Breaking Barriers: Day One

Tom Hainey Swims Across Quetico Park – Day One

The first day of the swim, August 24, started at Hoppy’s Drive-In, owned by Tom’s sister Tammy and her husband Dan Ellis. About one hundred people gathered to give Tom and his crew a send-off. A caravan of cars escorted them to the junction with Highway 11 a few kilometers south of town. From there the swim team continued forty kilometres west and then south down a logging road to the parking area near Beaverhouse Lake. A short portage brought them to a landing and they paddled across the lake to the Beaverhouse Ranger Station where Glenn Nolan and his wife Carrie Freschette were the rangers. They lived at the station during the summer canoe season with their two young children.

Tom had planned on the first day ending early after a relatively short ten kilometer swim. Delays in getting out of Atikokan and at the Beaverhouse landing meant that they got to the ranger station later than planned but they decided to proceed as planned. It was about 5 p.m. when Glenn, Tom Sr. and Tom left by boat for the west end of Beaverhouse Lake where the swim would officially begin. Tom was aware of the long Native history of the area and he wanted to have a tobacco ceremony to begin the swim. They had approached the Elders at Lac La Croix First Nation and they felt it would be best if Glenn Nolan, who has Native ancestry, would conduct the blessing. Glenn decided that the most appropriate place for the ceremony was at a cliff about halfway down the lake. This beautiful, lichen encrusted cliff has pictographs on it and is recognized as a place of power to the Ojibwa in the area. Glenn noted the similarity between Tom’s swim and the tradition of young Ojibwa men testing themselves with physical challenges. Tobacco was placed on a niche in the cliff near the rock paintings and Glenn gave a prayer for Tom’s safety and well-being on the swim.

From the rock paintings cliff, they continued to the portage at the west end of the lake where Tom stepped into the water and began his journey. Sheila had always told him to set himself difficult challenges and then to do his best to meet them. Tom was confident but he knew that swimming the width of Quetico Park was going to be a difficult test. Wearing a wet suit and covered in Vaseline to preserve body heat, he was on the first leg of a long swim to honor his mother. He had seven lakes, two rivers, four creeks and five portages between him and his destination of French Lake at the other end of Quetico Park.

As he swam across Beaverhouse Lake, he would stop swimming periodically for a drink of Gatorade and a carbohydrate snack while clinging to the boat. He would then continue on with steady, powerful strokes. Tom covered the ten kilometers in two hours and fifteen minutes – faster than expected. At 8 p.m. people at the ranger station saw him coming. Tom’s father jumped out of the boat to swim the final stretch with his son and Larry Gashinski and Glenn’s son Peta jumped off the dock and swam out to meet him.

Continue Reading:
Breaking Barriers: Tom Hainey Swims Across Quetico Park – Day Two


This article – written twenty years after the swim – was made possible by the co-operation of the Hainey family and by members of Tom’s swim support group. They provided valuable background information and supplied insights and stories about the trip. Special mention has to go to Mike McKinnon who not only wrote articles for the Atikokan Progress but also wrote a very informative commemorative edition of the paper after the completion of the trip. This is not just the story of a personal triumph but also of how the Atikokan community came together in support of this swim. The ‘Breaking the Barrier’ swim is an important part of Quetico’s history and it is noteworthy that this is Quetico’s 100th Anniversary as a Provincial Park.

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