Setting the pace for community paddle experiences and water stewardship. Words :: Ned Morgan.
The Big Canoe Project continues to gain speed, powered by the collective paddle strokes of the Georgian Bay community and beyond.
The nonprofit social enterprise now has a full season of operations under its bow. It enters the 2022 season equipped to effect even more positive change in its mission to bring big canoe experiences to the diverse masses while raising awareness about water quality and the fragility of our Great Lakes environment.
The Big Canoe is more than big enough for paddlers of all abilities. That includes those requiring adaptive equipment. To that end, BCP will be working with Alliston-based Abilities in Motion, a charity that breaks down accessibility barriers to paddling for individuals with disabilities.
“Part of our mandate is to make paddling accessible,” says BCP founder Tom Thwaits, “So I’m excited to work with them.”
Another first is the BCP’s Paddleathon, planned for August (date TBD) to raise funds for enviro-based or other charities. Thwaits explains: “The idea is to go from Meaford to either Collingwood or Wasaga Beach. People can join in the big canoe but they can also join for whatever leg they want—say, from Christie Beach to Lora Bay. Or they can do the whole thing or join up in Thornbury and go to Craigleith. People can join in whatever watercraft they want, and the big canoe would be the mothership. It’s an opportunity to achieve some sort of critical mass of paddlers.”
Thwaits sees the BCP mission of water stewardship built into all the events they organize. “As a community that has access to the water, we see things in terms of how the bay is used and the state of the bay. And this is of benefit to the community to know, appreciate and be involved in. And that could be something as simple as, if we see trash floating on the bay when we’re out there, we pick it up.”
BCP is keen to continue its work with the Great Lakes Pollution Probe and the Seabin in the Thornbury Marina this year. “Last year we collected data on the amount and types of trash collected by the Seabin, which then goes on to support the lobbying work of Georgian Bay Forever,” says Thwaits.
The Big Canoe Project is also continuing water-quality observations in collaboration with the Water Rangers. Thwaits explains: “The Water Rangers themselves are in expansion mode and they’ve teamed up with an NGO called Great Lakes Data Stream, who take all the data uploaded on the Water Rangers app, which is viewable by anybody anytime, anywhere. So that means academics, other NGOs and governments are accessing that data in order to guide their policy and inform conservation efforts. So by working with Water Rangers we’re not only reaping the benefits of being able to talk about those data points with our clients, but the data then goes on to add to the conversation.”
Work with the Lake Huron Coastal Centre continues this season, with BCP participating in the Coast Watchers program, regularly recording water and air temperature and wind direction, trash collection and wildlife data, as well as collecting water samples for microplastics analysis.
To give youth a seat in the canoe, BCP is planning two weeks of half-day camps for ages 8-12 this summer, doubling their offerings over last year. The camps offer beach-hopping tours of Meaford and the surrounding areas, adding in a healthy dose of kid-friendly citizen sciences (taking water-quality readings). Kids will also learn about big canoes—how to navigate them, and their central place in Canadian history. All guides are certified with the Ontario Recreational Canoe & Kayak Association (ORCKA), First Aid, CPR and the operation of a VHF radio.
“And we’re running two full days of Paddle & Paint Camp with Imagination Studio in June,” Thwaits adds. “The first day is just for adults (June 4) and the second day is just for kids. We meet in Meaford and paddle down to the Claybanks, set up the easels on the beach, and paint.”
BCP is mulling over other outings, including paddling to a secluded water-access-only beach location for a yoga session and then paddling back. Or finding what he calls “an adventurous cooking duo” to paddle with some hungry big-canoeists to a yet-to-be-determined location to prepare an alfresco meal.
And in an homage to its centuries of heritage, next year the Big Canoe will embark on its longest journey yet: a voyageur canoe brigade on the Trent Severn Waterway to the Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough to coincide with its grand reopening. Organized by the Canadian Voyageur Brigade Society, the mission will be another opportunity for the BCP to welcome paddlers to join in at any of the numerous stops along the storied route.
Finally, the other big news is the second annual Big Canoe Film Fest at Meaford Hall on Friday, April 29. (And the first in-person fest; last year was online-only.) Follow the stories of a group of Ontario paddlers who embody the diversity of Canadian canoe culture in Goh Irimoto’s short The Canoe, an official selection of National Geographic’s Short Film Showcase.
The feature film Paddle to the Amazon, directed by Chris Forde, tells the unbelievable tale of the world’s longest canoe trip: over 12,000 miles from Winnipeg to the mighty Amazon, the world’s largest river by volume. The screening is followed by a Q&A with Dana Starkell, who 40 years ago completed this hazardous journey with his father Don.
BCP bookings are available from the May long weekend through to Thanksgiving.