What some of us refer to as, Sommers Canoe Base, the Ely Base, the Canoe Base, or just the Base, is a place that has undergone several official name changes through the years. It began in 1923 with canoe trips organized by the Hibbing, Minnesota Council, and was called the Region X Canoe Trails. This was later changed to the Region X Wilderness Canoe Trips. In the early days, there were no permanent structures, and Winton was the launch point. In the winter of 1941-1942, an impressive log lodge was built as a base of operations (above). Soon after, it became the permanent base of operations and was named the Charles L. Sommers Wilderness Canoe Base, taking the name of a great scouter who was the first Chairman of Region X. Mr. Sommers was an avid Base supporter, canoe trip organizer and participant. The name stuck until 1972 when BSA consolidated regions and the base became part of the National High Adventure Program. The name was then changed to the Charles L. Sommers National High Adventure Base, BSA. Over almost 75 years, the Base has had several names, but canoe trips and the wilderness experience have remained largely unchanged.
Tens of thousands of scouts have been outfitted at the Base to travel by canoe through canoe country, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), Ontario's Quetico Provincial Park, and points beyond. The BWCAW and Quetico together form a roadless area of about a million acres with deep glacial lakes and densely forested cover. There are no resorts or cabins, and aircraft and motorboats are restricted. A wilderness canoe trip in this area is not just a fishing trip or a laid-back vacation. It may have elements of both, but a canoe trip is much more. By any measure, it is an intense experience that involves learning to care for oneself and fellow crew members. Just as the voyageurs who travelled through this area in the 1700's, modern day voyageurs are physically challenged as they travel through the woods by paddle and portage. Typical treks may cover 50 to 150 miles and take 6 to 10 days. The canoe base offers the best and latest in lightweight, high tech equipment and a nourishing diet that has been field tested and refined over seven decades. With each crew is a highly skilled technician/instructor called an "Interpreter". Sometimes called "Charlie Guides", these people can make the difference between a wilderness ordeal and an exciting and wonderfully memorable experience.
Generally, the only way in and out of this area is by paddle and portage. Canoe trip preparation is essential. Choices of food and trail gear are very important, and while in the woods there is little room for lapses in good judgement. Old-timers may remember the words of preparation by Cliff Hanson, Base Director for 14 years in the late fifties through the early seventies. On their first night at the Base he told voyageurs-to-be, "You're going to be wet, you're going to be cold, you're going to have more bugs biting on you than you ever thought existed... and about the third night out, you're going to wish your mother was along to tuck you in between clean sheets... and that goes for you advisors. too!" As people know who have been adequately prepared, a wilderness canoe trip can also be an opportunity for high adventure, a load of fun, great fishing, and tremendous personal growth. For many of us as scouts, advisors, and guides, our lives have been fundamentally transformed by the experience.
The Donald Rogert Canoe Base sets the stage for the Atikokan program that is characterized by an increased canoeing area including the northern and western portions of the Quetico Provincial Park. The canoeing area north of Atikokan is the real focus point of the Base. A paved road bisects this canoeing area and consequently makes for several alternatives such as; numerous drop off / pick up points, float plane access, and extended one-way trips. Much of the area north of Atikokan is zoned for multiple use recreation. This multiple use recreation fits well with wilderness canoe trips. The area around Atikokan is referred to as "The Canoe Capital of Canada".
The Bissett program specializes in fresh water fishing, particularly for walleye, and remote wilderness canoe trips. All crews fly by crew-chartered float plane from the Base, which is located in the townsite of Bissett, to the Northern Tier canoe cache on Scout Lake. Scout Lake is about thirty miles north of Bissett.
Bissett is approximately 150 miles northeast of Winnipeg. It can be reached by float plane (Selkirk Air of Selkirk, Manitoba) or by paved and gravel highways. The last 25 miles of the highway is gravel, and this is the route from Manigotogan to Bissett. Several highway routes are available to Powerview, Manitoba, and then by highway 304 to Bissett. The trip from Winnipeg takes about three hours.
The canoeing area for the Bissett Base is primarily the Atikaki (where the caribou are) Park. This is a remote wilderness park and includes many lakes and several rivers flowing west into Lake Winnipeg.This canoeing area, like the area around Ely and Atikokan, is characterized by glacial lakes and what is called the "Canadian Shield".