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TO CANOE IS TO DISCOVER

Among the many treasures I’ve picked up in thrift stores down through the years are my wife’s favourite handknitted cardigan, and a lovely, deep blue scatter cushion. Both items are attractively festooned with stylized representations of classic Canadian iconography—maple leaves, hockey sticks, Mounties—and, of course, canoes. As valid a symbol of Canadian national identity as the beaver, it’s impossible to overstate the importance of the ‘humble’ canoe to our country’s history and culture. So much so, in fact, that the type of modern canoe descended from the birch bark canoes built by the Indigenous peoples of the Eastern Woodlands 3,000 years ago is internationally referred to as ‘the Canadian.’ Here in the pre-colonial Pacific Northwest the regionally dominant Haida people of Haida Gwaii developed their own magnificent canoes, including war—or ‘head’—canoes, all hewn from red cedar trees. Regardless of their basic function, so beautiful were they in terms of form and decoration that they’re justifiably considered works of art.

One Vancouver Islander deep into canoe culture is my good friend, Dave Pady. A committed outdoorsman and 40-year canoeist, he could talk passionately all day long about the sundry joys of canoeing. Dave and his partner Rhea Pearson head out onto the water at least two weekends per month, all year round. While he doesn’t have a favourite season as such to do so, “Winter is by far the most peaceful time

Detail of scatter cushion courtesy of David Morrison

Rhea Pearson, Kennedy River en route to Tofino Among the many treasures I’ve picked up in thrift stores down through the years are my wife’s favourite handknitted cardigan, and a lovely, deep blue scatter cushion. Both items are attractively festooned with stylized representations of classic Canadian iconography—maple leaves, hockey sticks, Mounties—and, of course, canoes. As valid a symbol of Canadian national identity as the beaver, it’s impossible to overstate the importance of the ‘humble’ canoe to our country’s history and culture. So much so, in fact, that the type of modern canoe descended from the birch bark canoes built by the Indigenous peoples of the Eastern Woodlands 3,000 years ago is internationally referred to as ‘the Canadian.’ Here in the pre-colonial Pacific Northwest the regionally dominant Haida people of Haida Gwaii developed their own magnificent canoes, including war—or ‘head’—canoes, all hewn from red cedar trees. Regardless of their basic function, so beautiful were they in terms of form and decoration that they’re justifiably considered works of art.

Kentucky-Alleyne Provincial Park near Merritt

One Vancouver Islander deep into canoe culture is my good friend, Dave Pady. A committed outdoorsman and 40-year canoeist, he could talk passionately all day long about the sundry joys of canoeing. Dave and his partner Rhea Pearson head out onto the water at least two weekends per month, all year round. While he doesn’t have a favourite season as such to do so, “Winter is by far the most peaceful time of year to paddle,” he says. “There’s something so special about canoeing in wintertime, experiencing nature lying in wait for the coming spring.”

Attracted equally to canoeing’s adventure angle, meditative aspect, and appreciating the watercraft as simply a wonderful mode of transportation that “can take you to places no other boat can,” Dave continues: “You can travel alone or with company. You can fill a canoe full of stuff, fish from it, sail it, portage it over land, and travel lakes, rivers, streams, and oceans.”

Dave and Rhea are just two of the millions of Canadians that love or have loved to paddle. One of the more famous was our former Prime Minister, the late Pierre Trudeau. “Paddling a canoe is a source of enrichment and inner renewal,” he stated, a sentiment historically illustrated by, firstly, his introspective essay, “The Ascetic in a Canoe”—written in 1941, when he was 22 years-old—and subsequently with canoe expeditions on the Nahanni River (NWT) in 1970, the Hanbury-Thelon rivers (NWT) in 1979, BC’s Stikine River in 1994, and the Petawawa River in Ontario in 1996. “How can you describe the feeling which wells up in the heart and stomach as the canoe finally rides up on the shore of the campsite after a long day of plunging your paddle into rainswept waters?” Trudeau wrote in that essay, attempting to articulate a specific Zen-like emotion evoked by canoeing that Dave relates to all too well. “My reasons for paddling are really for the simplicity, the peacefulness, and the feeling of just being on the water, gliding, seeing some beautiful wildlife, and being inside my head,” he says.

There’s something so special about canoeing in wintertime, experiencing nature lying in wait for the coming spring.
Green Lake, Nanaimo

Considering the canoe’s place in Canadian culture it’s unsurprising that, much like the epic journeys favoured by Trudeau, the world’s longest annual canoe race takes place in Canada. Held every late June-early July, the Yukon River Quest—or Yukon 1000—runs along the Yukon River from Whitehorse to Dawson City, an eye-watering distance of 715 km demanding a Herculean effort of its intrepid competitors to complete.

The longest canoe race of all time, however, was the one-off Centennial Voyageur Canoe Pageant in 1967. Beginning in the Albertan town of Rocky Mountain House on May 24th, ten teams from across Canada paddled and portaged for an unimaginably punishing 5,283 km, taking 104 days to arrive at their destination of Montréal, where Expo 67 was held as part of Canada’s centennial celebrations. Essentially recreating the arduous canoe journeys undertaken by North West Company voyageurs in the 18th and 19th centuries, the event was rooted in history, but as a race in 1967, was won by the team from Manitoba, with BC’s team coming in second ahead of Alberta.

Canoe Manned by Voyageurs Passing a Waterfall by Frances Anne Hopkins (1838-1919), Library and Archives Canada

Although undoubtedly fit and hardy enough to take on a lengthy canoe expedition, Dave is not so much a distance man, preferring instead to quietly explore and absorb every serene moment when surrounded by nature. In his 17'6" Clipper Tripper tandem touring canoe or Clipper Packer 14 solo canoe, Dave has ventured all over BC in search of adventure and reverie on all kinds of bodies of water. To date, his favourite experiences have been on the 116 km canoe circuit of Bowron Lake Provincial Park on the western slopes of the Cariboo Mountain Range, where among other factors the challenge of adverse weather conditions made for memorable canoeing. As far and wide as he travels, though, the Campbell River resident is keen to point out that there are many remarkable canoeing adventures to be had without leaving Vancouver Island. For example, on a trip to Quennell Lake in Yellow Point many years ago, the Nanaimo born-and-raised Dave’s encounter with the local bald eagle population was so thrilling that it stands as a big life moment for a canoeist who, remember, has routinely been out on the water for over four decades.

... it doesn’t really matter where it is, as it ’s more about the why than the where.
Dave Pady and his dog Tig, Mesachi Lake near Lake Cowichan courtesy of Rhea Pearson water for over four decades.

“I mostly paddle lakes,” Dave says, “and Quennell Lake is by far my favourite. It’s an unusual, shallow, marshy lake with long fingers and an internal island, and is alive with birds, fish, and critters. Lovely.” Other Island canoeing destinations Dave enthuses over include Mesachie Lake near Lake Cowichan, sections of the Kennedy River en route to Tofino, and among his most recent adventures, the Sayward Canoe Route—but there will always be new adventures to enjoy.

“I’ve paddled so many lakes and rivers from Victoria to Campbell River, and from the east of the Island to the West Coast, but all of them combined are only a drop in a bucket,” Dave continues. Among his dream canoeing destinations are the notoriously difficult Nitinat Triangle on the West Coast, and it’s no surprise that the Yukon River is also high on his list. “There are so many places I have yet to explore. One could spend a lifetime canoeing and only get to experience a small percentage of this vast, wonderful place.”

“To canoe is to discover,” Dave states, emphatically, “so I will try to see as many places and have as many adventures as I possibly can. To me, it’s essential to the Canadian experience to move about in a canoe… and it doesn’t really matter where it is, as it’s more about the why than the where.”

Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Library and Archives Canada

CENTENNIAL VOYAGEUR CANOE PAGEANT OF 1967

MAY 24

Day 1 Rocky Mountain House

Day 1 Rocky Mountain House

Day 1 Rocky Mountain House

Day 4 Edmonton

Day 9 Lloydminster

Day 11 North Battleford

Day 12 Saskatoon

Day 15 Prince Albert

Day 18 Nipawin

Day 21 The Pas

Day 34 Portage la Prairie

Day 39 Winnipeg

Day 40 Selkirk

Day 48 Kenora

Day 52 Fort Frances

Day 62 Fort William

Day 80 Sault Ste. Marie

Day 91 North Bay

Day 94 Deep River

Day 95 Pembroke

Day 96 Campbell's Bay, P.Q.

Day 97 Arnprior

Day 98 Ottawa

Day 104 Montreal

SEPT 4—EXPO 67