Last month, Benoit Gendreau-Berthiaume, Magali Moffatt and their five year old son pushed their canoe off Edmonton’s shore and into the North Saskatchewan river. Their destination: Montreal. Over the course of the summer the family will paddle their way across the country, exploring some of Canada’s most famous and historic waterways in the process. “Paddling Home,” as they’ve dubbed their expedition, is funded in part by The Royal Canadian Geographical Society. The following is a shortened version of their first dispatch.
On the morning after our first day on the river, our canoe was covered in ice; it was to be a regular scene for the first few weeks of our trip. It almost felt like a normal canoe trip, nothing like the ambitious route we’ve mapped out. It was a weird feeling, but we were very excited to finally be on our journey and we felt like we were exactly where we wanted to be. We managed to get some wind at our back and use our sail for the first time. What a feeling to catch so many free air miles. Later we pursued a cloud of smoke for a few hours before realizing it was a forest fire. At one point the smoke even blocked the whole river and we stopped to let it dissipate. We eventually camped on an island not far from the smoke, which had swallowed our sun. On May 6th, after five days of paddling, we are forced to take our first day off (which our bodies appreciated) due to the snowstorm that hit us. We spend a whole day in the tent trying to stay warm and are happy to have brought our propane stove to cook on. We decide to let Mother Nature decide to some extent when our rest days will be. The next morning we learn that the NDP formed a majority government in Alberta and we can barely believe it. At first we think our family and friends our playing tricks on us due to our limited cell coverage. We were fortunate to spend a few more days in the province before reaching Saskatchewan. That day we also saw our first Pelican of the trip, which has slowly become one of our favorite birds because they’re so quiet, graceful and big.
We are happy to see how Mali is dealing with the trip although we are noticing that his sleep schedule has been somewhat disturbed. Since he sleeps in the boat every day it’s hard to put him to bed early as he needs to move around in the evening. He will slowly adapt to this new schedule but it takes a week or two. In the meantime our patience is often tested. However, we realize how happy he is to be on the trip. He loves seeing all the wild life, discovering new things at every campsite and campfires always make him happy. He is well equipped with awesome rain gear, which he basically wore nonstop for the first two weeks, so he is always warm and dry, even when his parents were sometimes cold in those first few weeks of May. We should have brought rain boots like Mali instead of water shoes and neoprene socks! Finally we reached Heinsburg, Alberta–our first stop in civilization. Mali finds a bunch of kids and plays until late at night with them. Mali is sad to leave his new friends but the rapids we paddle the next day quickly make him happy again to be in the canoe. Mali loves rapids; it’s like a big roller coaster for him. I usually love them as well but at this time of year they are more of a concern for me and I always take the easiest and driest route through them (unfortunately for Mali who always wants us to take the biggest waves). In Saskatchewan we were visited by a hunter, who surprised us by walking up to our camp from the bush!!! We didn’t expect to get visitors at all. He warned us that he had just placed bear bait 500 meters away from our camp and that he knows of at least six bears in his sector. We eat our supper, pack all our stuff and at 9pm we get back on the water to find a new spot, which we do on an island a bit downstream. We always felt safer on islands, but a few days later after witnessing a bear swimming across the whole North Saskatchewan River, that feeling of safety on islands was gone. “Paddling Home” is currently in Manitoba. Follow their satellite updates here.
(All photos: Paddling Home)