Chisasibi, which means “Great River”, is the northernmost Cree community in the province of Quebec accessible by road. There are also daily flights in and out of Chisasibi on Air Creebec, landing at the Robert Kanatewat Airport named for a former chief of the village.
Situated near Kilometer 0 on the southern banks of La Grande Rivière close to where the river flows into James Bay, it is also the largest of the ten Cree communities that comprise Eeyou Istchee (a territory of over 5,200 square kilometers in north-central Quebec.) With a population of more than 5000, this eclectic, vibrant and growing community includes approximately 4800 Crees, 90 Inuits and 250 non-Natives of diverse origins.
Chisasibi is located in an area rich in history where archeological digs have found evidence of on-going indigenous habitation for over 5000 years. Although English is also widely spoken, as well as some French, the Cree mother tongue and traditions still flourish strongly here where the boreal forest merges with the taiga, and the waters of La Grande River and James Bay mingle with those of Hudson Bay. Visitors can discover more of its history by enjoying the fascinating and informative displays at the Chisasibi Heritage and Cultural Centre which is open to the public year round.
Popular winter activities include snowmobiling, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Hockey is a passion among young Crees, and one can often catch a game or tournament going on at Job’s Memorial Gardens Arena.
During the summer, tourists are welcome to join in the colourful annual pow-wow or the week-long cultural festival of Mamoweedow Minstuksh that takes place on nearby Fort George Island, just a short ferry ride from the mainland. Some other annual events include a variety of concerts, fiddle and square-dancing competitions, snowmobile races and Multicultural Day. Local amenities include a fitness centre and an indoor swimming complex.
Alongside modern life, the hunting and gathering of traditional foods such as caribou, moose, bear, fish, goose, hare, ptarmigan and wild berries is still carried out in season. And visitors might be lucky enough to view a time-honoured walking-out ceremony or see the knowledge of ancient crafts being passed on to a younger generation at the Elders’ Camp.
Named for the Hudson’s Bay Company’s fur-trading post once situated there, Fort George Island was the original location of this community which moved to its present site on the mainland in 1980. All summer long, visitors can wander through the old abandoned village on the island and imagine what life must once have been like there.
Adventurers wishing to spend a few nights in a traditional bush camp will be pleased to know that local guides are available to share their strong culture and ancient legends. There are also two comfortable modern options for visitors: a 40-room hotel, the Hotel Waastooskuun, and a 9-room B&B, the Auberge Maanitaaukimikw.
Chisasibi is surrounded by a multitude of freshwater lakes, rivers and streams, and only a short drive from the town, you can dip your toes into the chilly salt waters of James Bay as you watch the sunset over the many islands visible from the sandy shoreline.
It is also an easy day trip from Chisasibi to view the impressive hydro-electric installations at LG-1 and at LG-2 where the Robert-Bourassa generating station is located.