Modern-day Voyageurs from the RACCC, July 18-21, 2013

Our group of 13 eager, modern day voyageurs arrived at Driftwood Provincial Park on Thursday evening, July 18th to allow the resident mosquitoes a good feed before next morning`s long anticipated meeting with the behemoth, 34 foot `` Montreal`` canoe.

The team comprised organizer Paul Gallagher, and Helen Roper, Judith Fecteau, Michele Baddoo, Amanda Murray, Keith McDonald, Wally Dubyk, Gerald Halpern, Jeannette Thomas, Annie Gagnon, Suzanne Chalifour, Catherine Johns, and Edith Fraser. Tents were quickly set up and no sooner were we hunkering down for the night than Mother Nature treated us to a noisy display of thunder and brilliant lightening. The rain persisted all night but was conveniently turned off for breakfast time.

Thanks to Helen`s sumptuous breakfast of bacon, sausages, eggs and pancakes, we were all well fueled for the start of our Voyageur Adventure.

For those who had not played voyageur before, the craft awaiting us at ``de Swisha` ` (Rapides des Joachimes, Quebec), just a short 20 minute drive from Driftwood, appeared quite impressive, sitting high on the trailer, separated from its ``down–at–the-heels`` twin by a dwarfed red kayak.

With the expert guidance of the owner of our rented canoe (Alistair of Voyageur Adventures), we were organized according to height and strength and positioned under our 34 foot voyageur canoe to lift it off the giant trailer and set it on the ground. After rolling it over, we carried it to the water. Once launched beside the dock, where our mountain of camping equipment, including coolers, Coleman stoves, barrels, deck chairs, et al had been piled up, the canoe suddenly seemed diminished. Alistair provided us our various sized voyageur paddles, painted with red blades, and, of course, our flag pole and Canadian flag.     

Many of us were silently wondering how much equipment (and how many voyageurs!?) would need to be jettisoned to fit all on board. Miraculously , most of it fitted into the two wide central compartments. Fortunately, we didn`t also have to load the two 80 pound packs each voyageur portaged.....Thank God! We were assigned to our initial paddling positions by Paul with Suzanne in the stern and Helen in the bow seat.

Alistair watched a rather ragged, uncoordinated group, as we shoved off and headed down river.

We were in awe to be finally paddling along in a voyageur canoe, Canadian flag billowing at the stern. However, as we watched the darkening clouds, we dreaded that the dire weather warnings would play out. ``Nasty Weather God`` finally descended on us near lunch time with distant thunder and flashes of lightning. Safely off the water at Fraser’s Landing, Paul was heard quietly counting the time lapse between the lightening strike flash and sound of the thunder rumble (bang), a method of gauging the distance of lightning, when suddenly fierce wind and rain came.

We huddled under a hastily thrown up tarp while waiting out the storm`s short duration. It would not be until 2 days later that we learned that at this moment, in nearby areas, a hurricane like wind was ripping out large trees, causing power outages and much property damage.  In better position to monitor the weather forecasts, Alistair was very concerned about our welfare, and understandably, the welfare of his valuable ''historical replica'' voyageur canoe.

While the weather was pounding the earth with abundance of water, we decided to use this stop for an early lunch.

The sky cleared quickly, and we paddled off with a diminished wind at our backs, finally stopping at Schyan Point, the confluence of the Schyan and Ottawa Rivers, where we set up our campsite on a large flat beach. Supper finished, we bedded down in our tents for a welcome sleep after a hard day of paddling.

Saturday, the weather and the teamwork were starting to improve. We were now becoming a more coordinated group, paddling to stroke counts set by Helen in the bow and aided and encouraged by traditional voyageur and French Canadian folk songs led by Annie , or Monty Python songs led by Paul.

We had planned to look for pictographs on the sheer rock faces of the Quebec side. Instead, what we were greeted by was a mass of graffiti of the ``Jason loves Tracy`` variety. For lunch we stopped at the small beach of Point a l’Oisseau, where some of us hiked up two or three hundred feet through the jungle-like vegetation to a magnificent outlook that was a sacred site of the Algonquians. This notable landmark, Rocher a l’Oisseau (Bird Rock), is the highest point around and afforded a great panorama.  In the distance across the river, we could see through binoculars the training area of the Petawawa Army Base. It is worth noting that there is a wonderful supply of fresh clear ground water here from a natural spring, so we filled up our water jugs and saved the effort of pumping.

We again had the wind at our backs, but it was now strengthening and becoming gusty with increased wake from motorized watercraft hampering our progress.  Paul admonished us to keep paddling –``Don`t stop when a wave hits – walk through as if you are on a moving side walk - “Dig your paddles Deep !" and, "Keep Paddling! `` he would encourage.  In the front, water was splashing over the gunnels. Excitement was growing and we paddled hard for about an hour and made good head-way.

We paddled through a group of islands looking for our intended campsite on Gibraltar Island.  As we sheltered in the lee of Irving Island, to confirm our location we shouted up to cottagers, who were amazed at the sight of us and asked, ``Are you from Ottawa?`` We are now immortalized in this family’s photo collection.

Gibraltar is a very beautiful island, complete with outhouse, with vistas up the river from its higher points. Upon arriving, we encountered several large motor boats whose occupants told us, ``You are welcome to stay, but it will be loud because we are going to party tonight !``
We found tent sites around the island and set up our kitchen on a small beach. On a rock nearby a beautiful green dragonfly was emerging from its water-dwelling nymph stage. Over the course of an hour, we watched it emerge from its drab brown shell and metamorphose into a magnificent green creature with pulsating abdomen, velvety antennae and diaphanous , veined wings. Once the wings were dry, it flew away on its mission to find a mate, with a maximum life expectancy of two months.

After dinner on Saturday night, Paul entertained us around the campfire with stories, poems, and very amusing adult nursery rhymes. Judith performed her Tahitian dance, minus her costume which had been forgotten at home with all her camping clothes. (Editor’s Note – In case your eyes are now popping out of your heads guys, rest assured that Judith borrowed a large scarf from which suitable attire was fashioned).

The motor boat partiers did not live up to their warning – the music stopped around midnight .

Sunday morning was clear and sunny, but we encountered some pleasant winds again at our backs, to keep us cool and push us gently on our way. We passed by an old, rotting log boom and at this stage had to dodge many submerged logs. Catherine had assumed the stern role and she applied her experience to guide us through to our destination.  Mid-morning we rested on an island beach where the owner told us we were welcome to pause ``for awhile``, but not to stay. Many of the crew had a swim here. Further on, we viewed an eerie island populated entirely by a dense co-existing colony of cormorants and gulls whose guano had denuded the trees.

We stopped on a ``river rock`` beach with a lighthouse for lunch. One of the crew sighted a piece of driftwood which turned out to be a weather beaten child`s paddle. Mandy fell in love with it, and she is the now the proud owner.

By the third day, we had been transformed, no doubt in small way by the tempest through which we had paddled as much as by the enthusiasm and spirit of all crew members. We were becoming rather well-coordinated, and it was this well-syncopated machine that Alistair watched paddle into Pembroke harbour late on Sunday afternoon.

In asking for anecdotes, from our fellow crew, we were reminded by Judith of ``strong woman ``Annie determinedly pulling the huge canoe around sandbars all by herself and of her singing songs to keep us motivated and raise our spirits, just as the voyageurs of old were roused by song; Annie also took a shift as a lead paddler in the bow.

Throughout, Mandy`s infectious laugh was like cheerful music.

Gerald summed up his impressions of the trip this way:
``The canoe voyage was a meaningful expression of how cohesion builds in a group of like minds, but very different personalities. We began as a rather uncoordinated grouping of individuals who simply did not have the skills required for coordinated paddling in a large group. Yes, we could all paddle tandem, but that was not sufficient for the seating on this boat. By the second day, we had improved and when we reached Pembroke on the third day, we were rather well-coordinated. I was proud and pleased to be a part of this group.``

We owe huge thanks to Paul for organizing this great adventure, to Suzanne for coordinating transportation, to Hannah Halpern for being our guardian angel, for those who took on responsibilities as helmsman/woman or lead paddler, and to everyone for good food and cheerful companionship.

Thanks too for all my fellow crew who have offered their thoughts and anecdotal comments which are included here in what can be best described as a collaborative effort.  In closing I must admit that this was a super way for me, a new member in 2013 to get my first experience of “weekend” canoe camping with all these helpful and supportive paddlers.