This is the story of a dogsled expedition to the frozen tip of James Bay.
It’s also the story of a chance meeting that would result in a special gift for the First Nations youth of Moosonee.
In February 2015 during an extreme cold snap, I embarked on an extraordinary adventure with my guide, Jamie Sands, of Chocpaw Expeditions, and fellow adventurer Phil Jones from Fraserdale, Ontario on February 25 to begin a 10 day dog sled odyssey to reach the barren snow of James Bay. Making Tracks 2 was designed to raise much-needed funds and awareness for Victim Services Toronto. Three men, three sleds and 19 dogs mushed almost 300 km in sub-zero temperatures and arrived at our destination on March 3 raising donations of more than $11,000.
Nearing the end of the expedition, our team was unable to get to a vital supply drop due to dangerous jagged river ice resulting in crevasse conditions. Huge shards and chunks of ice prevented the intrepid travelers from reaching food for the dogs and themselves. Knowing we were running low on provisions, Sands placed a satellite phone call to a local Moosonee contact Wayne Taipale. He asked Taipale to assist with his snowmobile to bring supplies back to us since the dogsled teams could not maneuver through the uneven ice.
Though he endeavored to get through, Taipale couldn’t locate the Moosonee-based supply cache and so decided to do the next best thing. Purchasing two large bags of dry dog food from a local depot, he headed out on his snowmobile to meet the expedition team. It was clear that a fierce storm was on the way and the dogs and men were completely exhausted from their long distance travel that day. Taipale not only brought in supplies but offered up the use of his own trapper’s cabin for shelter during the night. Gratefully, the team retraced their journey several kilometers back to a remote cabin in the woods as the skies grew dark and ominous and the wind picked up.
The men gave their canine travel companions food and water and prepared their bedding with fresh cut pine boughs. As the sled dogs settled for the night, Taipale set the hearth ablaze with a roaring fire and put on a pot of fresh coffee.
The group of men sat in the warmth of the fire chatting and it was discovered that Taipale was not only a hunter, trapper and local soap stone carver, but also the Mayor of Moosonee. I wanted to offer a gesture of kindness to repay the generosity shown to our group. I asked the mayor what his community needed and how I could fulfill that need. Taipale didn’t hesitate to describe the hardship and isolation faced by First Nations youth and the yearning for recreation, in particular sports. He added that because it could be played throughout three seasons, the emerging sport in Moosonee was baseball.
I vowed that he would bring baseball to the youth of Moosonee.
The expedition continued the next day and we successfully reached our destination. I thought upon that promise made in a trapper’s cabin, remembering the crackle of the fire and the howling winds of the storm while he slept warm and sheltered due to one man’s kindness.
Upon returning to Toronto, I went to work to fulfill his pledge. Multiple calls were made to associates and colleagues at Toronto Police Service as well as the community-at-large asking for assistance. The response was immediate. Within two months I had collected several hundred baseball gloves, bats, balls, bases and assorted gear. Service members Alex Niculae, of 33 Division, and Dave Knowles, of 22 Division, delivered car loads of bases, bats and balls. 11 Division baseball league players and coaches Eric Berridge and Russ Barnett collected multiple items from team surplus stock. Community members lined up at 11 Division to contribute.
It didn’t stop there. Mr. Sports on Dundas Street West donated enough jerseys to outfit four full teams. Ventures Car and Truck Rentals graciously agreed to supply the vehicle to transport all the gear. Ontario Northland Rail Line generously provided the rail transportation to Moosonee.
On May 26, I left Toronto to deliver this vanload of gifts. After driving eight hours by van and travelling another five hours by train, the load of baseball gear was delivered to the Northern community of Moosonee and into the hands of hunter, trapper, artist and mayor, Wayne Taipale.
It was a satisfying moment for us both. A promise made in a trapper’s cabin - a promise kept.