Canoe tour opens eyes, cements connections

When I was invited to participate in the big canoe tour with Canoes for Conservation, as a friend of the tour operators, I was excited to see for myself what the buzz was about.  The big canoe tours being offered on the St. Mary’s River are the hot, new, tourist/local attraction in the Sault and they’re making waves (literally on making waves… but maybe not so hot… more on that later).

We met at the Canal Heritage Site and started with some background about the locks and the Sault, then had a safety briefing and got our paddles and pfds. A micro-paddling lesson followed, and then eight of us got into a 26-foot canoe, along with two guides and away we went. Soon they will have the 36-foot canoe ready for tours as well.

Once we were all nestled against the gunnels, the canoe felt very stable. It was only when someone was a bit too keen leaning with their cameras to one side to take a photo that we felt a bit off balance, but we were assured that these canoes are near impossible to tip.

The paddling was easy enough, with us doing half the speed a real voyageur would paddle. My son was interested in the historical use of these canoes, being used in this region for thousands of years for travel, to enable trade, fishing, and gathering.

There were frequent breaks to learn about the fish spawning beds, the geology, and the water we paddled, with a focus on the importance of all of these to our city historically and today.

We learned a few Anishinaabe words, including those that now adorn the tours they offer: Gchi-gizheb (Morning), Atikamek (Whitefish), Bangishimo (Sunset).The tours are between one and a half to three hours long depending on the route.

I spotted a beaver? Muskrat? And my son saw a heron perched on a rock overlooking fish jumping in the water. I was surprised to see rocks on the river’s bottom clearly, even with the steel plant upstream.

The guides’ prowess not only in paddling, but also in tailoring content to our different interests was noteworthy: he discussed the lock, birds, fish, canoe construction, geology, Batchewana First Nation, and more.

The sunset tour provided for amazing photo opportunities, both leaving in the sunlight and coming back with the setting sun casting pink and orange hues across the sky.

To tell you about the not so hot part, even though I followed all of their email instructions and layered my clothing, once the sun started to set, the temperature plummeted. I wished I had brought gloves with me. I’m not sure that will be an issue in the coming months, but if you’re thinking of renting the canoe for a corporate or family event, or plan to do one of their regular tours, I’d toss a thin pair of gloves into your jacket.

Leaving the tour, I was surprised at how differently I was looking at our waterfront. I felt more connected to the place I call home, to the St. Mary’s River, and to my son. Considering Canoes for Conservation is an effort of the Lake Superior Watershed Conservancy, who want us to bond with the nature around us and protect it, I’d say: “Mission Accomplished.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *