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Paddling celebration of Canada’s 150 Anniversary

A canoe, part of a Brigade in 1985, with paddlers marking the 100 year Canada celebration. Left to Right: At the bow is Peter Rodseth; then Frieda Schmidt; Les Burgener; Hans Mueller; Lorraina Stephen; Joanne Crawford; Craig Hooper; and George LaBrash at the stern.  - Photo Courtesy George LaBrash
A canoe, part of a Brigade in 1985, with paddlers marking the 100 year Canada celebration. Left to Right: At the bow is Peter Rodseth; then Frieda Schmidt; Les Burgener; Hans Mueller; Lorraina Stephen; Joanne Crawford; Craig Hooper; and George LaBrash at the stern.
— image credit: Photo Courtesy George LaBrash

The Fort to Fort Voyageur Brigade travels from Stuart lake and Stuart river in Fort St. James, along the Nechako river past Vanderhoof, to Prince George over three days June 5 - 8, bringing people together to paddle a historic fur trade route.

This Brigade is one of many happening across the country this summer to mark the 150 Anniversary of Canada. It will be a celebration of our history as Canada's fur traders, a culturally diverse group with the various founding peoples of Canada both European and First Nations peoples working together. Indigenous hunters, early explorers, French voyageurs and trappers, tirelessly searched for furs led to the discovery of new transportation routes, ultimately mapping of the lakes and rivers of Canada. Carrying furs and supplies, canoe brigades paddled across Canada to and from trading ports in Hudson Bay and the Pacific west coast.

In two week's time there will be about one hundred paddlers participating in the Fort to Fort Brigade - 15 crews of seven people per canoe. Four canoes will continue on, joining other brigades, paddling to Ottawa in time for the July 1 celebration at the nation's capital.

Voyageurs will wear Voyageur garb, sashes, brigade t-shirts and canoes will be decorated with decals, crests and special flags for the stern.

Along the way there will be people coming to meet the brigade. When they Voyageurs land at Fort George Park, Prince George there will be representation from First Nations, Civic and Parks Canada officials.

Paddling for the three days and camping for the two nights will provide opportunity to made new friendships made along this journey. It is customary for Voyageurs to solidify connections by exchanging small gifts. So paddlers may come prepared with a pouch of tobacco or embroidered blanket. In the absence of these gifts they might just exchange paddles, shirts, and old socks!

Sun June 4 – Arrival of crews at Historic Park Fort and Cottonwood Park.

Mon June 5 – Cottonwood Park beach meet and greet open to the public. Introduction of Voyageur Canoes to school groups, First Nations, Fort St. Jame dignitaries. Noon to 3 p.m. team registration.

At 4:45 p.m. paddle from Cottonwood Park to Historic Fort for 5:00 p.m. arrival ceremony, dinner, presentation, local entertainment.

Tue June 6 – On water 8 a.m., depart Historic Fort with small ceremonial send-off. Voyageurs paddle five or six hours down Stuart River. Camp at Stuart River Bison Ranch.

Wed June 7 – Paddle to confluence of Stuart River and Nechako River near old Isle Pierre Ferry crossing, a place called Chinlac, meet with First Nations. This is a very historic place, the site of a village with a dark history but an important part of the journey. Camp overnight.

Thur June 8 – Paddle Nechako to Fraser River, land at Exploration Place, Prince George. Mid-afternoon celebration. Goodbyes, dispersal of crews.

The fur trade and also the Paquette letter mail system relied on waterways. The canoe, carved out of wood from Canada's ancient boreal forests made those trade journeys possible. Brigades like this not only educate youth on history but also promote water stewardship, and help develop the next generation of paddlers.

- with files from George LaBrash and Norm Crerar, coordinator.

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