Yet scouting wildlife or even seeing “the sights” isn’t really the point of a visit to Moose Factory. Visitors can wander down the island’s dirt and gravel roads to the Cree Cultural Interpretive Centre, where you learn, among other things, that the Cree traditionally brewed willow bark tea to reduce fever and pains (it contains salicylic acid, similar to the chemical found in aspirin) and that they used to fashion babies’ diapers out of the region’s highly absorbent moss.
The 20-room Cree Village Ecolodge, where I’m staying, provides local jobs, while offering visitors rustically comfortable accommodations (with organic cotton bedding, birch wood blinds, and wi-fi). Meals are prepared with venison, bison, cranberries, and other traditional ingredients.
To me, though, it’s equally interesting to hang out at the Moose Cree Complex, which is part shopping center, part city hall, and part local gathering place. I wander through the Northern Store, pricing groceries, clothing, and housewares (all expensive), before sitting down to a bacon-and-eggs breakfast at Gunner’s Grill, where local teens in hoodies are chilling over coffee. For dessert, I buy some homemade raisin tarts from an elderly Cree lady who’s set up a pastry sales table in the middle of the complex.
When I stop to chat with several local folks who are lounging on a bench after work, they tell me that in winter, snowmobiles and cars cross to the mainland on an ice road built across the frozen river. They also tell me that in the “freeze up” between fall and winter and again in the “break up” between spring and summer (when the river isn’t frozen solid but it’s still too icy for the water taxis to shuttle passengers to Moosonee), the only way to get on or off the island is by helicopter. Even the high school kids take the chopper to class on the mainland.
Roads? Who needs ’em?
Photo © Carolyn B. Heller