A family of four was stranded for three days on a northern Saskatchewan island
Photo by Ryan Pilon / CBC

Family stranded for days on Northern Saskatchewan island

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Us cottagers like to think of ourselves as outdoorsy folk. We can start a fire, read a compass and forage for wild berries and mushrooms. We might even be able to build a lean-to using large branches and leaves. But how many of us could survive off the land if we were stranded for days on a rocky island in the cold?

A family of four pushed their survival skills to the limits after they became trapped on a remote island in Northern Saskatchewan on Wollaston Lake for three days.

When Rosie Tsannie went boating on Octocber 21 with her two daughters, aged 25 and 16, and her brother Philip Hansen, she thought she was prepared. She had her cell phone, groceries, and extra fuel with her. But after a thick fog descended, and Tsannie’s uncle, another passenger in the boat, took the extra fuel when he went home, it created a snowball effect of unfortunate circumstances. With the fog, Tsannie had troubles navigating home, and eventually they ran out of gas. They were blown to the shore of Wollaston Lake.

Tsannie called family members to alert them of the situation, but her cell phone died before she could provide their exact location.

For the next three days, Tsannie and her family were stuck on the island.

They created a shelter out of a tarp they had brought and they ate the minimal food they had on them. On the second day, Tsannie found a pail, which would become essential. “I washed it and I cooked and boiled some macaroni and bologna in there,” she told the CBC.

At night, the temperature went down to minus 7 degrees C and there was plenty of freezing rain throughout the three days.

“Because it was raining, the wood got all wet. I had to stay up all night chopping up wood, keep the fire going, keep my girls warm,” Tsannie told Prince Albert Right Now. “I didn’t care about me, I only cared about my girls. I didn’t want them to get sick.”

Her brother, Hansen, was sick for the first two days. When his health improved by the third day, he and Tsannie paddled out to find help. They fashioned a sail out of tarp and tied two big sticks to the edge of the boat with rope.

Meanwhile back on the mainland, the Wollaston Lake RCMP and local rangers kept searching for the family, checking several islands, but without any luck.

After paddling for six hours, Tsannie and Hansen traveled far enough to spot the search crew. After 36 hours of rain and cold, the family of four was finally going home.

Tsannie says the survival skills she learned from her father, William Hansen, is what saved their lives.

Her father agrees.

“People have to show their kids how to survive,” Hansen told the CBC. “It’s good to have your kids know the lake, the bush.”