Five Things to Know About the Dangers of Manitoba’s Northern Wilderness

August 1, 2019 Updated: August 1, 2019

GILLAM, MB—The RCMP have been searching a remote area in northern Manitoba for more than a week trying to find murder suspects Bryer Schmegelsky and Kam McLeod. A burned-out vehicle the fugitives were driving was found near the town of Gillam, MB., 1,000 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.

Authorities have called the landscape unforgiving and officials in the area say it’s a treacherous place this time of year, even for seasoned hunters and trappers. Here are some of the dangers:

Terrain

John McDonald, Gillam’s deputy mayor, says the area in the summer is covered in muskeg—bog consisting of water and partially dead vegetation often covered by moss.

“You can be walking along on it and all of a sudden break through to the water,” he says.

There are trapping trails, he adds, but those usually run a little more than a kilometre before reaching wet areas.

Daryll Hedman, a big game biologist with the provincial government, says the area has a lot of creeks and rivers the suspects would have to swim across.

Utility line workers often wait until winter to walk go into the area, he says. “Because you’ve got good, frozen ground underneath you.”

Bugs and Wildlife

A mosquito sits on a stick in Martinez, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
A mosquito sits on a stick in Martinez, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Bloodsucking insects are a big problem in the region, and there are a lot of them in the summer, Hedman says.

“The bugs up there, they are unreal,” he says of the mosquitoes, sandflies, and horseflies.

McDonald says black bears and wolves are in the area, but they mostly leave people alone. Polar bears, which have been known to stalk people, have also been spotted outside Gillam.

Weather

Temperatures were as high as 30 degrees Celsius when the search for the suspects began in Manitoba a week ago, McDonald says. But overnight lows have dipped down to single digits.

“If you are wet, it’s quite easy to get hypothermia when it’s plus eight degrees outside,” he says.

“But we don’t know what kind of supplies they have.”

Food

Besides hunting, there’s not much food to be found.

“We don’t have much for berries out yet,” Hedman says. “They would need to do some scavenging or catching the odd rabbit.”

There are caribou in the area, but McDonald says “that’s not something that you are just going to wander into the wilderness and feed yourself with whenever you get hungry.”

Transportation

There is only one road into Gillam and one road into nearby Fox Lake Cree Nation. To the southeast, the community of York Landing is only accessible by plane or boat.

“Any other areas around there, they have winter roads, but they aren’t frozen,” Hedman says. “You still have swamps, rivers, and lakes to cross.”

The Nelson River to the west can’t be crossed because its current is too swift, he adds. To the east, there is more muskeg, then Hudson Bay.

Trains go south to Winnipeg and north to Churchill, where the rail line ends.

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