It makes you wonder if the white pelican has been secretly listening to the Beach Boys song Surfin’ Safari as it stands on the rocks for a moment before hopping into the Slave River and catching a wave. The most northerly colony of nesting white pelicans take up residence on islands in the river each summer. Visitors can sometimes see the birds feeding at Rapids of the Drowned, just steps from the centre of town in Fort Smith.
The local Dene people travelled along the Slave River with the seasons. Then explorers and fur traders used this watery highway as a gateway into the North, portaging around four sets of impassable rapids. Today, Fort Smith is a community of about 2,300 people that sits on the banks of the Slave River. Its Chipewyan name, Thebacha, means beside the rapids.