Trip Reports

Reflections on the Missinaibi River Trip around 2002-3

Missinaibi Adjunct regarding Fred Neegan

Having just read the recent (Jan 17, 2021) article on the Missinaibi River with interest, especially since it prominently features Fred Neegan (1921-2018) it moves me to add a wee corollary.  Around 2002-2003 there were 10 of us club members who undertook to paddle pretty well the entire length of the Missinaibi River down to Moose Factory in 4 tandem boats. Our entire crew (Lester, Claire, Mike, Mike, Dave, Paul, Dan, Pat, Jerry, plus 1). If you were quick on the arithmetic there you may now well be asking now how did 10 paddlers fit in 4 boats? Answer is simply that at the half-way point, in Mattice, two team members switched out and two fresh (in more ways than one) paddlers replaced them. BTW a great public shower facilities in Mattice. But I digress.

Back to the Fred Neegan connection. One of our team, Pat, a retired Ottawa School teacher, had worked to earn money for school years and years ago as a surveyor on the Abitibi Dam project and he had as an assistant and guide, guess who, yes you're right, Fred Neegan. When Pat realized we'd be going through Mattice he sign up for this trip immediately in hopes of reconnecting with his old companion one more time. I remember well the day we landed in Mattice and set out to find Fred, to no avail. But undaunted we persevered and set out to ask everybody in town - 'where is Fred?' (It's not that big a place after all).  Perseverance pays off, we discover the location of Fred's cabin, but, no Fred. Back to persevering again, eventually to be informed that Fred had left some weeks earlier to go out on a paid gig for the government, clearing overgrown portage trails. Saddened, we drowned our sorrows with fresh beers and steaks that our fresh crew members had brought in, and said goodbye to the two members who would leave the following morning for the long drive back to Ottawa. The local police chief even came down for a visit and had a beer with us.
The following morning, good byes were shared and again we pushed off on the second phase of this Missinaibi expedition to head north to Thunder House Falls and eventually the Moose River and Moosonee/Moose Factory. Pat was somewhat disallusioned at having missed his old friend but we tried to cheer him up best we could. The police chief came down again to wave us off and we felt good now being clean again and back on the water. After only an hour or so out of Mattice someone observed a red canoe across the River paddling upstream towards us. As we drew closer Pat's paddling grew more enthusiastic and vigorous - he was the first to realize the solo paddler in that red canoe, was Fred.
For the next hour or so, we lay heaved too, in our boats on the shore line while Fred and Pat got reacquainted and we made tribute to Fred, not necessarily in the old way though, with tobacco. I should add we had a somwhat talented and very enthusiastic angler in the team, Jerry, who could not resist the temptation, in the presence of a First Nation elder, one once renowned for his guiding, hunting and fishing prowess, to ask Fred where was the best place to get fish. Fred responded by informing us he usually gets really good fish at the local fish mongers store in Mattice! ?. Undaunted Jerry went on to catch some splendid fish during the trip, including a few who 'got away'?
Looking back on this trip I must say I am glad, even honoured, to have met and spoken with Elder Fred Neegan. Short as that visit was. And I dare say he was with us in spirit as we paddled north and on to Glassy Falls, Thunder House Falls, The Moose and James Bay. I believe that Fred was the last Cree (actually of Cree/Ojibwa heritage) in Mattice at the time and I remember being told that the Cree were squeezed out and moved north as more and more settlers, largely French Canadians moved into the area. It was a great trip and there is, or was, a great trip report posted here many years ago but I could no longer find it.
BTW the Missinaibi and Moose Rivers are still there, waiting for you. ?