Two weeks ago, on Sept. 8, Mike Ranta hauled his canoe on a battered portage cart 23 long miles to Thunder Bay. This city in northwestern Ontario, located at the head of the St. Lawrence Seaway, was once a hub of the fur trade. Two centuries ago, weary voyageurs would summon energy for the great rendezvous—the biggest party of the season. Hardened “hivernant” paddlers who overwintered in the Canadian north met with “pork eater” crews arriving from Montreal. The trouble for Ranta, the charismatic modern day voyageur attempting his third cross-Canada canoe voyage, is that he’s arriving nearly two months late.

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