Man, Dog and Esquif

Thanks to The Newfoundland Explorer aka Justin Barbour for sharing his journey across the Labrador Peninsula.

x lab red river climb
Dragging up the rocky Red Wine River with Saku keeping watch

From July to October 2018, I attempted a 1700 kilometer journey across the Labrador Peninsula. With my Cape Shore water dog Saku by one side, and my Esquif 15’ Prospector canoe on the other, it would be up and down rivers, through the bush and barrens and across very big lakes.

x lab lowa #2
Sliding the half loaded canoe down a steep esker on a portage around Red Wine River waterfalls. FYI – Esker – a long ridge of gravel and other sediment, typically having a winding course, deposited by melt water from a retreating glacier or ice sheet.

I’ve been on adventures for as long as I can remember. But in more recent history I have been pushing things a little further, fixated on the natural experiences and the euphoria felt from overcoming the associated challenges. In 2017, I snowshoed, hiked and pack-rafted 700 kilometers across the island portion of our province with Saku. Although being an avid canoeist, I had yet to travel any ‘significant’ distance in one. The longest trip being a 60 km flick down the Sand Hill River in southeastern Labrador a few years back, while on a teaching assignment.

So what was I to choose as my vessel across Labrador. I would be solo, extremely remote and far from immediate help. There were sure to be endless rocks to drag over. Long black fly laden portages around shattering waterfalls. White water opportunities and daunting open lake paddling with a full canoe. I needed something tough, light and quick. Simple as that.

x lab dragging esquif rw
Lining up the bedrock littered Red Wine River 

For months I scanned the internet, looking for the right boat and a team that would support me and my ideas. I talked to many but the shoe never fit snug. Then I stumbled upon Frank Wolf’s review of an Esquif in a Canoeroots magazine. Now Frank has done some serious adventuring. He has Canada, from West to East littered with the footprints of his voyages, often in canoe. I had heard of Esquif before but it was not one of the groups I had contacted.

After a quick call the friendly and helpful staff had filled me in on models I had been contemplating. Within a month the Prospecteur 15 was shipped from Quebec and in my garage, ready to take on the Labrador outback.

x lab esquif macphayden
Parked for a break on the McPhayden River

Our expedition was cut short at the 1000km mark by high winds and early freeze-up. My Prospecteur 15 couldn’t board the chopper and is still actually in the northern Quebec bush awaiting its pick-up. Boy how I hated to leave her.

But I must say, that Ol’ green machine was an absolute beast. I don’t think many canoes, if any at all, could have handled the 200 km upriver climb to the Labrador height of land like the Prospecteur 15. The ultra strong T-Formex material pioneered and made by Esquif themselves, put on a show. I dragged and lined that thing over endless bedrock pasted riverbeds which would have shredded other canoes to bits. The skid plates had hardly anything left to them by trips end and still the bow and stern were as solid as when we left. And amazingly the hull had only minor surface scratches. It tracked steady and moved swift in crazy swells on ocean sized lakes like Smallwood and Caniapiscau. My biggest day was 45 kilometres. It also carved nicely in white water. All while being heavily loaded with me, Saku the gear and food. Up to about 450 pounds at one point. On portages I was more excited to carry my canoe then my food barrel. It was that light and easy to maneuver through the varying landscapes. From thick forest and high-embankment eskers to rock garden barren-lands.

x lab lowa
Portage through upper McPhayden barren burn country

Saying I was happy with my choice is a vast understatement. As vast as the land I took my Prospecteur 15 through, no further will I look when preparing for a canoe expedition in the future. After what that canoe got me through, I won’t choose another. For a canoe that is a workhorse, reliable and everything in between, you won’t be disappointed either.


***You can follow Justin and Saku’s adventures via their website or on various social media feeds – Facebook, Instagram or Twitter

2 thoughts on “Man, Dog and Esquif

  1. I personally enjoy the great outdoors ,Very envious of your adventures, great pictures . All the best on your next safari.


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