Kayaker paddles across Sask. on trek from Banff to Montreal
With each stroke of the paddle, 58-year-old Joe McKay is reconnecting with his Metis ancestry.
“You know my great grandfather five generations ago came down this exact same canoe route and this just happened to be by circumstance,” said McKay.
He began his journey from his home in Banff, Alta. on May 1 and hopes to reach Montreal by the end of October, paddling on average 12 hours a day. His trip is more than 7,000 kilometers and he carries only 50 pounds of gear and supplies.
“Well, it started out as a midlife crisis pre-planned, so like 15 years ago. I wanted to do one more big trip before I was too old to do one more big trip,” added McKay.
With 30 years of experience as a mountain guide, McKay made sure he came well prepared.
“I have the kayak tricked out with a sail kit so that’s really helpful whenever I get a side wind, I can really make time with that. I have a wheel kit for stuff like dams and to push the kayak over rocks. I have a dry bag with electronics and food. Then my bug bag which has sunscreen, emergency blankets, sat phone,” said McKay.
McKay also makes sure to take plenty of breaks, especially with hypothermic temperatures in the mountains and high winds on the large lakes. He has also faced many Saskatchewan difficulties in the Qu’Appelle Valley.
“The section between Buffalo Pound and Lumsden was a nightmare. I mean I must have crossed 30 beaver dams. It makes you wish you had a beaver skin hat and it would back into fashion after a while,” smiled McKay.
McKay says he is also thankful for complete strangers helping him along the way. He ran into one farmer on the river, who was also kayaking for exercise. When he heard what McKay was doing, he gave him $50 for a warm meal. McKay also said he met another motorist who drove him across town just to get fuel.
The route he is travelling on is also one of the many routes Metis fur traders would use to ship their pelts to the Hudson Bay Company in the late 1700s. Calvin Racette has been an educator for 34 years with an extensive background in Metis history. He says many of the country’s first fur traders were Metis and French speaking First Nation people.
“You know we are going through this Canada 150 right now and you see lots of this but you don’t see too many people talking about the fur trade story and you don’t see too many talking about the buffalo hunt story and I commend this man for doing this because it’s not easy because he is going to be scrapping with mosquitos every step of the way and every time he pulls over at night he’s going to be introduced to good old Saskatchewan wood ticks," laughed Racette.
He thinks Canada’s fur trade era speaks volumes of what it took to live in Canada during the 1700s.
“I think about the wars like Dieppe. I watch a lot of history channels. They say, ‘If it wasn’t for Canadians, they never would have won.’ And they say the Canadians are tough and the best soldiers. Well in order to survive in those fur trades, you had to be tough. It was not an easy job. It took a special breed of guy and I think that speaks volumes of what was required to make this country what it is. I think people don’t talk about that enough,” added Racette.
Back in the Qu’Appelle valley, McKay will continue exploring his ancestry.
“I’m not kidding myself. I am not near as tough as (my ancestors) were. They were capable in the days when the boats were made of wood and the men were made of steel,” said McKay.
And one day, make it back home to his family.
“For me, if you’re looking for one good trip, that’s a good trip,” he said.