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On the Road: Frank’s Story

Frank Atsynia, Wemindji’s Deputy Chief 2014 to 2017, travels long distances on a regular basis. He tells us about driving the James Bay Highway:

I travel for work, 5 or 10 days at a time, going by road to Ottawa, Montreal and Val-d’Or mostly, and Chisasibi. I also drive my children to their tournament games in other Cree Nation communities on the weekends, maybe twice in a month.  I don’t mind traveling hundreds of kilometers a month except for winter driving sometimes. Some people here are traveling even more than me.

Highway through the forest and road sign showing distance to Cree towns.

The southern end of the James Bay Highway, leaving Matagami.


The James Bay Highway is long and empty.  That road is rough but it’s a good place for thinking.  I find I talk to myself a lot and then at the end of my journey, stress is gone and I have new ideas.  That’s the plus side of driving the Highway. Then there are the bumps and potholes, always there to keep you awake and alert.

Never seen Bigfoot but I see animals – bears, caribou, foxes, ptarmigan, moose – and the people who use the highway a lot. One day this guy was flagging me. I thought it was an emergency, turned out he just wanted a cigarette, hadn’t had a smoke in two days.  Well, I said, looks like you’ll have to make three days!

Crees travel more than anyone, we all know that. Some people even go to the States for Christmas shopping! My wife sometimes suggests we drive south for groceries. We have a store here. It’s not necessary to drive 785 kilometers for food, but people like to get out once in a while.

I say we should go for a walk, or go to a camp, try snowshoeing again. That kind of traveling keeps you healthy.

Satellite image of Quebec showing road and names of towns.

This map shows the distances by road (red lines) from Wemindji to nearest Cree towns and points south.