The goal was simply to get home. Except, there was nothing simple about it.
Benoit Gendreau-Berthiaume, Magali Moffatt and their five-year-old son Mali Berthiaume had spent five years in Edmonton and wanted to return to Montreal. They had planned on driving, a trip of a week at most, until their car broke down. Joking one day, Moffat said, “Let’s canoe”.
“We laughed and then after a little thought, went on Google maps,” Gendreau-Berthiaume said. “We realized that it was possible.”
After doing some more research they realized most people who paddle across Canada went through Edmonton. The joke quickly became a possibility. Soon, with the help of a expedition grant from The Royal Canadian Geographical Society (RCGS), they were on the water.
The biggest challenge they faced was wind on the big lakes in Manitoba. At one point their campsite was too exposed and when Gendreau-Berthiaume and Moffat left the tent to reinforce it, it took off rolling down the beach with Mali in it. “He was fine,” said Gendreau-Berthiaume. “But he wasn’t happy to be woken up that way.”
Another tough spot was the Grand Portage to Lake Superior. But Gendreau-Berthiaume says Mali helped him and Moffat to literally stop and smell the flowers.
“Having him forced us to notice things we wouldn’t otherwise,” he said. “While we would be struggling with the boat, he pointed things out we would’ve missed.
The main highlight for the family was the people. “Sure we discovered the country in a unique way, but the people we met were amazing. They were great.”
Similar to the sentiment expressed by another group of Quebec paddlers who were paddling across the country on another RCGS expedition this summer.
Les chemins de l'or bleu (Blue Gold Paths) left Montreal bound for Inuvik, NWT earlier in the summer. The pair had traded notes and shared dinner along the way in Minaki, Ont. “They had come from we were going, and we were coming from where they were going, so we helped each other,” Gendreau-Berthiaume said. “It was a wonderful dinner.”
Gendreau-Berthiaume described their return to civilisation and eventual arrival at the west end of the Island of Montreal as “gradual”.
“It felt unreal,” he said. “We arrived on this beautiful beach, but we weren’t going to camp there. Then when looking at the boat in the backyard and thinking it’s not going back in the water any time soon…it was strange.”
Below are some photos from the “Paddling Home” expedition.
A family portrait on a wind-stranded day early on the trip. (Photo: Paddling Home 2015)
A nice campsite in the evening light on past North Battleford in Saskatchewan. (Photo: Paddling Home 2015)
Fishing while taking a break from the strong winds on the Saskatchewan River just before Cedar Lake. (Photo: Paddling Home 2015)
Magali portaging on the boundary waters in Northern Minnesota. (Photo: Paddling Home 2015)
Fog slowly lifting one morning on the North Saskatchewan River. (Photo: Paddling Home 2015)
Benoit on Cedar Lake in Northern Manitoba. (Photo: Paddling Home 2015)
A bald eagle flies by. (Photo: Paddling Home 2015)
Turtles on the boundary waters. (Photo: Paddling Home 2015)
Two great expedition meet as Les chemins de l'or bleu and Paddling Home find each other on the Winnipeg River in Ontario. (Photo: Paddling Home 2015)
A campsite where the team woke up to snow in the morning. (Photo: Paddling Home 2015)
A stunning sunset on Lake Winnipegosis Manitoba. (Photo: Paddling Home 2015)
Mali looking like an explorer near North Battleford Saskatchewan. (Photo: Paddling Home 2015)