10-Nov-2001 -- Part of the fun of confluence hunting is in visiting places you would otherwise not see. When I chose 55N and 114W as my next goal, I knew it would take me to a nearby part of my home province that I had not yet visited. I suspected that it might be a tricky CP, as it had not yet been visited; as it turned out, I was wrong.
The CP is at a bearing of 347 degrees True and a great circle distance of 168 kilometers from my home in Edmonton, Alberta. I decided to approach the point by Highway 2, through Athabasca, continue past to Lesser Slave Lake, and return via Highway 33 through the Swan Hills. I had never driven any of these routes before, or visited any of those places.
It took about two hours to drive to Athabasca, a town of about 2500 on the Athabasca River. The river was an important transportation artery in the days of the fur trade, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and historical displays in the town make much of its origins as a fur trade centre.
According to excerpts taken from the "Story of Rural Municipal Government in Alberta 1909 to1983" by the Association of the Municipal Districts and Counties, “Athabasca in the early days was known as Athabasca Landing. ‘Athabasca’ is a Cree Indian word meaning ‘a place where there are reeds.’ The area played an important part in the early history of Canada's northwest. David Thompson, the noted explorer, surveyor and trader, passed through Athabasca in 1799.
“In 1848 the Hudson's Bay Company established a post at Athabasca Landing as a distribution centre rather than a trading post. Supplies were freighted overland and stored at the post during the winter to await the opening of navigation in the spring. Flatboats carried cargoes to Lake Athabasca, thence up the Peace River to the northwest or up the Slave River to the far north. The Hudson's Bay Company operated a fleet of sternwheeler steamboats, and the Northern Transportation Company also operated a fleet of sternwheeler boats between Grouard, on Lesser Slave Lake, and the Grand Rapids, approximately 125 miles downstream from Athabasca.”
Athabasca’s boom years were from about 1904 to 1913. Then the railroads bypassed the town, simultaneously destroying river traffic. The surrounding area proved poorly suited for agriculture. Many years later, in 1984, the provincial government decided to give outlying economies a boost by decentralizing services, and in a twist of historical irony, moved the distance learning institution that had been located in Edmonton to Athabasca; that institution had been named Athabasca University from its inception several years earlier, and it now found itself located in the community that shared its name. For details see the university’s website.
From Athabasca, my GPS receiver indicated a distance of 55.2 kilometers to the CP. Much of the land in the area is covered with forest. Other parts are muskeg (northern bogs). Just west of the CP is a large area of boreal forest (116,000 hectares) that was destroyed by a forest fire in the early summer of 2001. I didn’t know if the CP would be wooded, burnt over, or cleared land, and I didn’t have the maps to help me guess.
I followed Highway 2 towards the confluence. Mapquest had indicated that a road heading south from the highway would lead to another road heading west to just south of the confluence. Other Mapquest roads (see 50N 100W) had proven to be woefully outdated, but I was hopeful. When I found a gravel road at the expected location, I turned south and followed it until my GPS receiver indicated I was just past the 55th parallel. I was pleased that the expected gravel road, Township Road 694, then led west from there.
Shortly I came to 114 North. It was then clear this would be an easy visit. The confluence was somewhere in the middle of an unfenced and mown hayfield, surrounded only by a shallow ditch. Not only that, a dead-end road, Range Road 10, just past 114 North led up the west side of the field, and took me within 130 meters of the CP. It was a sunny day, warm for the season at 11 degrees Celsius, and the field was dry. I parked my car and walked to the CP, guided by my compass as well as my GPS receiver. The satellite screen showed a lock on nine satellites, unsurprising with the unobstructed views in all directions.
I got the zeroes and put down the GPS, but by the time I got the camera ready, one of the readings had averaged its way to 55 degrees, 0.001 minutes. A brief dance was unable to restore the zeroes, so I settled for that. I took the usual directional photographs, knowing there was no way to make them exciting with at least 130 meters of stubble in all directions before anything else appeared.
I returned to my car, and returned to Township Road 694. One map had indicated that this road continued west a short distance to Highway 44, so I turned that way. At 860 meters from the CP, there is a cattle farm with a massive supply of baled hay in large cylindrical bales. I took a few photographs, and then proceeded to Highway 44.
A quick side trip to the town of Hondo showed that the local citizens had a community centre, but little else, to service their community.
I drove north to the town of Slave Lake, where I celebrated with a large chocolate milkshake, and then proceeded along the shores of Lesser Slave Lake to the Grizzly Trail, Highway 33 through the Swan Hills. I saw none of the famed Swan Hills grizzlies, but the road did reach an altitude of 1210 meters; a roadside sign said this was the highest point east of the Rockies. My GPS receiver indicated 1272 meters at that point; I decided to put my faith in the sign. In the process I circled around 55N 115W, which looks to be located in the middle of some fairly rugged country, with only a few logging roads possibly available to help the confluence hunter.
A couple more hours of driving brought me home after dark but before suppertime, another (metaphorical) successful confluence notch on my GPS.