Canada 150 celebrations are planned all across the country and a handful of local canoe-enthusiasts are planning to paddle down the Athabasca river.
Starting its journey in Jasper, the 16-boat Athabasca River Voyageur Brigade, consisting of area residents, Calgarians and inter-provincial participants, will visit Hinton and Whitecourt before ending in Fort Assiniboine June 28.
Barrhead residents Dale and Colleen Kiselyk are two members of a 24-person crew involved in the event and say they are looking forward to the spectacle.
“The Canadian Voyageur Brigade Society has been encouraging mass-brigade participation throughout the country and they [society]have asked us to dress up as voyageurs,” Dale Kiselyk said, adding approximately 16 canoes are participating in the Athabasca river passage.
“There are other brigades but this one we are part of has the most boats. With 16 or so boats, we’re looking at around 170 individual paddlers. The river doesn’t normally get this kind of traffic anymore so it will be something to see, especially when we reach Fort Assiniboine and enact the Permission-to-Land ceremony,” he said.
The ceremony dates back to the time of fur-trading and involved a brigade knocking their paddles against the canoes in unison and shouting in time with one another as the boat made its approach, usually towards a fort.
Kiselyk’s wife, Colleen, agreed.
“We both grew up on the Athabasca and Dale and I were married on its banks. Our kids have grown up on the river. When I heard about the brigade, I wanted our kids to be involved because of the historic significance. Not only do we all sign a document that will be going into the canoe museum in Ottawa, but in years to come when people ask them how they celebrated our country’s 150th anniversary, they’ll be able to say they reenacted an important piece of our nation’s history,” she said.
Unlike traditional voyageur crews, the Kiselyk’s group has enough people to switch off between stops along the route.
“We have 16 people who will be paddling and eight others who will follow us on the land. It’s not like the old voyageurs where it was the crew and their equipment and that’s all they had. Instead, we’re supported by land crews. There are so many people in the brigade we couldn’t possibly have set up tents along the river for 170 people. We’ll be going into Jasper, Hinton, Whitecourt and the Fort and we’ll be staying in those communities. It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Kiselyk said.
“There’s bound to be spectators. This stretch of the river goes through quite a bit of wilderness, but I think it will be pretty hard to miss, all 16 canoes, you know?” he added.
“I’m the music teacher for the Fort and I’ve taught them French-Canadian voyager songs and they’ll be joining in at the celebrations. They even get the chance to sing for the Lieutenant-Governor. To me, if we do our job well, history doesn’t fade away and die if we tell it to our children and if we make them excited about it, how better to bring the stories alive than to reenact it? For me as a teacher and as a mom, it’s neat,” Colleen said.
Brigade crewmember Scott Williams agreed.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for me to paddle a stretch of the river I’ve never paddled before and to meet and interact with all sorts of new people,” he said, adding he is looking forward to the voyage and expects it will be a lot of fun.