Behind the Scenes at The Canadian Canoe Museum

I'm a second-year Public Relations student at Durham College, and I've spent the past 14 weeks on placement at The Canadian Canoe Museum. As the marketing and media relations intern, I've been able to watch the summer unfold with an insider's perspective. 

From my first visit to The Canadian Canoe Museum, I knew this wouldn’t be just any internship. My suspicions were confirmed when my supervisor, Marketing & Media Relations Manager Jessica Fleury, asked me if I would be willing to spend my first week on a canoe trip, an outreach initiative of the museum called Connected by Canoe, to take care of social media posts and interact with any media.

“Um... Yes?!” I exclaimed, overjoyed at the thought of getting out on the water. So, on my second day of placement, the trip began. I was already exhausted from moving into my new apartment the day before, and from sleeping on the floor since I had no furniture, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from enjoying this opportunity.

 
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I spent the week running around, glued to my phone as I took photos and frantically tweeted. Although it was my first week, I already had the opportunity to interact with media who stopped to question us at events. On a personal level, the trip gave me the opportunity to meet 15 other paddlers and know them individually. Spending my first week in a canoe allowed me to feel like I was already a part of the team by the time we left the trip.

After returning from Connected by Canoe, I was excited to experience my first week in the office. This week seemed to pass even more quickly than the last, as I received many calls from Jessica, who was now on the trip, with new tasks and opportunities. For some reason, I thought life would slow down after Connected by Canoe was over. I’m glad to say I was very wrong! June was even busier than May. There was no shortage of work to be done, so I was often able to work on projects an intern wouldn’t normally handle.

One of my first projects in May allowed me to take on the communications planning and implementation for a Museum fundraiser, Touch a Truck! Responsibilities included sending out a media release, designing and putting up posters, and attending the event to take photos.

 
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I had the opportunity to plan my first media event on July 11. The museum had received a donation of 14 televisions from Cogeco, so we hosted a small media event to publicly acknowledge their generosity. Although donations are not always breaking news, we happened to plan the event on the perfect day, and we ended up with great media coverage.

During my internship, I was also able to put my design skills to the test, while designing a rack card for the 2017 Beaver Club Gala. This task required me to take photos, remove the background in Photoshop, and lay out the text. It felt great to hold the final product in my hands after completing the process.

Other projects I took on included promoting Great Canadian Giving Challenge in June, collecting and organizing submissions for the Our Canoe Story contest, and providing KawarthaNOW with information for our web advertisements. I also wrote a variety of news releases, scheduled hundreds of social media posts, and sent out the general newsletter each month.

 
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It was exciting to be a part of the museum for significant milestones, such as the 20th anniversary, and the announcement of 9 million dollars in provincial funding toward the redevelopment project. I learned a lot about canoes and a lot about other businesses in Peterborough. I got to know each staff member at the museum, and I learned a lot about myself.

I often smiled to myself as I thought of classmates who were likely fetching coffee while I was writing press releases – or better yet, exploring under the Peterborough Lift Lock. In addition to incredible learning opportunities, my time at the museum provided me with a variety of behind-the-scenes experiences. I was able to meet Parka, Parks Canada’s mascot, attend a voyageur canoe tour, and learn about important announcements before they happened. It was common for my work day to be interrupted with requests to photograph a school group at the Lift Lock or assist with moving a canoe. Sometimes, “moving a canoe” meant paddling it from one place to another!

The past 14 weeks have been unforgettable. The museum transitioned from a place I had barely heard of, to a place that felt like home. If you’ve never been to The Canadian Canoe Museum, you need to go. You will be welcomed in by smiling volunteers, the largest collection of paddled watercraft in the world, and the peaceful feeling you would expect while paddling a canoe.

Connected by Canoe: Rethinking Canada One Stroke/One Conversation at a Time (Part 3 of 4)

On the advice of our friends at Parks Canada, after a very successful sojourn in Smiths Falls we put in just below Burritt’s Rapids Lock the following morning. We transitioned immediately, having lost some paddlers and gained others in our ever-evolving crew, into a moving water manoeuvering workshop.  Everyone was amazed at a) how good it felt to be back on the water and b) how much a Montreal canoe—at 12+ metres long—behaves like a high-performance whitewater solo boat. 

 
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Well, not really. But even big canoes can be tilted and angled in current in ways that allow them to ferry both forwards and backwards, pivot in current, and do eddy turns.  Khan, the manager of the Econo Lodge, after telling us that his contribution to our conversation about the future of Canada was to “Build a wall” between us and the United States (ha, ha, ha!), said he was concerned about our safety in the currents and high water.  This was a good opportunity to remind him (and ourselves) that in this nation of rivers it is travelling in currents and in waters high and low for which canoes are built!  Canada is unquestionably a nation of canoes as well.

The counterintuitive key for success in all this is to convince all the paddlers to keep their paddles in the water for stability and to learn to shift ever so slightly during manoeuvres to ensure the downstream gunwale is always tilted lower than the upstream side of the canoe.  After the bonding experience of figuring out how to productively use our time off the water, and with a couple of wonderful evening encounters in Perth and Smiths Falls immediately behind us, everyone seemed tuned-in to everyone else and it wasn’t long at all before we were performing like a well-oiled machine, knocking off complex maneuvers in the fast water below Burritt’s Rapids.  When everyone was comfortable with these moves, off we headed, downstream now, to Merrickville.

 
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Thanks to Gary Running, our advance man in the van who had been continuing detailed reconnaissance of the put-ins and take-outs. At his instruction, we landed at the Merrickville Camp Ground to avoid dangerous waters near the bridge and lock at Centertown.  With our magical little cradle of wheels from Western Canoeing and Kayaking in Abbotsford, BC, we loaded up the canoe and marched it through the campground and right through the main intersection in town en route to a put in right in front of our evening venue, Fulford Preparatory College

During this unconventional portage, we were joined by a group of very excited international students from Fulford, who had signed up for a paddle with the visiting canoe group.  And, while some of us checked in at the Baldachin Inn, right beside the school in downtown Merrickville, Jacob Rodenburg and Glen Caradus—canoe leaders extraordinaire—clicked into instructional mode and off they went with Fulford students for a magical spring paddle underneath the big train trestle just downstream from town.

 
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The common canoeing experience shared by our crew and the students from the Fulford Academy, followed by a delicious and very chatty dinner of whitefish or lasagna, was exactly what was required as preparation for our program for the evening, which was the Kairos Blanket Exercise. It was facilitated by Vanessa McCourt, a Haudenosaunee Advisor from the Four Directions Aboriginal Student Centre at Queen’s University, who had come up from Kingston, and Molly Raffan, Manager of Residence Life, also from Queen’s, who came down to Merrickville from a conference she was attending in Ottawa.  Suffice it to say that this tried-and-true educational activity is a powerful simulation of the life experienced by Indigenous People throughout North America during five hundred years of conquest.  Our experience with this iteration of the exercise was enhanced by the mix of Fulford students from all over the world and others including Michael Whittaker, Merrickville Town Crier.  Said Gary Running, “Before tonight, I was a proud Canadian.  After this, not so much.  I don’t know how I could have lived sixty-three years without knowing any of this history.”

We awoke to snow the following morning and paddled throughout most of the day, as we made our way downstream to Kemptville, through various combinations of rain, sleet, snow and, yes, hail at one point. Nasty cross winds through some of the wide points in the river, made even wider by the high water levels.  Having been on local radio and TV stations along the way and with a good presence on social media (thanks to Jessica and Micaela, our Connected by Canoe social media and communications mavens) the few brave cottagers and home owners who we did pass all waved and called out to which we would reply with a raised paddle voyageur salute and a rousing Connected by Canoe cheer.  In spite of the weather (which added a lot to the amplitude of the adventure … snow! … RIGHT ON) we knew all was well, and all would continue to be well, when we veered out of the wind and into the mouth of Kemptville Creek to find two bald eagles sitting side by side in a tree, also enjoying the spring snow shower.

 
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Our nights in Kemptville, hosted by Pat Henderson and his kids at the Kemptville Youth Centre, and in Manotick, on our own (for the only time on the trip) at RCMP Long Island Camp, were a continued delight of free-flowing conversation about our open-ended questions. We also revelled in the company of amiable companions with who we were sharing what was turning into an epic journey by canoe on one of the most beautiful urban and suburban historical waterways in the country. 

As we went about our business, Goh did his thing with his drones and cameras. Jacob and Glen led an amazing campfire, and we paddled, cooked, sang, talked, and appreciated the sun, when it finally came out on the morning of our final paddle into Ottawa.  The closer we got to our destination, the more our discussions turned to keeping the momentum of the journey going. This included a variety of suggestions including doing what we can individually and collectively to convince others individuals, organizations and municipalities to examine Connected by Canoe as a “pilot project” and try something similar in their corner of the country.  By that point in our journey, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind about the power of a canoe journey to remind us that as Canadians we’re all in the same proverbial boat and that ‘pulling together’ physically and literally is an excellent platform for or prelude to action dedicated to building a better future for all Canadians.

That was the spirit we took as participants in the so-called Express Leg of Connected by Canoe—those of us who paddled from Kingston to Ottawa—took into the Ceremonial Leg on the morning of May 11th.  To the ‘fleet of one’ Montreal canoe, we added two more voyageur-style North Canoes (thank you Jacob and Camp Kawartha), a skin-on-frame Umiaq made by volunteers at the Canadian Canoe Museum, and a very handsome Haida-style Spirit Dancer big canoe from the West Coast. 

 
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And to our 16 Express Leg paddlers, we added 32 delegates from the Community Foundations of Canada annual conference and another 30 or so other friends and paddlers from the Ottawa area, including fiddler Kelli Trottier, Ottawa Riverkeeper Meredith Brown and the chair of the Riverkeeper Board of Directors, Geoff Green, and his family, along with a variety of other iconic canoeists like Max Finkelstein, Reid McLaughlin and Becky Mason.  Max reminded everyone as we approached Pretoria Bridge that in just over a month’s time, his 150-paddler-strong South Wind Brigade will be converging on Ottawa, with similar groups arriving from the east, north and west, for Canada Day.  And, mercifully, although flooding continued to dog the poor people of Gatineau and lower down in the Ottawa River valley, for us on the Ceremonial Leg of Connected by Canoe, the monsoon, the snow, the hail, the wind and miscellaneous other divine pestilences and tests of patience and fortitude somehow stayed away on the morning of May 11th, replaced by fair breezes (even tailwinds) and sunshine!

 
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For those who participated, the legacy of Connected by Canoe will, hopefully, live on and flourish in actions inspired and enriched by the experience of pulling together on this project.  Everyone who participated in the Express Leg, having explored their open-ended question about the future of Canada in a variety of contexts and circumstances throughout the journey, has committed to providing a written answer to their question, which will be share in due course on the Connected by Canoe webpage.  This, with other content on the website linking to other legacy actions, news reports and related projects, will, we hope, keep the momentum of the Connected by Canoe Project building.  Specific outcomes from within the journey itself will be the focus of the forth, and final, part of this blog.  Coming up!

Connected by Canoe: Rethinking Canada One Stroke/One Conversation at a Time (Part 2 of 4)

At the centre of our experience in Perth was The Table Community Food Centre where Lynn McIntyre, Executive Director of The Perth and District Community Foundation, and Larry McDermott, Executive Director of Plenty Canada, teamed up with Lanark County Neighbours for Truth and Reconciliation and Community Food Centre Executive Director, Ramsey Hart and his team to create a memorable evening for the Connected by Canoe crew.  Although, because of still persistently high water and a continuing monsoon, we were obliged to arrive in Perth by road instead of by water via the Tay Canal. A slight misjudgement of distance and weather saw us walking eleven blocks in the rain from our accommodations to The Table. This was suitable for the bevy of fearless canoeists, we are.

 

 
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The Table was in full swing serving meals to all. On the menu this night was scrumptious vegetarian lasagna with salad, dessert, and unlimited ice water, coffee and tea—all served restaurant style by a swish of willing volunteers in cook’s caps and fancy aprons.  Our hosts had cleverly planned the night so that as the regular thrice-weekly dinner crowd thinned out people interested in a meal and evening program, or just the evening program, filtered in toward the end of the regular dinner service time slot.  By the time Ramsey Hart called the room to order, there were 60-70 people in the room – all there to speak about canoes and reconciliation.

Larry McDermott began speaking, making specific mention of the canoe-building project called The Valley of the Kiji Sibi: Celebrating our shared histories and future, that Plenty Canada and Lanark County Neighbours for Truth and Reconciliation have been working on with Chuck Commanda.  As he spoke, he brought in canoe teachings and some of the lessons they had learned from Chuck’s grandfather, William Commanda, published in Romola Vasantha Thumbadoo’s book about William called Learning from a Kindergarten Dropout.  Larry drew everyone’s attention to a quotation from William that was particularly apt for the occasion:

“The Mamiwinini journeyed over the waterways of Turtle Island, spinning a web of protection and prayer over the vast continent for countless years, passing over lightly but leaving an indelible trace of the branches of the great family tree that comprised eighty-four nations linked by both language and a deep connection to the land.  As in that creation story they too were travellers, and the birch bark canoe was the expression of the journey of life through their world.  The birch bark canoe granted them this heritage.  Its ancient importance is etched into petroglyphs and visible in pictographs across the land.”

 
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What followed from Grandfather Larry’s remarks were comments from Ardoch Algonquin leader, Mireille Lapointe, which, in turn began a natural flow of voices within the room about the world as it is and the possible worlds that could be, if we all took reconciliation seriously, and committed to doing something about it.  In addition to sage contribution from a broad spectrum of First Nations folk in the room, other people like Kay Rogers, editor of At Home in the Tay Valley, a well-researched and sensitive history of the Perth area, added their comments to the mix. They acknowledged that it will take energy and movement on the part of all Canadians to see ourselves to any kind of “new normal” with respect to relations between Indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians.  At one point, early in the evening, Ramsey Hart explained that The Table was to food what a library is to books and information. But it was more than that for the everyone in the Connected by Canoe discussion that evening in Perth. The Table became a metaphor, a microcosm, an exemplar of a frank and honest conversation, prompted by a Sesquicentennial canoe journey, that could and should be happening all across this country.

When the compulsion to talk finally started to fade, our night at The Table came to the most affirming conclusion when Algonquin historian and founder of the Lanark Drum Circle, Francine Desjardins, spoke to us about the centrality of water in our lives and then quietly led the group in the singing of a traditional water song.  In our midst were people for whom the singing of our country’s national anthem is becoming increasingly problematic, for all that it evokes of the imbalances in the telling and celebrating of Canada’s history to this point.  However, at the point in this gathering when O Canada might have been sung, instead, with her mellifluous voice and sacred rattle, she sang to the four directions. “Wishitaah doo-yah, doo-yah, doo-yah …” with a refrain that that caught perfectly the essence and spirit of the evening and of the whole Connected by Canoe project.

 
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The following morning, our ‘floating conversation’ continued off-the-water for a second day in the fancy conference room of the Best Western Hotel in Perth. There was much to process from the night before, which led beautifully into Plan B programming.  This included welcoming filmmaker Goh Iromoto to the crew and viewing the trailer for his acclaimed new film The Canoe. Then we had the privilege of hearing detailed and interactive life stories from a couple of our Express Leg participants.  And then, of course, we moved on to our personal open-ended questions about the future of Canada.  As difficult as it was to see rain still falling in great sheets out the window and know that we would not be paddling for at least another day, the conversation that happened in Perth and Westport, during our mornings off the water, were key to building understandings between and amongst all Connected by Canoe participants.

Back at the Museum in Peterborough, Marketing and Media Relations Manager Jessica Fleury, was working behind the scenes to fulfill our need for posters and materials to dress our pop-up Connected by Canoe Exhibit at the Smiths Falls Home Show.  While we were at The Table the night before, Jessica had been busy designing a map and four other posters, which she forwarded electronically to Ingrid Bron at the Town of Smiths Falls for printing and mounting on gator board. While we were continuing our discussions at the Best Western Hotel the next morning, Jessica was able to create a PowerPoint presentation with images from the first part of the journey. We were able to loop it on a computer and animate even more our presence at the Home Show.

 
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Now deep into Plan B, after a quick lunch in the Best Western conference room (thanks to Tim Horton’s who sponsored a bunch of breakfasts and lunches) we loaded the van and headed for Smiths Falls with a notion that the best deployment of resources at this point was to divide and conquer:  one crew would go ahead in the van and do a thorough scouting of locks, dams, water levels, obstacles, land hazards, put-ins and take-outs downriver from Smiths Falls, and the other crew would tuck in our shirts, comb our hair and generally try to make ourselves presentable for some serious public relations work on behalf of the Canadian Canoe Museum, Connected by Canoe and its two dozen partners and ten sponsors.  On both counts we were successful.  The advance team determined that getting back on the water was possible below Smiths Falls.  The Home Show team got a chance to chat about Connected by Canoe with a substantial portion of the 2000 people who visited the old Target store in the Smiths Falls mall that day.

That evening, thanks to the hard work of John Festerini and his team at Parks Canada and Ingrid Bron and the Town of Smiths Falls, we had a lovely mingling of politicians, paddlers from the Rideau Round Table, and other kindred spirits at a lovely setup in the lobby of the refurbished old stone mill that is the Parks Canada headquarters in the centre of Smiths Falls.  With local brews on ice and music from award-winning First Nations (Upper Cayuga/Mohawk) singer/songwriter/actor and multi-instrumentalist, Andy Mason, conversation flowed easily over dinner. Walking back to our accommodations at the EconoLodge across the street (in the rain), having had a wonderful evening, there was a bit of a spring in everyone’s step knowing after two days of  Plan B on dry land, the paddling would resume in the morning.

Lock n' Paddle

On June 24, we celebrated National Canoe Day by fitting as many canoes and kayaks as possible into the Peterborough Lift Lock. During the months spend planning with our partners, Parks Canada and The Land Canadian Adventures, the goal was to fit 150 vessels into each tub of the lock. We were able to surpass our goal, and we ended up with 328 boats in total!

 
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Many museum staff members paddled in the event, and Maryam Monsef, our member of parliament, paddled with James Raffan. Pictured below are Curator Jeremy Ward, Marketing and Media Relations Manager Jessica Fleury, and General Manager Carolyn Hyslop.

 
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With rain on both sides of the forecast, paddlers were pleasantly surprised by the beautiful weather. While two very full tubs were completing a transfer, the motion was paused. As the two tubs sang "O Canada," paddlers were able to look across to the other tub and see all 328 paddle crafts. 

After the transfer was complete, many paddlers continued on down the Trent Severn, while others went back down the lock. Lock n' Paddle was a great way to celebrate Canada 150 and National Canoe Day!

 
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Check out this great video by our partners at Parks Canada

Connected by Canoe: Rethinking Canada One Stroke/One Conversation at a Time (Part 1 of 4)

The original idea behind Connected by Canoe was to take Sesquicentennial greetings from The Canadian Canoe Museum to the 700+ delegates from across the country attending the annual conference of the Community Foundations of Canada.  The message was that while the canoe has played a pivotal role in shaping Canada’s past, it also has lessons for taking the country forward into its next 150 years, if only to show that by being ‘in the same boat’ and ‘pulling together,’ Canadians of all backgrounds, regions and persuasions can come to a new or renewed sense of the country as a whole.  At its core, Connected by Canoe was a test of the canoe as vessel of reconciliation, asking “Can a canoe journey be a workable floating forum for bringing indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians together?”

As such, Connected by Canoe was less a conventional voyageur canoe trip (although it was, travelling the 204 km from Kingston to Ottawa along the historic Rideau Waterway) and more a ‘floating conversation’ about the future of Canada.  Participants were invited to bring with them an open-ended question about the future of Canada that they were prepared to explore with fellow-paddlers and with folk in the communities where we stopped along the way. (These questions are listed here and written answers will be added to the Connected by Canoe web page by participant in due course.)    And then, in Ottawa, the single 16-paddle Montreal canoe was joined by four other big vessels filled with CFC conference delegates and other paddlers from the National Capital region. 

The project was so impactful to participants as well as to community members along the way that we’re exploring the idea of packaging the essence of the project for other individuals, organizations and municipalities—considering this journey in May 2017 as a pilot—so that others might pick up the idea in the future and run with it as companion projects under the Connected by Canoe banner.  For now, though, here’s a quick taste of what happened along the way from Kingston to Ottawa on this first Connected by Canoe journey.

 
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After a send-off event at the Canadian Canoe Museum where John Good, Executive Director of the Community Foundation of Greater Peterborough and museum board member, Bill Lockington, presented participants with a branded water bottles, we moved to Kingston for a ceremonial paddle in Canada’s First Capital City’s Inner Harbour.  It was a blustery, wet day but the spirits of a couple of dozen kayakers and a pace boat from the Canadian Coast Guard kept everyone smiling.  After our first strokes on the water as a team, we were all happy to move inside the River Mill Restaurant where, as guests of Executive Director, Tina Bailey, and the Community Foundation for Kingston and Area, we were formally greeted by the Kingston’s Mayor, Brian Patterson, and Town Crier, Chris Whyman.  Chris caught the essence of what we were setting out to do in his proclamation: 

 
 

Whereas the Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee and other indigenous peoples have lived in and transited the Cataraqui River system from what is now Kingston, long before the Europeans came, within a nation of rivers from coast to coast to coast, in which the canoe and its northern expressions the kayak and umiaq are still the most appropriate vehicle for accessing most of this country; 

And whereas 400 years ago, the Aboriginal Peoples across Canada welcomed Samuel de Champlain and those who followed from across the oceans; 

And whereas the canoe embodies the spirit of the natural materials from which it is made, and the essence of the people who have made them through the centuries, it was a vessel that was freely shared with newcomers by the Aboriginal Peoples of this continent, and became integral to the building of Canada as it is today;  

And whereas the canoe in its many forms connects people to the land, to the waters, to the past, to the present and to each other; 

Now therefore be it proclaimed that through the Connected by Canoe Journey, the Canadian Canoe Museum intends to show that the canoe, as a vessel of reciprocity, respect and reconciliation, reminds us that all are in the ‘same boat’ and that ‘pulling together’ is a way to build new possible futures for Canada and all Canadians.   Let the journey commence. 

Here ends this proclamation.  God bless the united Canada.  Meegwetch.  Niá:wen.

 
 

After an uneventful night at the Kingston East Motel, we had our first circle the following morning to introduce ourselves and share our reasons for joining the expedition.  With something of a rotating cast for the days of the journey from Kingston to Ottawa, we began with about half men and half women of a diversity of ages from 23-60+, from a variety of walks of life and representing our 24 partners, 10 sponsoring organizations and a cross-section of regions as well as First Nation, Métis and Inuit communities across the country. After a blessing of the waters and the canoe conducted by Algonquin canoe builders Chuck Commanda and Stephen Hunter, we were in the canoe doing some paddling practise and safety manoeuvers by about 9:30 in the morning and soon after that were making our way north toward Seeley’s Bay, our next stopping place.

Our hosts in Seeley’s Bay were the members of the Seeley’s Bay and Area Residents Association who had arranged a magical voyageur’s evening complete with over a hundred participants including a clutch of indigenous studies students from Rideau District High School in nearby Elgin, Ontario, who took turns after dinner speaking about their vision for the future of Canada.  Our contribution to the program included a traditional water song from Shaelyn Wabegijig and an introduction to Inuit throat singing by Kristin Kownak. 

 
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Kristin surprised everyone when, after her solo performance, she mentioned that throat singing is typically done by two women … at which point she said that she and Shaelyn had practised for a few minutes in the bathroom at Sunny Acres Resort (where we were staying in Seeley’s Bay) and were going to do an impromptu throat singing duet in the collaborative spirit of the evening.  The throat singing was so popular in Seeley’s Bay, that two of the people who had been present at the dinner in the Community Hall the night before met up with us the next day at Chaffey’s Locks to request a special tutorial, right there on the lawn of the lock master’s house while the rest of us chowed down on a picnic lunch!

After months of planning and organizing, how wonderful it felt to be on the water with such a diverse group of people, all talking about the future of Canada.   With sixteen people in the canoe, there was always someone to engage.  Surrounded by spectacular scenery and committed to the idea of actually trying to pull together to make the canoe move through the water, with all of the conversation going on, it was often difficult for even the seasoned canoeists to paddle in stroke. 

 
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But the longer we stayed on the water, the more synchronized we got as a group and the more disappointed we all were when we were met by one of our contacts from Parks Canada at Davis Lock, just south of Westport, to let us know that with water levels in the Rideau System being at an all-time high and with heavy rains in the forecast, they were recommending that we get off the water for a few days, for our own safety.  As if to emphasize the truth in this warning from our friends at Parks Canada, it was raining by the time we paddled up to The Cove in Westport.  Overnight, what started as a downpour turned into a three-day deluge of near biblical proportions.

Undaunted, Robin Jones, the inimitable Mayor of Westport, joined us for dinner, and we spent a lively night talking about her work in policing in the Nishnawbi-Aski Nation that has morphed in recent years into municipal politics.  The choice to avail ourselves of local accommodations (instead of tents) turned out to be an excellent call, particularly on this nasty wet night as we snuggled into our beds in the welcoming rooms of The Cove Country Inn (and restaurant) with the gracious hospitality of our hosts Mary and Terry Cowin and their ever-accommodating staff.

The beauty of a canoe trip that is actually a ‘floating conversation’ is that when the water is raging and it is impossible to put a boat in the water, you can still have a conversation.  With the rain still falling with a vengence, with the help of the Cowins, we hunkered down around a board table in The Cove the following morning and, for the first time, took turns unpacking our open-ended questions about the future of Canada.  It was a fascinating process where comment or response to one person’s query would lead to the decanting of another question which, in turn, would send us off in another direction.  By the time noon rolled around, we had emptied a number of coffee pots and had enjoyed a free-ranging conversation that took us places that no one expected to go. 

 
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Determined to keep the momentum of the actual journey going, we packed up our things, loaded them in the van, blessed and bailed the canoe (which by this time was at least half full of water at the Westport wharf), loaded it onto the trailer and headed up to Foley Mountain Conservation Area for a picnic lunch and afternoon program organized by our two Algonquin bark canoe builders.  Working as a team, while Chuck and Stephen scoped out the woods for their canoe-builder’s-walk-in-the-woods activity, part of the crew got a roaring fire going in the downpour, while others prepared gourmet sandwiches under a picnic shelter.

The walk in the woods was magical because in addition to experiencing first-hand the steps involved in the harvest of natural materials from which to construct a bark canoe, we learned from Chuck and Stephen the deep significance of the canoe to the Algonquin people.  If it was not evident to everyone at the beginning of our Connected by Canoe journey that getting in a canoe is tantamount to connecting back to the beginnings of time in North America, it certainly was by the time we started making our way back to the van from the back woods of Foley Mountain.  And again, as if right on cue in some preordained set of events, by the time we travelled by road to Perth for our next evening event, Chuck had managed with a few phone calls to get one of his handmade bark canoes on display at our dinner at the Community Food Centre in Perth, which allowed everyone to see and to appreciate the beauty and artistry involved in this craft of yesterday, today and tomorrow.