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Borealis Canoe Club Promotes A Love of Outdoors and Paddling

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You can’t talk about Canadian history without mentioning the canoe. Nor, can you refute its importance in exploring and developing our country. Developed by the Aboriginal people in North America, the canoe continues to fascinate people today. The word ‘canoe’ originated from the word ‘kenu’ - meaning dugout.

Then there’s something about being on the river that makes you forget the day’s worries. And, that’s one of the many reasons Amanda Mercer loves canoeing.

President of the local Borealis Canoe Club, Mercer joined the association right after she moved to Fort McMurray five years ago. She is often found canoeing on the Clearwater River after work.

“You just feel like you are out of town. It’s a serene feeling, and one that can’t always be described,” says Mercer.

The Borealis Canoe Club was founded in 2006. It boasts about 40 members, who paddle about 2,000 to 4,000 combined kilometres in a year.

The association promotes “local recreational canoeing by providing maps, routes, information, current conditions, and contacts. We also share knowledge and learning through clinics and training. Organize social events, gatherings, and trips,” explains Mercer, who works for the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.

The group, located on the Snye right across from the skate park, works with other clubs in the province and country. And, often participates in collaborative events.

“We take lots of day trips. We offer training courses, which help with paddling skills; for example, how to manoeuvre a 10-seater Voyageur canoe. Training also involves learning how to lead a team of paddlers. Everyone has to work together. When do you turn the boat in your desired direction? When to stop? Everyone needs to know how to safely get back on a canoe if it flips over, and how to get the water out,” adds Mercer, who started paddling in 1999 when she was only 16.

Through most of her twenties, Mercer was a guide, leading multi-day wilderness canoeing, sea kayaking and hiking expeditions all across Canada. When asked about her favourite trip, she recalled one from 2015.

“We were on the club’s annual trip, and headed to Lakeland Provincial Park outside Lac La Biche. The minute we arrived horrible weather was upon us. There was sideways rain, wind, and just terrible conditions. Despite that, we were safe, together, and got through it all. It was the camaraderie that makes us giggle about the memory even today,” recalled Mercer.

“When you’re out there with people, you may or may not know them well. But, you still rely on each other. You become a team quickly when you cook food together, and have tea afterwards,” she adds.

Well-known city councillor, and avid athlete, Phil Meagher, recently joined the club. He is helping with membership, and instruction. A lone canoer for years now, the activity has a deep meaning for him on many levels.

“Canoeing is as close as I can come to my fantasy of flying without a motor!  You are flying in a sense that the only thing between you and the ground is water and the clearer the water the more it feels like flying. The faster the water the faster you fly, you just don’t want to hit bottom,” enthuses Meagher.

“In addition, canoeing also was what opened up this beautiful part of the country, before highway 63 or the Muskeg Express (the railroad to Waterways) the canoes were the choice of transportation on the river highways. Finally, canoeing is just a very peaceful way to get away from the rush of everyday life,” he notes.

Nowadays, the group is busy preparing for the Athabasca River Brigade, a 334-kilometre brigade from Jasper to Fort Assiniboine, which is northwest of Edmonton. Slated for June 22 to 29, it’s an event celebrating Canada‘s 150th birthday in collaboration with Canadian Voyageur Brigade, which will consist of 16 teams.

“We will stop in different communities where a celebration awaits the brigade coming into town. I’m looking forward to the event very much when we celebrate our country, and our parks too.”

So why should people join the Borealis Canoe Club? Mercer offers two reasons.

“You will get to know local paddlers. And, you get to learn about some amazing places to see so close to town. When you are behind the islands on the Clearwater, you don’t see the city anymore. You see beavers, and nature in abundance. You will love it,” Mercer promises.


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Some facts about Canoeing

  • Canoeing is the sport of propelling an open canoe, using a paddle.
  • Canoeing was originally a form of long distance transportation in North America, the Amazon basin and Polynesia, as well as many other countries.
  • Scottish explorer, John MacGregor, after experiencing canoeing in Canada and the US in 1858, started constructing his own canoes on his return to the United Kingdom.
  • There are two types of canoes, the K-boat, or kayak, a closed decked vessel, is generally meant for the use of one person and is propelled by a single paddle with a blade at either end.
  • The second type of canoe is the more traditional C-boat, or Canadian. The C-boat is manufactured from many different materials, ranging from wood to Kevlar.
  • The Voyageur canoe is named after a “group of gentlemen paddlers who were dubbed by the press “The Voyageurs” after the early fur traders. They began their canoeing exploits without much fanfare but by the time they were done they had influenced, directly or indirectly, a whole generation of paddlers.
  • The main competitive canoeing sport is racing, although canoe polo, playboating, extreme racing and surf skiing are also conducted.
  • Different boats are used and made for different types of canoeing sports such as whitewater and playboating canoes.
  • Experienced canoeists typically steer from the stern and beginner canoeists typically steer from the bow, with the paddles.
  • Experienced canoeists, that canoe in shallow river, use a setting pole to propel the canoe forwards.
  • The sport of canoeing first appeared in the Olympic games at Paris, 1924.
  • Canoeists have to keep their centre of mass low, so they don’t capsize the canoe.
  • Canoes were traditionally made from wood and bark, then wood and canvas, and from there progressed to aluminium.  Most canoes today are made from moulded plastic or a composite like fibreglass.




Kiran is a national award-winning communications specialist, freelance journalist, and social media consultant. She loves telling community stories, and is a strong advocate for inclusion, diversity, women’s rights, and multiculturalism. Got story ideas? Contact her via Twitter: @KiranMK0822.