Trip Reports

The Missinaibi River Connection with the RACCC

The Missinaibi River Connection with the RACCC 

The club’s presentation on the Missinaibi River trips held on February 10th made me reflect on my 1975 trip and reminded me that the Missinaibi has quite a history with the club:  the Missinaibi played a role in the introduction of whitewater canoeing to the club.

Whitewater canoeing was started in the club, the OYCCC at the time, in 1975 by Christa Renken.  She had taken whitewater training and a trip (most likely down the Missinaibi) with an outfitter called Headwaters1.  There she met a guide named Fred Neegan who she convinced to come to Ottawa from Mattice on the Missinaibi  to teach whitewater canoeing to the club, which he did at Palmer’s Rapids in the spring of 1975 and for a year or two  after. He was a superb canoeist. There was a fair bit of concern in the club at the time as the club’s aluminum Grumman canoes were used for whitewater and some of them sustained considerable damage. (ABS canoes were only just starting to become available.) However there was great interest in the whitewater training program and the running of rivers with rapids such as the Madawaska, the Petawawa, the Dumoine and the Rouge and whitewater canoeing became firmly established in the club. The introduction of whitewater skills was due to the efforts of Fred Neegan, a guide from Mattice who learned and practiced his lifework on the Missinaibi.

 

While I had been impressed with Fred’s character when I knew him, a comment on a chat post I made during the presentation spurred me to look into his life. He was born on May 16, 1931 close to the Missinaibi of a Cree mother and an Ojibway father. At the age of 5 he was sent to a residential school in Chapleau and did not return to his parents in Mattice until 12 years later. While he later described the school as being “worse than prison” he was able to live a Fred Neegangood life trapping, hunting, fishing, and guiding. He shared his knowledge freely and was known for his smile and his saying that “If you want to live long, you have to smile at your problems”. Fred received several honours for his contributions to the cultural life of the Missinaibi. In 1996, he was honored by the Ontario Heritage Foundation for his dedication to the restoration of the historic First Nations cemetery, located two kilometers south of Mattice on the banks of the Missinaibi. In 2014 the Missinaibi landing in Mattice was renamed after him and a plaque erected with the following inscription:

This landing along the banks of the Missinaibi River is a lasting tribute to Frederick Neegan, a local First Nations elder of Cree and Ojibway heritage. Fred grew up along the river and has trapped, hunted, fished and guided many canoeists to ensure their safe passage. He is always ready to share his knowledge of the Missinaibi River, and with his infectious smile, recount the many interesting stories he has of travelling up and down it. He is a true gentleman and is regarded as the “guardian of the Missinaibi”.

In 2016 he received a Honourary Doctorate of Law from l'Université de Hearst recognizing his work to communicate his knowledge of nature and the environment.  He was recognized as a First Nation’s “Elder”. On June 8, 2018 Fred Neegan passed away at the age of 87 in Sudbury.

I, along with six other club members, went down the Missinaibi River from Peterbell to Moosonee on a two-week trip in the summer of 1975 and we were fortunate to be guided down the river by Fred Neegan. At that time we could take the train from Ottawa which we did, boarding the train late Friday evening with our canoes and packs checked as baggage and getting out of the Canadian at the bridge at Peterbell early Saturday morning where Fred was waiting for us under the bridge. We used aluminum canoes, Egyptian cotton tents and canvas canoe packs and of course were without a stove or a food barrel.  Fred used his traditional technique to run the rapids and was ashamed if any water got in the canoe: with a full load of cargo one did not want to get water in the boat2. At least once at a particularly difficult set of rapids, Fred, taking the bow position, took the fully laden canoes through to save portaging. He did not like to get his feet wet and I followed his example and never ended up with a wet pair of boots. With Fred on the trip all we did to safeguard the food at night was to double bag it in canvas canoe packs and put the bags under the canoes, and we never doused the campfire at night.  It was a real pleasure to travel with Fred who knew the river like the back of his hand and to whom the outdoors was his living room.

While I am sure whitewater canoeing would have become popular at some time in the club it was given a jump start by Fred Neegan from the Missinaibi! As a club we were privileged to have him spend time with us.

Footnotes

1: MHO Adventures, formerly called Missinaibi Headwaters Outfitters which used to be based in Chapleau, employed Fred Neegan as a guide but according to their website this company was only founded in 1990. It is likely that the company Christa Renken became acquainted with Fred Neegan through was a forerunner of Missinaibi Headwaters Outfitters. I remember meeting the owner of Headwaters and my recollection is that he primarily catered to hunters and fishers.

2: C. E. S. Franks presents a very good description of the difference between traditional and recreational canoeing in his book The Canoe and White Water: From Essential to Sport, University of Toronto Press 1977

References

Fred Neegan - Stories of the Man and His River. Marc Hallebourg. https://www.facebook.com/FredNeegan-Stories-of-the-Man-and-His-River-1448269815459982/

Indian Cemetery - Municipalité de Mattice – Val Côté Municipality. http://matticevalcote.ca/mattice/?page_id=32&lang=en 3 of 3

Neegan’s Landing to be christened in spring – Kapuskasing Northern 13 Dec 2013. https://nationtalk.ca/story/neegans-landing-to-be-christened-in-spring-kapuskasing-northern

L'Université de Hearst rend hommage à Fred Neegan. Radio Canada ICI Nord de l'Ontario 20 Jun 2016. https://ici.radio-canada.ca/nouvelle/788470/diplomes-universite-hearst-fred-neeganmissinaibi?depuisRecherche=true

Fred Neegan, figure de proue autochtone du Nord de l'Ontario, s'est éteint. Radio Canada ICI Nord de l'Ontario, 9 Jun 2018. https://ici.radio-canada.ca/nouvelle/1106063/fred-neegan-nord-de-ontario-mortmattice-missinaibi-autochtone

Fred Neegan – Happy Trails Friend. MHO Adventures. https://mhoadventures.com/team/fred-neegan/

Missinaibi 2004-2014, 10 Year State of the River Report. Parks Canada 2015 p.37. http://parkscanadahistory.com/publications/chrs/monitoring-rpts/missinaibi-2015.pdf

Jim Young, February 17, 2021