Sunday, December 20, 2009

The road to Moose Factory

It got easy to travel to Moose Factory a couple of days ago. The winter road across the ice of the Moose River is open to light vehicles. This means that I can call a taxi to where I live here in Moosonee and get a ride to anywhere in Moose Factory.
For most people, it sounds like no big deal. But for the residents of these two small communities at the South end of James Bay in Northern Ontario it makes life a lot easier for a few months.
No more taking a taxi to the boat docks in Moosonee, getting into a boat taxi for the trip to Moose Factory and then, waiting for a taxi at the docks in Moose Factory. Or, taking a taxi to the helicopter pad at the airport and waiting for the two minute journey across to the pad in Moose Factory when the river is breaking up in the spring or freezing in the fall.
Easy, simple, direct and convenient transportation comes every winter once the Moose River freezes.
This year the gap between boats and trucks was short. I took my last picture of taxi boats in the water on November 30th and my first of trucks going across on December 18th.
The first people to make it across from Moose Factory are daring travellers on fast snowmobiles. They are followed by snowmobile taxis with their passengers accommodated in covered sleds. That service lasted for just a few days this year. The weather was cold and the river froze rapidly. Somebody drove over in a truck one day and the next most of the taxis were happy to drive across.
It can be a rough road and it can have problems along the edges. The reason is that the Moose River has tides. Not great big ones like the Bay of Fundy but big enough (a few feet) that the edge of the ice often gets disconnected or partially disconnected from the shoreline. Sometimes this is called the tide mark, a narrow strip of slush and water along the edge of the ice. At best it is a nuisance, sometimes it is enough to stop traffic for a while or force a slightly different routing.
The road to Moose Factory starts at the bottom of McCauley's Hill in Moosonee. The hill is named in honour of two brothers, Sinclair and Oliver McCauley, who lived at the top of the hill. They were the last World War Two veterans in Moosonee.
I went over to the bottom of the hill last Thursday to grab a couple of shots of workers flooding the ice. They drill holes and pump water from underneath the ice. The water freezes on the surface and this makes the ice thicker and safer for travel. They also dumped some snow along the shoreline to make a bit of a ramp for the road.
On Sunday, I went back just before sunset to get some pictures of traffic. The direct road onto the ice had been disconnected by the tidemark so vehicles travelled a little ways along the shore before turning out onto the river. There was a steady traffic and even one truck heading up the river a ways.
Today I got a reminder that the river provides a road for more than snowmobiles and trucks. As I was leaving the bottom of the hill I noticed a single engine plane fly by. I paid no attention for a minute and then noticed it seemed to be coming right at me. It had turned in flight and was coming in to land a bit further up the river. It was low and fairly close and I really wished I had brought a longer lens with me. But even with a 200mm lens I was able to get some quick shots as it flew by.
My time at the bottom of the hill was made even more enjoyable by two friendly ten year olds, Megan and her Uncle Timothy. They had the patience to repeatedly throw chunks of snow and ice onto the thin ice along the shore to let me test out the frame rate of my camera. Thanks to both of them.

Postscript: Monday 2009 December 21st: This morning I headed over to Moose Factory to get an X-Ray done at the hospital. Taxi showed up at my place we headed across the ice, the road was ok but not great. Got to Moose Factory, "oh, oh". Deep water right along the edge of the island. Bunch of vehicles, including our taxi, sitting and waiting. A couple of people went through the water, it came up over their bumpers as they drove through and headed off. Taxi was a van and driver was not keen to risk it. Fortunately, a guy in an SUV and took us thru the water. Once I was on Moose Factory I was there for a few hours, taxis were not willing to go across until the water went down, about three hours later.

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