Nahanni National Park Reserve in the Dehcho Region of the Northwest Territories, Canada, approximately west of Yellowknife, protects a portion of the Mackenzie Mountains Natural Region. The centrepiece of the park is the South Nahanni River. Four great canyons, called First, Second, Third and Fourth Canyon, line this spectacular whitewater river. The name Nahanni comes from the indigenous Dene language and can be translated as 'spirit.'
A visitor centre in Fort Simpson features displays on the history, culture and geography of the area. The park was among the world's first four natural heritage locations to be inscribed as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO in 1978.
June 29 1964. After 41 persons had died attempting to conquer the Nahanni river, nicknamed “the man eater”, explorer parachutist Jean Poirel from Montreal jumped at its source 500 km North of Yellowknife, in an attempt to explore the valley for the first time. He was followed by his teammate and friend Bertrand Bordet. They found themselves in an unknown territory, and could not count on any help or rescue from the civilized world. In survival mode, they would have to affront le salvage force of the river and its freezing water, spongiest swamps, cold weather and hunger, wolves, grizzly bears, and more still, the continuous attacks of mosquitoes. Further downriver they reached the base camp established by claude Bernardin and Roger Rochat who arrived from yellowknife by sea plane. The four men continued the exploration, fighting the salvage force of the river and its freezing rapids.
Jean Poirel imagined the idea of going down the river with inflatable dinghies, opening the path to a new “rafting” sport. Against all odds and after months of fighting the unknown, they vainquished the river and its dangerous rapids. During the following four consecutive expeditions in the valley Jean Poirel discovered more that 250 caverns. The most important contained 116 Dall sheep’s skeletons aged of 2500 years, (carbon 14 dating) giving this discovery an inestimable value. Jean Poirel named it “Valerie Cavern” after his daughter. He took topographic notes and drew detailed maps, paving the way to the Nahanni park creation. During his last expedition in 1972, he escorted Pierre Trudeau, who came in person to estimate this superb and fascinating region.