Saturday, Sept. 6, 1930: Canoeing with the Cree

Posted on September 18th, 2005 – 8:45 PM
By Ben Welter
Eric Sevareid, a 1935 University of Minnesota graduate, covered war and politics during a 42-year career in newspapers and television. (1988 Star Tribune photo)

In the summer of 1930, two young Minneapolis men — Eric Sevareid, 17, and Walter Port, 19 — climbed into an 18-foot canvas canoe on the Mississippi River at Fort Snelling and began a 2,250-mile journey to Hudson Bay. The Minneapolis Star’s managing editor agreed to pay them to file occasional reports for the paper. The Star published 10 reports during their nearly four-month journey, the last on Oct. 11, 1930. Below is the ninth report, apparently mailed from a Hudson’s Bay Company office on Lake Winnipeg, hundreds of miles north of Winnipeg.

Sevareid later graduated from the University of Minnesota, wrote for the Minneapolis Journal and made his mark in TV journalism. Port worked as a fishing guide, enlisted in the Navy and established a photography business in Bemidji.

For more on their canoe trip, and a just-completed anniversary journey, see:

“Canoeing with the Cree” | 75th Anniversary Edition

Hudson Bay Expedition | May-August 2005

Paddlers, Out of Mosquito
Zone, Listen to Tales of
Trappers in Canada Wilds

Minneapolis Canoeists
Sightseeing in Upper
Lake Winnipeg

This is another letter from Walter Post [sic] and Arnold Sevareid [he went by "Arnold" then], Minneapolis high school boys, who are making a canoe trip to Hudson Bay. Other letters will be published as they are received.

Sitting the Hudson’s Bay company office at Berens River with a Canadian mounted policeman on one side and two Hudson’s Bay company clerks on the other, we feel as we write this letter that at last we are getting into the north. We picked our way through the small granite islands of the Berens river mouth to arrive at the trading post just at dark.

June 17, 1930: Eric Sevareid, left, and Walter Port set out from Minneapolis with copper-tipped paddles, a .22-caliber rifle, plenty of gear, some travelers’ checks and five bucks in cash. (Minneapolis Journal photo)

Today we have been seeing the sights of Berens River. It is an Indian reserve so we met Indians on the water, Indians on shore – in fact, everywhere we went we met Indians. Some of them could talk some English, but most of them speak very little. Chief Berens, however, has a good mastery of English, and he told us many interesting things in the half hour we talked to him.

Trapper Gives Information

Another odd character here at Berens River is William Everett. He is a French Canadian trapper who fishes and guides in the summer. From him we learned much about this country, as he knows it like a book.

Then there are the forest rangers, the men at the government radio broadcasting station, and the Hudson’s Bay company men. Each of them had his own favorite story to tell of the Canadian north.

During the last week, we have come over 300 miles from the Canoe club in Winnipeg. A number of the members down at the dock gave us a rousing cheer to send us on our way for the last 1,000 miles. If we get fair weather we can make the 150 miles to Norway House at the north end of Lake Winnipeg in four or five days.

Lake Winnipeg Rough

One of the clerks here at the store just gave us a small brick of pemmican. It looks like black chocolate, smells like limburger cheese, and has a taste all its own.

Among the many changes we have come to is the change from smooth river surface to the rough waters of Lake Winnipeg. It is a pleasant change, although sometimes when we get to bobbing around on top of some of the big swells we wish we were back on the river again.

The other day we approached a point of land running westward out into the lake. A stiff breeze from the south was just whipping up the lake’s surface. By the time we got half way out to the end of the point, there was a heavy sea running. There was no turning back then; we just had to ride it out. As we raced across the tip of the rocky reef, a three-ton wave broke just behind us. But we had beaten it to the reef – and an inch is as good as a mile.

Outside of getting laid up for short spells by the wind, jumping across the mouths of wide bays, riding high rollers, and trying to find out where we are from Indians who cannot speak English, we have no excitement to speak of. The mosquitoes are gone so we can now sleep without our tent.

Indians Use Motors

Many of the Indians up here use outboard motors. Gasoline is around 50 cents a gallon, but that doesn’t stop them. It just means they have to trap a little more to buy gas. They tell us we will pass through country where gasoline gets as high as $6 a gallon – and grub correspondingly so.

Sevareid and Port
Sevareid and Port slipped their second-hand canoe into the Mississippi and began their 2,250-mile journey to Hudson Bay. (Minneapolis Journal photo)

This is a great country. If we had our way we would never leave it. It’s great to sail along a shore strewn with rocks backed by the edge of a great pine forest without a human for miles, where the only life in the region is the animals, moose, deer, bear and wolves, which populate the woods.

Wonderful Game Country

For it is a wonderful game country. Although we have seen but one deer ourselves, their signs are everywhere. And just last night, as we sat before our fire on an island in Berens river harbor, we listened for hours to the stories of the big game hunts and the trap lines told by our friend and guide while in the settlement.

And fish! We have done little ourselves but the whitefish from Lake Winnipeg bring the highest price on the market, and Lake Winnipeg sturgeon are known far and wide. No doubt there are people now, from New York to San Francisco, who are sitting before caviar from the sturgeon of Lake Winnipeg.

But we will have to leave it all behind in three weeks or so, for we figure that it will not require more than that to finish our all-summer trip. One week will take us to Norway house, the head of the lake, and two more should bring us the final 500 miles downstream to Hudson bay.

We have the worst part of the lake to complete yet, however, for we are now in its upper arm where it is as much as 75 miles wide, unprotected by islands, where the least breeze kicks up quite a sea.


John Erickson, furniture finisher, 1012 E. Fifteenth street, was fined $10 in municipal court late Friday by Judge Manley L. Fosseen on a disorderly conduct charge preferred because Erickson was using his own methods to clean park benches at Elliott park.

Members of a police gun squad were called to the park by the report that a maniac was destroying property there. They found Erickson busily tossing benches into the swimming pool. When police arrived, 11 benches already were floating about in the water.

“I can’t stand it to see benches so dirty,” Erickson told the police.

In court, he insisted he was only attempting to clean the seats, but Judge Fosseen made him pay $10 for the privilege.

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