Métis canoe trek passes through

Nicholas Donaldson

Unfortunately for the Métis Nation of Ontario’s 2017 canoe expedition team, the weather washed out its planned ceremonial entrance to Fort Frances last Wednesday.
Heavy rain prevented the dozen Métis youth from paddling their large, voyageur-style canoe into Point Park wearing their traditional Métis garb.
Instead, the paddlers made their introductions in the dry banquet room at La Place Rendez-Vous here.
Their journey began in Ottawa on May 23 and will end with a visit to Kenora this Friday- just in time to attend the MNO’s 2017 Annual General Assembly on Aug. 19-21.
It’s a roughly 2,200-km trip lasting 86 days in total as they follow the historic fur trade routes of their Métis ancestors, as well as stop in several communities to deliver presentations and speak about their Métis heritage.
The trip is held every few years, with the last one taking place in 2014.
“Lots of ups and downs so far,” paddler Will McLean told the Times. “But on the whole, it’s been cool to step into our ancestors’ shoes for this long and live the life of a voyageur.
“Biggest challenge has been being away from home and people,” he added.
McLean also lamented having to deal with bad weather and sleeping outside every night away from the comforts of a bed.
But he also knows that once the journey is complete, he’s going to feel the benefits of this experience.
“Thinking and living like your ancestors did, learning from that and gaining perspective, is amazing,” McLean enthused.
“Also being able to connect with Métis communities across Ontario, and coming into contact with more Métis youth that are like-minded, is big,” he added.
McLean admitted he didn’t know much before starting the trip, but now he’s learned a lot about the Métis culture, dancing, art, games, and the lifestyle of a voyageur.
This also is a unique experience for McLean, who grew up in Toronto.
“I’ve been out in the bush a little bit but I’ve never done anything like this at all,” he said.
“I’m obviously excited to get back to my life, but also excited to remember what I’ve done here and keep the teachings as I move forward.”
Couchiching Chief Brian Perrault welcomed the paddlers on behalf of the local First Nations while Sunset Country Métis president Clint Calder led a prayer for those on hand.
The group then presented signed paddles to the Sunset Country Métis and local First Nations’ communities.
A question-and-answer session was held as the paddlers spoke about some of the troubles they’ve had along the way.
These included setting off from Marathon with huge waves crashing over the canoe, portages that were not meant for a larger, voyageur-style canoe (theirs is a 36-foot long, six-foot wide boat weighing 860 pounds), and the extra weight of their fiberglass canoe compared to a traditional one made of birch bark.
“We are following a historic route but there are new barriers to go around,” noted Courtney Vaughn.
She spoke about once having to lower the boat about six feet into the water and practically dropping it, and at one point having to carry the canoe straight through the streets of a small town.
The paddlers also mentioned they like to sing while they are paddling.
At the request of the audience, they performed two of their favourite songs–a traditional one in French and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which drew smiles and some participation from the audience.
“Everyone of us has learned and grown on this expedition, and I have enjoyed my time paddling with this group,” said Tomas Lucas.
“Unfortunately, we’ve had some weather problems but this is a lovely location and it’s great to see so many people out here,” he added.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and her partner, Jane Rounthwaite, also were on hand for Wednesday’s event.
They joined the group here in Fort Frances to begin their four-day participation in the journey from Aug. 9-12 (during the premier’s vacation).
“I am honoured to have this opportunity to spend time with them and learn more about Métis culture, heritage, and the role that Métis have played-and continue to play-in Ontario and Canada’s history,” Wynne said about the journey.
“I’m also grateful for this unique chance to paddle a traditional voyageur canoe for my first time,” she added.
The arrival event was accompanied by refreshments and capped off with Métis activities, games, and jigging led by the paddlers.
The Métis youth then camped at Point Park overnight before setting off again the next day heading west along the Rainy River.