapids have been removed. 

A week into this stage should bring us into the Lake of the Woods district. A complex chain of lakes and as many as 29 portages. This is a remote section of water with only the occasional fish camp as a sign of civilization. Kenora, Ontario is our last major resupply station before reaching Thunder Bay. These waters are rich in fur trade history and a major struggle for control of this area took place between the riveting HBC and NWCo. 

As we hit the boundary waters bordering the U.S. this trip takes a real turn towards history. Having dug up archival material it is our intention to retrace the HBC/NWCo alternative portage route used to avoid the american alternative known as Grand Portage. While more difficult it avoided heavy taxes leaned against the fur companies. It is quite likely that this route has not been repeated since the railroad was completed to the Red River district. Roughly 130 years. No recent information is available of the route and our crossing will make a nice addition to the data base. Todd and myself will certainly be the first Metis over this section in quite some time.

Crossing the height of land takes us to the upper section of the Dog River. A few class II rapids which can be avoided lead us into Dog lake. Dog lake acts as the headwaters of the Kaministiquia River. This river also has a few portages and one major waterfall that would be unsurvivable should one be foolish enough to go near it. The final section of the river is a pleasant run into Thunder Bay ( former Fort William ). 

Stage 3 - Thunder Bay to Saulte Ste Marie

From Thunder Bay the trip changes completely in nature of the type of water and the associated objective hazards. The north shore of NW Lake Superior has extended sections of towering cliffs which do not allow for shore landings just anywhere. The primary safety feature on this section is allowing for plenty of time to sit out bad or undesirable weather. Early starts and adhering to wind patterns. The Sea 1 canoe will be tricked out with a Falcon Sail Kit and is the best craft of its kind to take advantage of favourable wind conditions. There are a number supply points before reaching Marathon, Ontario. 

Pukaskwa National Park Visitor Centre is the last civilized outpost before crossing a 180 km wilderness section. This is the most remote section of the entire journey. Frequented by wilderness kayakers and canoeists is once again a place where patience and good weather forecasting are your greatest allies.  

From the area of Wawa on civilization becomes increasingly more frequent. Incredible stretches of beach and pristine wilderness along these shores are perhaps some of the best kept lands that Canadians south of the 60th can experience. 

Navigating the busy waterways west of Salute Ste Marie ends the remotest section and in some ways the most hazardous part of the entire journey. 


Stage 4 - Salute Ste Marie to Lake Nipissing

Following the Canadian side of the Saint Mary’s river we navigate the densely populated sections till we can get into the waters of Lake Huron. The encroachment of civilization will become immediately obvious. Camp logistics are more difficult as land is taken up by cottage owners and other commercial interests. 

Huron waters are protected by large islands which act as a break from the open area of this inland sea. Usual caution of good forecasting mixed with the right amount of fear and common sense are still required. 

As we get into the area of Georgian Bay it is a few days journey to the delta created by the French River. Using the Voyagers channel of this delta we head up river towards lake Nipissing. The 160km journey up the French River is better described as a series of lakes marked by short portages to avoid rapids which are created as one lake drains into another. 

Eventually reaching lake Nipissing and following the south shore we arrive at our destination of North Bay, Ontario.


Section 5 - Lake Nipissing to Montreal

A cross city portage of North Bay we put-in on the trout river. One days journey and we begin the navigation of the Mattawa River. The run down to the Ottawa river can be done in two possibly three days. This section has 9 portages which cover a distance of 2.2km total. It is interesting to note that the portage routes are exactly the same even after hundreds of years. My 5th great grandfather John McKay would have portaged this same section of water over these exact trails some two hundred and thirty years prior on his way to join the fur trade. A one way journey as he never returned from the Red River district of what was then the NWT in the district or Rupert’s Land.

The Ottawa river to the busy Saint Lawrence Seaway is the final leg of this journey. passing through the Ottawa valley the heart of new Canada at one time. The terminus of the fur trade route being Montreal. The relatively mild waters of this section is a nice cool down and a great time for reflection.

Perhaps one of the biggest hazards will be the busy commercial traffic in the seaway. It would be ironic if the longest portage of over a hundred would be several kilometres long just to avoid being crushed by a freighter of swamped by a tug boat.


The New Breed

You know I have had the “Last Metis” as a working title for the film that I would like to make. I started with that title partly because I liked the film and it had a nice ring to it. It was then just a matter of making it fit somehow.

So in my mind I somehow associated the Last Metis with my kids and myself. With me playing the role of of the last Metis in the family if I don’t somehow reconnect them to their native roots. I sort of realize now that I had gotten a little more hung up on that title then I should have been. Int was my fascination with the the Last of The Mohicans movie/book. 

Over the last couple years however i have been introducing my kids to the Metis culture to the point that they know they are Metis and belong in that family. Since then I have also joined the the Metis Nation of Alberta (MNA). I passed their cultural roots test and was issued a ID #. The next step is to get them registered and with their own ID #’s..

However I am confident that they are not going to be the last Metis in this family and I am not nearly as hung up on that title anymore. Rather I am looking to borrow the name from a magazine and archive website called “ The New Breed ”.  Ok it ain’t original but nor was the other. It is however much more descriptive and accurate I think.

One of the problems with the Metis indigenous culture is that it is evolving faster then the world would like it to. It is comfortable for euro caucasians to peg Metis as buckskin wearing musket toting mixed bloods. In a way I also think the majority of the Metis community has this self imposed stereotype and are reasonably comfortable with it. In fact they embrace it. 

I know that in northern Alberta communities the hunter, harvester lifestyle is a bit of a trademark for many. This is quite understandable but for myself I haven’t hunted in 30 years and have no plan to take it up unless we get unlimited harvesting rights. Even then i would be taking up Bow Hunting. 

The New Breed in my mind better suits myself and my kids. Through no fault of my own I was not raised in the traditional Metis community. I had plenty of contact with my grandparents thankfully, however my children do not even have that privilege.  Does this make them less indigenous? I don’t think so they have an authentic native voice and really are on the edge of what many of us are becoming. The evolution of our culture is something that I don’t think is being addressed quickly enough. 

If myself and my children are in this situation of not fitting the stereotype ( if there is one, perhaps this is my conception) then there must be thousands of others who are in the same situation. Young and middle aged indigenous peoples who’s parents adopted a urban lifestyle and perhaps not rejecting their native heritage but to a greater degree abandoning it. This leaves their children distanced by a generation from their immediate family and it’s cultural roots. In the case of Metis children it is easy to be enveloped by the vacuum of a euro centric culture and loose your identity altogether. Hence the connection to the title “Last Metis”. 

Another thing about the title New Breed is that it refers to the word Half-Breed which is something I find white folks have a hard time saying because it is not politically correct. On the other hand I have yet to meet a Metis individual that takes offence to being described by this label. My grandparents 4 generations back have been described as english half-breeds. So I have no issue being described as such. Sort of like how the Black people are the only ones who can use the “N” word. 

Anyhow long story short I may well change the title as the concept of the film has morphed considerably in the last four years since I came up with the plan to make a documentary. In there lies the problem with documentary’s the are a continuing evolving thing which may well end up being something completely new upon completion of gathering assets (footage) for your project. 


Contacting the Minister of Aboriginal affairs

Reconciling aboriginal relationships with Canadians at no $ cost. Renaming Mt Cascade to Mount Riel


Dear Minister 


I wish to bring to your attention something that I have started with a couple of your fellow ministers. First I would like to state that my proposal would go a long way towards making present and future generations of indigenous peoples move inclusive in Canadian Society. 

Secondly this will not be a great cost to Canadian society monetarily speaking. It will not require a investment on millions of dollars over a long period of time with no guarantee of a positive outcome.

Thirdly it is the proper thing to do. I am sure there is some legal basis for my request however the moral justification for this outweighs all other reason. It will go a long way towards reversing some of the negative effects of colonialism. In addition it will show that the present government is sincere in it’s actions towards it’s indigenous citizens. 

As I have stated I wish the iconic mountain Mount Cascade as it is presently named be changed to Mount Riel. First off their is no Mount Riel of any kind in the entire country. This seems strange as he was one of the forefathers of our country, negotiated a peoples representation into the Canadian confederacy and by and far the father of the Metis people.

He fairly represented native, french and english mixed race peoples by bringing into the newly formed nation of Canada the province of Manitoba. (Ironically, just down the road is Mount Douglas the surveyor responsible in no small part for the Red River Rebellion by blindly surveying and and ignoring land parcels as they had been agreed up by the peoples who had occupied the Red River District for over a century.)

As I am sure you have been to Banff you can’t help but notice the massive peak ( perhaps the most iconic in all of Canada). This mountain was named Cascade by James Hector who was a member of the 1856/58 Palliser expedition.  The Palliser expedition was commissioned in England to survey the (then) NWT for it’s exploitive value in the terms of mineral wealth, farming potential and catalogue plant species among other things. 

The expedition members took it upon themselves to rename large recognizable landmarks after themselves and/or their patrons. It can quite easily be argued that they had no legal authority to be renaming landmarks. I am sure we all can in some way understand the colonial mindset of the era. As indigenous peoples were no more then a source of labour in Canada and later a inconvenience. The fact remains that the treaties with the natives of the area had yet to be signed. This was still indigenous peoples land at the time the Palliser expedition did their survey.  


“Treaty 7 is one of 11 Numbered Treaties signed between First Nations and the Crown between 1871 and 1921. The treaty established a delimited area of land for the tribes (a reserve), promised annual payments and/or provisions from the Queen to the tribes and promised continued hunting and trapping rights on the "tract surrendered". In exchange, the tribes ceded their rights to their traditional territory, of which they had earlier been recognized as the owners.”



It is worth pointing out that indigenous peoples had occupied this area for over 10,000 years and that all the landmarks already had been named. Something that Hector and other members of the expedition could have easily found out had the simply asked their interpreters in conversation with the natives that they had encountered. 

I initially sent my request to the heritage minister Mélanie Joly. As my request lies in the jurisdiction of a national park I believed that she was the one with authority to make the required changes. A few months later I find that my request for a name change of ( what is now ) Cascade to Riel was passed to the Minister of the Environment, Catherine McKenna.

The small sub peak  lookers left of Mt Cascade is named Stoney Squaw and is identified this way on Canadian topographical maps. I would like to suggest that this peak’s name be changed to Mt Dumont (as you know Riel’s right hand man in the 1885 resistance in Batoche). The peak to the left again is Mt Norquay named aft James Norquay, manitoba's premier 1857 to 1897 and a proud Metis himself. The remaining of this peak is more then just symbolic gesture. It show a real understanding of the importance of greater esteem required by indigenous youth to reverse the effects of colonization. 

While there is precedence for such a change in other parts of the world I believe they are not worth mentioning as Canada is a nation of leaders. This is what I believe. In addition I have seen more positive movement towards the correction of past injustices in the last 6 months then I have in the past 30 years. Feel free to keep up the good work

yours sincerely 


Joe McKay

Member of the Alberta Metis Association

ID# 030977

Father of 4  


Did I learn anything Sea kayaking

What did I learn from Sea Kayaking. I never had to worry about something like tides before. That was a short learning curve.  As they happen often.

Water? There just isn’t any. Least where we were. So 8 10 ltr. water bags, Actually that was a discovery. These MSR bags were killer! They called these things Dromedary's. They seem as durable and versatile. I just wish I had discovered these things years ago. They would have been quite handy on other canoe trips that we had taken with the kids over the last few years. Mostly likely take three of these 10 ltr. bags on the big trip.

Humidity! Like  the tides it is a constant. I don’t suggest down bags at sea level. They turn into clam shells. Even when you tried to dry them out in the sun it seems like they absorb more moisture right out of the atmosphere. This really has me thinking about the sleeping system that I will be carrying. As I write this Ontario is going through a incredible heat wave with incredibly high humadex values. I am considering a 0.C synthetic with a over bag for the cooler spring travel out on the plains. Not sure if the budget will allow for a new bag so will have to hold off on that one for a bit yet.

We had double kayaks with the kids in the front. So you are paddling a big boat with no help. Those little single person kayaks look pretty slick. I never got to try one. 

They get long sunsets at sea level. Not something your used to if you live in the Rockies. Beach with the right aspect. Because many of the islands are narrow you can easily change aspects for the setting sun. 



Food is much like canoeing meals. Prepare them at home. We went all out with the initial idea being we will fit exactly what you need for the day in separate bags so that when you picked it up you were good to go.  Well that lasted till the first day. Didn’t want what was in the bag we wanted what was in the other bag. The whole house of cards came falling down. 

We went back to bagging things as usual; breakfast; lunch; dinners. System was a screw up as usual. Lot more stuff then we needed, etc. The usual excuses.

Weather a constant factor. Swells. There really is a lot to think about. One could get in trouble out their. Compass is a good idea.

Ok packing these things really suck. Our double kayak didn’t have a centre hatch. Who knew one would be handy. We are stuffing stuff everywhere. Couple hundred pounds of water add to the whole thing. The water tight cargo bins fore and aft Me Matey. Hundred 10 litre  water proof stuff sacks. 


Wet suits may be required. Had one along but didn’t use it. Paddle gloves are find. 

Joy of double paddle stroke, along with a sore back after a couple hours.  

Would I do it again. maybe someday when the units can paddle their own kayaks. Who knows I wouldn’t ever say never.