the canol heritage trail

 
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Nestled in the subarctic interior of the Northwest Territories in an area known as the Sahtu, the Canol Heritage Trail is a 355km rugged alpine path that weaves it's way through rivers and thicket deep within the Mackenzie Mountains. The trail is the homeland of the Shúhtagot’ı̨nę and is intimately known by the Sahtu Dene & Métis who have used the trail to hunt, socialize and travel for thousands of years. Due to it's remoteness and length, the Canol is considered to be one of the most difficult trails to complete in Canada. The breathtaking mountain vistas and dramatic canyons of the Canol form an essential component of the Northern Canadian wilderness. 

 The lowlands of the Canol Heritage Trail with the Mackenzie Mountains visible in the distance

The lowlands of the Canol Heritage Trail with the Mackenzie Mountains visible in the distance

After the World War II bombings of Pearl Harbor in 1941, the Japanese Army became a growing threat to Allied supply routes throughout the pacific. To bolster their defences, the governments of Canada and the United States agreed to build a pipeline from the oil field at Norman Wells, N.W.T. across the Mackenzie Mountains to a refinery in Whitehorse, Yukon, where oil would be distributed along the pacific coast.

With no maps of the area, and little experience surviving in the north, the American Army relied on the knowledge of local Indigenous People to guide them through the unforgiving mountain wilderness of the Sahtu. The CANOL project (short for Canadian Oil) was eventually completed two years later by 20,000 men and women and at cost of over $300 million. 

 Dogsleds were used by the Sahtu Dene to travel through the mountains in the winter 

Dogsleds were used by the Sahtu Dene to travel through the mountains in the winter 

However after only a year of use the pipeline and trail were abandoned, with much of the infrastructure left in the mountains. Nowadays the route is frequented by wandering hikers, dall sheep and grizzly bears. The abandoned route is now known as The Canol Heritage Trail and is on it's way to becoming a designated Territorial Park.

 

 

 The remains of an abandoned pumphouse at Mile 36

The remains of an abandoned pumphouse at Mile 36

Every year youth from across the Sahtu embark on a leadership hike along the Canol Heritage Trail to learn how to live on their ancestral lands and to learn the teachings of local Sahtu Dene elders and guides. The trail also offers an intimate look at the mysteries of the CANOL project, and the work that must be done to preserve this unique natural and cultural landmark.

 The dramatic cliffs and creeks of Dodo Canyon serve as the entrance to the Mackenzie Mountains. River crossings must be completed to traverse the trail

The dramatic cliffs and creeks of Dodo Canyon serve as the entrance to the Mackenzie Mountains. River crossings must be completed to traverse the trail

 
 Over 80 tonnes of telephone wire have been cleaned up since remediation of the Canol Heritage Trail began

Over 80 tonnes of telephone wire have been cleaned up since remediation of the Canol Heritage Trail began

 Drum songs at the Elders Camp at Mile 25

Drum songs at the Elders Camp at Mile 25

 The CarcaJou River crossing at Mile 26

The CarcaJou River crossing at Mile 26

 
 
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In July 2017, Trails in Tandem joined an adventurous team of hikers from Norman Wells and Tulita on an epic journey on the 12th annual Canol Youth Leadership Hike.

Starting at Mile 40 of the Canol Heritage Trail, the expedition team traced the history of the Sahtu Dene and the World War II pipeline workers along the interior of the dramatic Dodo Canyon, the racing Carcajou river and through the thick mountain lowlands to end at the mighty Mackenzie River. 

Documenting the entire hike, and highlighting the history of the CANOL project in the Sahtu, a 60 minute adventure film has been cut and will be coming in Summer 2018.