1000 km From Wandake to Cree Nation

There are more than 600 First Nations in Canada. During our snowmobile trip in Quebec, we were going to immerse in the culture of the Cree Nation.

It was to be the adventure of a lifetime, a one-thousand-kilometre ride north on snowmobiles from Quebec City to a small Cree community near James Bay to learn about Cree cultur and traditions.

However, none of it went as we had planned.

snowmobile quebec stuck in snow

A 1000 km Snwomobile Journey in Quebec

From Wandake to Cree Nation

I have been fascinated with Indigenous culture since I was young.

snowmobile quebec Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute

At the Cree Cultural Institute Learning of the Culture

My parents worked on a ranch in Alberta when I was born, and I heard them tell stories of the Chief and his community who lived nearby.

Besides those stories, I didn't learn much about our First Nations communities in Canada while growing up.

Our country treated the North American natives poorly. They were segregated from society.

Until the mid-1990s, the aboriginal children were still forced into residential schools where abuse ran rampant. Instead of learning about the first people of this country, we ignored and skimmed over them in our school lessons.

What I knew of aboriginal culture mostly came from old western movies.

Cultures Around the World

Since starting our travel blog, we have made a point of trying to learn about all cultures around the world.

masai women of Kenya

We visit cultures all around the world – Masai Women in Kenya

We've gone from sitting around campfires on the Masai Mara or visiting homesteads in the hills of northern Vietnam to stopping at jungle communities along the Amazon River.

We've learned about other people's ways of life, but why do we so know little of our own country's heritage?

Canadian Heritage

It wasn't until a few years ago, when we did the Great Spirit Circle Trail on Manitoulin Island, that we began to learn a little about our Canadian heritage.

manitoulin island inishinabe tribe

Our Canadian Heritage on Manitoulin Islan

I met Sébastien at a conference last year in Montreal and talked to him about how I wanted to share the story of Canada's First Nations people with the world.

When people think of travelling to Canada, they often don't put cultural experiences at the top of their list.

Visitors love exploring the Rocky Mountains of Banff and Whistler or taking in the views of Niagara Falls.

Tourists pop into Quebec City or Montreal, but our native culture is often overlooked. Why is our First Nations left off the list?

In other parts of the world, people are interested in learning about the indigenous people and their traditional ways of life.

Watch our Entire Snowmobiline Quebec Adventure

I remember when Dave and I travelled to Greenland and I realized that while I was learning all about the Inuit people of that country, I knew nothing of the Inuit in Canada.

I asked questions and soaked up their heritage.

I learned about why they hunt seal and eat whale, and I used my time there to shed light on a culture that has been mostly ignored.

snowmobile quebec wandake village guide

Wendake Guide at Village

Wendat Community

When we arrived in Quebec City Jason, a representative from James Bay tourism, picked us up at the airport and brought us to Wendake, a First Nations settlement that is actually a borough of Quebec City.

nowmobile quebec wendake chiefs

The Chiefs of the Hurons

We had been to Quebec City before and didn't even know that there was a a reserve located 15 minutes from the old town. Wendake is a 300 year old community established by Wendat people after they were driven from their settlements on the Great Lakes.

snowmobile quebec wendake village

Traditional Huron Site in Quebec City

You may know the Wendat as The Hurons. Huron is a name they are working to eliminate, as it was a crude name given to them by the French meaning “rustic boar's head” because of the Wendat men's hairstyles.

quebec wendake mask

Traditional Mask at Wendat Community

In the 1600's the Wendat people were thriving with a population of 30,000.

With the coming of the white man, famine, and war, their numbers dwindled to a devastating 300 people.

Today the community has a population of 3000 people and welcomes visitors to stay and learn about their way of life.

Where to Stay in Quebec

Stay in style surrounded by culture in the Wendake Community!

Hotel de Musee Premieres Nations

Hotel de Musee Premieres Nations Museum

The beautiful Hôtel-Musée Premières Nations was opened in 2008 and overlooks the Rivière Saint-Charles. The four star resort is complete with a five-star dining room which serves Aboriginal infused cuisine and there is a luxury spa on site.

quebec Hotel Musee Premieres Nations

Hotel de Musee Premieres Nations Lobby

There are free shuttles for guests to Quebec's famous old city and a museum is attached to the hotel with First Nations artifacts and historical items. Their indoor pool should be open by summer.

Hotel Musee Premieres Nations room

Hotel de Musee Premieres Nations Suite

We didn't get a lot of time in Wendake but we look forward to coming back to thoroughly explore.

About the Cultural Village of Wendake

We visited the cultural village where we walked through a replica of a Wendat community and learned that the Wendake people lived in longhouses.

My introduction to longhouse communities was in 2003 when we visited Borneo.

It is funny to think that I knew more about the aboriginal communities in Malaysia and Thailand than I did in my own country.

snowmobile quebec long house

Wendake Longhouse

The village features guided tours, cultural objects, demonstrations, and archaeological artifacts. Our guide walked us through each station, telling us of their history.

There is much to learn and see at Wendake. You can make a base in Quebec City and easily do a day trip to Wendake to get a taste of Canadian history.

The village is picturesque and houses one of Canada's oldest churches, a community centre, health centre, several restaurants, and even their own police force.

Although we love Quebec, our trip was to go north to the lesser visited villages of our First Nations People.

Snowmobiling 1000 km to Cree Nation

Our journey started at Voyage Motoneige, just 15 minutes from downtown Quebec City.

 

snowmobile quebec gearing up

Gearing up at the shop

This shop is located directly on the snowmobile routes, where snowmachine lovers can begin their journey through Quebec's 30,000km of groomed and marked routes.

Our guide and organizer Sébastien rented two snowmobiles and all our gear here from head to toe.

Even if you landed directly from Europe or the Southern United States, you'd be set up with warm clothing including helmets, boots, and mittens.

The only things you need to pack for your snowmobile trip are base layers and a balaclava.

quebec snowmobiling snow machine rentals

Loading up our sleds before the long journey

With 250km a day ahead of us, we set off as early as possible to hit the trails. Dave and I have ridden snowmobiles before, but we weren't prepared for the long days.

Tip: Rent two Separate Machines

We made a big mistake agreeing to ride tandem on one snowmobile instead of taking two.

The person on the back does not have the most pleasant of experiences as they are doing little for movement and soon freeze in the -30+ weather.

Trying to keep up to Sébastien on the winding trails was difficult on our two-man sled with limited experience.

quebec snowmobile trails

Our large two man machine

Had we both been on one more low profile machine, we would have had a better experience.

But, we were committed, and north we went.

The Details for Snowmobile Rentals Quebec City

For information on Snowmobiling Quebec visit Voyage Motoneige.
Rentals start at $210/day
Gear rentals include pants, jackets, boots, mittens, and helmet. $30 for one day $5 for each day afterwards
Guided tours are available
Motoneige is 10 minutes from Quebec City

Innu Communities

It was a four-day journey to our final destination, where we stopped at various Aboriginally run accommodation.

quebec snowmobiling trip innu community

Excellent Bar at Our first stop Club Odanak

Our first night brought us to Club Odanak just outside of La Tuque where we sat for storytelling after dinner to discuss Aboriginal legends.

Storytelling is a large part of Indigenous Culture and most First Nations' lodges and accommodation offer storytelling that will transport you through their history, passed down from generation to generation.

story telling at club odanak

A Night of Storytelling

Sitting in a room filled with stuffed animals and animal hides certainly sets the tone for an authentic Aboriginal experience.

We had a short stay at our hotel as we arrived late and left early the next day, but it was a pleasant lodge with an inviting bar, good food, and well-appointed rooms.

quebec snowmobile trip morning

Leaving First Thing in the Morning

A storm had come in that night, so our day consisted of struggling through un-groomed trails in freezing temperature.

Sadly, it slowed our progress down and we missed out on a wonderful opportunity to spend quality time with our next host, Claude at Whitefeather Lodge.

Whitefeather Lodge

Claude has a calming and welcoming presence and is very open to sharing his knowledge when staying at his lodge.

snowmobile quebec whitefeather lodge

Whitefeather Lodge

We sat around the inviting wood stove after a very long and cold day and had a drum lesson in his meeting room.

whitefeather lodge quebec

Relaxing after dinner

A teacher and leader in the community, Claude is a storyteller, a musician, and dancer at Powwows.

snowmobile quebec whitefeather lodge Claude

Claude Leads the Drum

He offers traditional stays in teepees. His beautiful house is adorned with Aboriginal art, historic artifacts, dreamcatchers, maps, old handmade snowshoes, and musical instruments.

Claude made a delicious meal of fish, moose pies and salad.

relaxing at whitefeather lodge

Community Meals in the Dining Room

It was the best meal we had the entire trip – and we started at an award-winning restaurant in Quebec!

It was too cold to stay in his Tee Pees that night, but for his winter guests, Claude has heated cabins that kept us warm and cozy.

I would have loved to stay here for two or three days to pick his brain and learn of the Innu traditions.

Cree Nation

The next morning it was decided that 300km was too much to cover at our slow pace on the snowmobiles, so to give us a chance to actually experience a community, Sébastian sent us on our way by truck to the town of Chibougamau.

He and Steven from James Bay Tourism whizzed at break-neck speeds through the trails and drove so fast, there was actually a collision involved. Thankfully nobody was hurt and they had a rip-roaring time!

transporting snowmobiles north

Dave and I set Off by Truck

Things to do in Chibougamau

During their adventure, Dave and I had the opportunity to have lunch with Roque, who told us of the great plans to bring tourism to the area.

As I write this article, they are setting up a visitor's bureau and management centre that can take bookings for all Aboriginal experiences in the area.

snowshoe northern quebec

After lunch, we met our nature guide Lori and set off along the trails to explore the area.

The snowshoe trails are free to explore and there are various huts and lookouts where you can make a fire and have a fondue.

Snowshoe Chibougamau

Like the thousands of kilometres of snowmobile trails in Quebec, the snowshoe and cross country ski trails are abundant and well maintained.

While we relaxed in the hut by the fire in the middle of the forest, a grooming machine came along to get the trails ready for the next day.

snowshoe Chibougamau making tea

Making tea in the woods

Lori brought local ingredients for tea that she foraged herself. Labrador tea is popular in this region and it was on the menu that day, infused with herbs and spices collected right in the community.

snowshoe Chibougamau natural herbs

Natural Local Herbs for Tea

Thanks to her mix of local ingredients, a pinch of spruce, and a splash of maple syrup, we had the most delicious tea I've ever tasted.

snowshoe Chibougamau quebec

As the sun went down, we trekked across the frozen lake and marvelled at the clear skies and uninterrupted views.

quebec snowmobile james bay

Incredible Views of and Unspoiled Canada

Our tour was nearing the end here in Chibouganau.

Sadly we would never make it to our Cree Ecotourism site near James Bay.

Tragedy Strikes

The Indigenous Community is going through a crisis.

Young people are committing suicide at alarming rates and sadly, our hosts were affected by this epidemic.

We learned that a beautiful young 18-year old girl had taken her own life. The community is tight-knit and when tragedy strikes, it shuts down as families support each other and grieve together.

Our hearts went out to the family.

indigenous community Cree Nation

Visiting another Cree Community

Our plans had changed and we could no longer visit the community that was struck by tragedy, but we still managed to get a taste of Cree culture.

Located an hour outside Chibougamau is the Cree Cultural Village of Mistissini.

quebec snowmobile trip north

Deb Learns to Sew with the Cree Women

Dave and I spent the day with the community learning some arts and crafts and having some delicious lunch.

I took on sewing to help make moccasins and Dave did some wood carving.

After a quiet and shy introduction, the women of the community eventually embraced my presence and helped my with my sewing skills while laughing at my mistakes and encouraging my accomplishments.

They weren't expecting us on the short notice and it was here that we learned just how shy the people of the north can be.

cree nation quebec

Dave woodcarving

While we hoped to hear about their traditions, we instead put our heads down and worked at our tasks. We came away with smiles, but we still had very little insight into their way of life.

Cultural Institue Chibougamau

It was at our final destination that we started to learn a bit more from our non-Aboriginal guide Francis Marcoux.

He is the archaeologist at the Cultural Institute in Chibougamau.

quebec snowmobile Chibougamau to  Oujee-Bougoumou.

Chibougamau to  Oujee-Bougoumou.

This was also the day that Dave and I got our own snowmobiles and relished our short 60km ride from Chibougamau to  Oujee-Bougoumou.

dave and deb snowmobiling quebec

Loving the Adventure on our Final Day

The trails were busy that day as an antique snowmobiling event was taking place, and we passed dozens of vintage snowmobiles meandering through the trails.

Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute

We arrived at the Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute by mid afternoon, and Francis told us all about Cree History and their struggle to gain independence from the Canadian government.

Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute

Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute

This area was heavily mined and the people were displaced. Through protests, they finally gained their own governing of the area.

snowmobile quebec Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute

The James Bay Cree is a nation that exercises full control over all aspects of their lives, communities, and cultural destiny.

It was during our visit here that we learned that the tourism board is run fully by the Cree in cooperation with James Bay Tourism. As we understood it, this is unique.

quebec snowmobile trips Aanischaaukamikw Cree

Learning to make Spears

While we didn't get to experience everything that was planned during our trip north, we did learn a lot about the future of Aboriginal tourism.

snowmobile quebec Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute

Deb Makes a Souvenir to Take Home

All along our route there were excellent hotels, rest areas, and restaurants.

snowmobile-quebec-Aanischaaukamikw-Cree- Cultural-Institute-2

For snowmobile lovers, it is a dream trip where people can speed through endless trails for days on end.

Each community is connected by the snowmobile route and patrons can expect comfortable rooms, hot showers, and good eats.

If you are looking for a unique adventure in Canada, try a snowmobile trip to the different Aboriginal communities in Canada. You will find it fascinating.

Our 100km snowmobile journey was courtesy of Quebec Original visit their website and EscapeLikeNeverBefore for more details of travel to Northern Quebec and Aboriginal tourism. 

Read next:

Wild Yukon, Fall in Love with the Rugged and Remote

11 Not To Miss Stops on the Cabot Trail

Welcome to the Skyline Trail

A Romantic Ontario Winter Getaway

Misconceptions of Dogsledding

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