Celebrating Canadian heritage in a canoe

by Brittany Wentzell

  • <p>BRITTANY WENTZELL PHOTO</p><p>Nakuset Labrador, left, and her twin brother Tepkunaset Labrador, right, drum alongside their parents and grandfather at the gathering to welcome back the paddlers.</p>
  • <p>BRITTANY WENTZELL PHOTO</p><p>Leif Helmer, Angharad Wylie, Amy Buckland-Nicks, Tague Foxton, Ellen Macnearney, Colin Gray, Kathleen Macnearney, and Tristan Glen, paddled the Shelburne River as a part of a celebration of Canada&#8217;s Heritage Rivers.</p>
  • <p>BRITTANY WENTZELL PHOTO</p><p>The group drew the Canada 150 symbol on a towel and made a flag for their trip.</p>

What could be more Canadian than celebrating the nation's anniversary with a canoe paddle through a heritage river?

At least that's what one paddler who did just that exclaimed after a five day trip up and back down the Shelburne River, also known as the Asoqmamkiajk.

Eight paddlers set out on May 9 as a part of a Canada-wide celebration of Heritage Rivers for Canada's 150 celebrations. The trip was organized by the Mersey Tobeatic Research Institute (MTRI) in partnership with Nova Scotia Environment, Canoe-Kayak Nova Scotia, Parks Canada, the County of Annapolis and the Canadian Heritage Rivers Celebrate Canada 150 Program.

The paddlers were chosen through an application process and the team consisted of a diverse range of ages and backgrounds.

Amy Buckland-Nicks, a Bridgewater resident and researcher at MTRI, organized the event.

"The Shelburne River is a remote river in the middle of our province and this was an opportunity for a group of people who haven't necessarily seen the Shelburne or had the opportunity to go on that trip to see it," she said.

The river is 53 kilometres long and runs through the Tobeatic Wilderness Area and the Shelburne River Wilderness Area. The area surrounding the river is home to old growth hemlock, pine, and spruce forests. It was designated a Canadian Heritage River in 1997 for its "outstanding recreational and cultural values."

The group, consisting of the eight paddlers, four canoes, and plenty of gear, set off from Eel Weir in Kejimkujik and stopping at Peskawa Lake, Sand Beach Lake, and Irving Lake. The paddler's route saw them choose a point to stop and then travel back down the river and into Kejimkujik National Park again.

"Cofan's Cabin (on Sand Beach Lake) was kind of a special spot because it's a restored warden's cabin," said Buckland-Nicks.

The cabin was recently restored by MTRI and the Department of Environment.

The Shelburne River is not only a traditional Mi'kmaw route, it's also where much of the book the Tent Dwellers took place. The Tent Dwellers was written by Albert Bigelow Paine in 1908 and provides a detailed and sometimes comical chronicle of a trip Paine and his fellow travelers took in the area. Some of the paddlers read the Tent Dwellers during their journey as well.

Although there are some cabins and plenty of marked areas, the Shelburne isn't one of the most popular rivers to paddle in the area. The river flows from its headwaters to Lake Rossignol, a lake that was flooded for logging and considered one of the largest and more dangerous lakes in the area. There are also plenty of difficult portages along the river, something many of the paddlers were quick to point out.

"I canoe a fair bit or with my friends but I wasn't confident going into this deep wilderness area with just a map on my own, not knowing where the portages start and end," said Tristan Glen, a resident of Dartmouth.

Glen says the trip was a good opportunity and that it seemed like a fitting way to mark Canada's 150.

"There's a lot I'm not in agreement with with Canada 150 but I feel like paddling a heritage river with a diverse a group as possible seems pretty good," he said. "Canoeing is what defined our country to start with, it wasn't hockey... it was the canoe, exploring deep into the continent."

Tague Foxton, a 17-year-old Mohawk resident of Bear River, was the youngest of the paddlers. He was also the group's designated photographer. Foxton says he was sick for the first day or so but it was still a good experience.

"It was tough but it was worth it for the view," he said. "It was a nice experience, I'm glad they got the funding, I'm glad I could be a part of it."

A mother and daughter duo from Montague, Prince Edward Island also took part in the trip.

"We always do family adventures together and I have just always been interested, I worked in the Tobeatic one summer and I was always interested in the Shelburne River," said Kathleen Macnearney.

The mother of four went along with her 22-year-old daughter Ellen. When asked what it was like to spend so much time with strangers, Macnearney said most people who sign up for something like that have the same mindset going in.

"We were strangers but not really, we knew right away we would have a lot in common and the group got along from the very first minute... we just enjoyed it right from the beginning," she said.

The trip concluded on May 13 with the group welcomed back to Kejimkujik by MTRI and the Labrador family, Mi'kmaq artists and canoe builders. The Labrador family sang a song of friendship and a smudging ceremony took place.

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