Ten strangers from across North America have been selected to participate in Cottage Life TV’s latest show, The Brigade: Race to the Hudson. The participants—five of whom are Canadian—must work as a team to traverse 1,200 kilometres of the infamous York Factory Express in 28 days with $500,000 on the line.
Cut through the heart of Canada’s harshest wilderness, the York Factory Express was one of the most treacherous fur trade routes of the 19th century. Beginning on the windswept shores of the Pacific Ocean, it follows the Columbia River northwest through the glacier-fed currents of the Wood River, over the grueling trails of the Rocky Mountain’s Athabasca Pass, ending on the icy shores of the Hudson Bay.
The Express was used by the Hudson’s Bay Company as early as 1825. Its “fur brigade,” raced along the route, transporting furs, supplies, letters, and reports across Canada’s untamed wilderness.
Emulating their ancestors, the cast of The Brigade is set to race along the very same route, but with one twist. Unlike most reality shows, The Brigade does not eliminate cast members. Instead, the entire team must make it to the shores of Hudson Bay to split the cash prize.
“The premise of the show is based around people coming together and working together,” says Carley Julien, a 35-year-old nurse from Port Hardy, B.C. “It was collaborative as opposed to Survivor where there’s people getting voted off and backstabbing and all that kind of stuff.”
Rather than competing against your fellow cast member, the show is built around competing against the wilderness, placing participants in positions that test their limits. For Leroy Fontaine, a 33-year-old firefighter from Halifax, N.S., this involved navigating water obstacles in their voyageur canoe. “I never really had much of a water presence. I never really spent a whole lot of time as a raft guide or anything like that, so I knew that was going to be my biggest downfall,” he says.
It didn’t help that the participants had to portage the canoe along the way. “You’re pretty much safe in the water until you bring that thing out, and now you’re tossing around a 300-plus [pound] canoe,” Fontaine adds.
Most of the cast members agree that the best way to deal with the challenges of a journey like this isn’t brute force but, instead, a positive attitude. “I’ve been through some big, long trips before,” says Matthew Aird, a 35-year-old paramedic and whitewater rafting guide from Rossland, B.C. “I do my best to keep everyone happy and keep the group together, which is so key on a trip like this, being a teamwork expedition where you need the paddlers and the boats, and you’ve got to have everyone getting along to a certain extent.”
While a positive attitude is useful, the cast members also recommend learning a few hard skills before tackling a trip like the Express. “What I told my crew is that everybody needs their sleep every night. If it’s cold, wet, and rainy, you can deal with a lot mentally if you’ve got that eight hours of sleep,” says Vincent Coulombe, a 28-year-old general contractor from Langley, B.C.
For Aird, it’s all about the planning. “If something’s well planned, everything’s going to go a whole lot smoother. Have contingency plans, plan B, emergency plans, and these types of things.”
Julien adds that it doesn’t hurt to do a bit of research on where you’re going. “Knowing what the most important things are, like access to water, access to food, and shelter,” she says.
Finally, Fontaine stresses how important the basics are. “Learn to stay warm and dry. Learn to have that fire going at all times. Be efficient at making that fire. Stay warm, stay dry, stay hydrated, and keep fed.”
The Brigade: Race to the Hudson premieres Tuesday, October 29 at 10 p.m. ET/PT, exclusively in Canada on Cottage Life, with new episodes airing weekly into mid-December.