1,500-km journey in the same clothes



Tim Wieclawski/Metro Ottawa


Such a long journey: Modern-day voyageurs Bob Abrames, Ken Ilgunas, Jay Bailey and Christian Pilon walk the last 200 metres to the National Arts Centre yesterday afternoon to bring their historic 1,500-kilometre journey full circle. The four left Ottawa on Canada Day with the aim of recreating a trip the voyageurs might have taken 175 years ago.


After living the life of a voyageur for the last two months, travelling 1,500 kilometres in a birchbark canoe, dressed in the same clothing and eating the same food as his predecessors, Ken Ilgunas is looking forward to eating something other than peas, salt pork, cranberries, maple sugar and green tea.

Ilgunas and a team of adventurers, led by Bob Abrames, returned to Ottawa yesterday from a two-month, 1,500-kilometre journey where they lived like the voyageurs would have when they made similar journeys 175 years ago.

“It was wonderful, really personally enriching,” said Ilgunas, a resident of Niagara Falls, N.Y., whose family met him at the Ottawa locks below Parliament Hill.

Tim Wieclawski/metro ottawa

Bob Abrames and his crew unload their birchbark canoe yesterday afternoon after completing their 1,500-kilometre journey.

The journey ended where it began on Canada Day when the group travelled down the Rideau Canal to Lake Ontario, then to Georgian Bay, up the French River to Lake Nipissing and the Mattawa River, and finally back down the Ottawa River.

Despite the occasional storm and more than 100 portages, Jay Bailey, a teacher in Simcoe, said the bugs were the worst part.

“Mosquitoes are the worst when it’s hot and muggy with no wind,” he said. “They got so bad you had to wrap yourself in a wool cocoon. When it’s hot and muggy, that can be really suffocating. It took a while to adjust to that.”

Abrames, who has made similar expeditions in the past, said he was amazed by the incredible people the crew met along the way.