After an epic seven-year canoe trip across Canada that saw Geoff and Pam welcome two children to their family, the couple have just one thing left to do: celebrate.
It was a moment of mixed emotions for the MacDonald family as they arrived in Quebec City at the end of August, greeted by family, friends and their Alaskan Malamute Taq to celebrate the end of a journey that started in Victoria, B.C.
“We’re excited to be finished, for sure,” Geoff says. “It’s sort of bittersweet in a sense, because it’s something we’ve been doing for so long. We’re happy that we’re finished, and we’re looking forward to other adventures, but at the same time we’re sad to be done.”
Geoff and Pam started their trip across Canada seven years ago. Since then, they have paddled through the summer months, stopping only when the water began to freeze to return home and earn money.
Their motivation for starting the trip was simple, says Geoff: they wanted to be outdoors and see Canada’s diverse landscapes. And their experiences have been as diverse as the landscape itself, from portaging 100 kilometres over the continental divide near Banff, B.C., to battling treacherous flood waters in Manitoba to being kicked off of Parliament Hill in Ottawa by the RCMP for bringing their canoe up to take pictures.
“We love canoeing and we love the landscapes that represent Canada,” Geoff says. “I think the view that you get from the water is very much connected to the landscapes, so to us, paddling across the country gave us the opportunity to experience all or as many unique Canadian landscapes we could.”
The couple also took the time along the way to stop and have their first son, June, almost four years ago and their second son, Rane, last winter, which meant the MacDonalds’ travel plans had to be somewhat altered.
“Having kids along the way meant that we started out on a trip for the two of us as adults where we had the flexibility to wake up early or stay up late and paddle to when we had kids and we could no longer do that,” Geoff says.
But travelling together also allowed the MacDonalds to grow closer as a family and to meet and interact with people from across the country.
“People want to be around children and they want to help,” says Geoff. “So that has given us the opportunity to have perspective into peoples’ lives.”
“In a way that made the trip that much better,” he adds. “It met our expectations as far as landscape goes, but it far exceeded our expectations in terms of the people, the culture and the kindness we’ve experienced along the way.”
This kindness and openness to meeting new people are traits that Geoff and Pam hope will remain with June and Rane as they get older, in addition to an appreciation for nature and, hopefully, canoeing.
Geoff and Pam, who currently live in Calgary, met in 1997 at a ski patrol program. Both the adventurous sort — each have run ultra marathons — the couple originally planned to canoe from Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, to James Bay. The trip plans gradually expanded to encompass the entire distance across Canada — a plan they fell slightly short of completing.
“We’re ending at Quebec City,” Geoff says. “We’d like to be going to Newfoundland or somewhere in the Maritimes but we can’t do this trip forever. Six or seven years of travel is probably good.”
Despite ending their journey early, Geoff says he and his family are far from done with adventure. There’s still a lot of Canada left to be explored by the MacDonalds — the Gulf of the St. Lawrence, the coast of Newfoundland — just maybe not in a canoe next time.
“We’ve gone through a lot of beautiful areas that we want to go back to with a bit more time to just focus on those places,” says Geoff. “As far as laying a string from one end of Canada to another, the end of the string is Quebec City.”