Box 1320, Kuujjuaq, Nunavik (QC), J0M 1C0, Canada
Phone: +608-370-5071 / Email



Biologist & Naturalist
Bob Gainer

Tundra Tom & Bob Gainer - aka 'Dr. Bob' have been good friends for forty-some years, going back to the days when Bob was an active veterinarian and used to run 'clinics' on Tom & Andrea's kitchen table in Hay River, NWT during the late 1970's. Bob has since worked as a full-time vet in the NWT & Alberta, and as a biology instructor at Thebacha College in Fort Smith, NWT. Bob is also an experienced commercial pilot who has explored all over the Far North by both air and ground. We are proud that Bob has joined several of our trips on the Thelon both as a client along with his wife Jane, and later as a resident biologist & assistant field leader. Bob Gainer is also a part-time writer, having articles published in magazines including Nature Alberta. Bob has recently written the following story about his experiences to the Thelon county:

Dr Bob 'spills the beans'


- My Many Trips to the Thelon -

Bob Gainer & Tundra Tom with the float-equipped Cessna turbine 207 on the Thelon



"Over the past 12 years I have made 6 two-week trips to tourist camps in the upper Thelon; specifically Lynx & Whitefish Lakes. I had seen the tundra many years ago on a biology assignment and had always wanted to return. The upper Thelon area is the most accessible tundra to me."





"Typically I’d leave Fort Smith in a float plane and head northeast 200 nautical miles. Fort Smith on the south shore of the Slave River is part of the great plains with excellent stands of market quality white spruce and even a limited farming potential."



Boreal -prairie forest near Fort Smith NWT


Precambrian boreal forest in th NWT / photo copyright Jim Allen



"As one crosses the river you notice that the north shore is the Canadian shield. Approximately half the area is water in the form of lakes, rivers and streams of every size. Typically the land is still dominated by white spruce, but it is much less growthy and there is a higher component of black spruce, jackpine and birch. The understory is a lot of Labrador tea, willow and blueberrys. The groundcover is primarily lichen and moss. This is prime barrenland caribou winter range."



"As one heads northeast, the tree component is reduced and the understory and ground component is increased as we draw closer to the “treeline.”   In his books on The Natural history of the Rocky Mountains Ben Gadd alludes to the “timberline” as actually being the “timberzone.” This is the area where the timber and alpine tundra components reverse dominance. Where the tundra and timber components are approximately 50% is the timberline."


Howard esker in the Thelon headwaters / photo copyright Robert Taylor


Esker near the tree-line / photo copytight Max Finkelstein

"Similarily the treeline is where the northern tundra and trees are approximately equal. Many hundreds of miles to the south there will still be patches and vegetation of the tundra growing and similarily many hundreds of miles to the north there will be groves and mini oasis of trees. Until one gets a long ways north the barrenland tundra always has sheltered little micro ecosystems that support tree growth."


"Whitefish Lake and Lynx Lake are well past the treeline, the area is predominantly tundra but the sheltered slopes, especially those associated with eskers have both spruces and the occasional jackpine. The understory is dominated by dwarf birch, some Labrador tea, willow and alder. The ground cover is still largely moss covered, much less lichen and the drier areas are replaced with primarily bearberry and crowberry."

Watching for caribou on upper Thelon esker / photo copyright Sandra Hannah

Musk-oxen herd on Thelon / photo copyright Kaz Takahashi


"Originally these Lakes were part of the greater Thelon Game Sanctuary but were removed in 1956 when the Sanctuary was much reduced in size. The Sanctuary was originally created in 1926 to protect the mainland muskox population.  After the destruction of the buffalo herds on the southern prairies approximately 50 years earlier, the demand for leather for belts to run industrial machinery, amongst other reasons, resulted in the near disappearance of muskox."




"The success of this vision has been a great increase in their numbers. Ironically, it is very easy to see muskox outside of the Sanctuary, their numbers have increased so much that there are several herds inside the “tree zone,” almost to their historical range limit; but inside the sanctuary there are very few. Alex Hall in his book Eden wonders if it might be associated with the corresponding increase in barrenland grizzly." 



Proud musk-ox bull on the barrens / photo copyright Dale Sherwood


Rare pink & red tinged aurora borealis on the Thelon / photo copyright Kaz Takahashi



"I usually go the later part of August or early September. The insects have almost disappeared, there is enough night for the northern lights.'




"My particular fascination is with lichens and mosses. I'm not at all an expert but really find fascinating what species you find where. Their location tells you about the soil's slope and drainage, whether it is facing the sun or not, stage of succession, as well as vegetative associations A story could be written about every different combination of species."

"The bearberry turns the carpet a scarlet red with green crowberry for highlights framed with the gentle orange hues of dwarf birch. Wonderful if the weather is good."

Groundcover of bearberry & crowberry in autumn / photo copyright Bob Gainer

Caribou in the camp yard - photo copyright Dale Sherwood

"Muskox herds are always nearby; but caribou are caribou. As Ernest Thompson Seton put it in Arctic Prairies, if you make preparations that don’t include caribou being there, they will never be out of sight. But some years they are almost absent."

"Wolves, barrenland grizzly, wolverine, fox, ground squirrels are everywhere, it just depends on whether they want you to see them or not; or deserve to see them as most naturalists think."


Face-off with a barrens grizzly - Dr. bob's favorite animal / photo copyight Max Finkelstein

White tundra wolf on the barrens / photo by Eric Peterson
Wolverine along the Thelon River / photo by Dweeb

Cross-fox kit near the den / photo copyright Eric Peterson

Arctic ground squirrel burrowing in esker


"Birdlife is changing also. The most common land bird may now be the robin, but still Harris sparrows, tree sparrows, redpolls, snowbirds, jaegers, gyrfalcon, ptarmigan, the occasional grey cheeked thrush and water pipit are there."   


Harris sparrow on tundra / phto copyight Noelle Tufts

Dr. Bob with Japanease photographer Gaiko at the Great Canadian wildlife camp  / photo by Tundra Tom


"The tundra biome has captured my heart. As much as anything it is because of its inaccessibility. Because of inaccessibility it is virtually unchanged wilderness, little evidence of man. To experience it makes you feel special, privileged. And it is all adventure."

"Anyone with any love of the outdoors needs to have a trip to the barrenlands on their "bucket list."


- Bob Gainer
Alberta, Canada


Click here to learn more about the autumn 'Musk-ox,Autumn Colors & Aurora' trips on which Bob Gainer participated


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