If yesterday the group made contact with its immediate environment as well as with the wolves and the dogs, today we are moving on to something else. The objective of the day: to become familiar with the canoes that we will use and the paddling and safety techniques. We’re going to spend the day on the water … or almost.

We head to our chief guide Gilles to get PFDs (personal flotation device) and paddles for everyone. Like yesterday, the entire kennel welcomes us loudly.

Gilles and Raphaël distribute personal flotation devices and paddles according to each person’s body size. We help to load the twelve canoes on the two trailers and to tie them down correctly, and it’s time to head towards Lac aux Coudes. As in all situations where distances between individuals are no more than a metre away, the mask and hand sanitizer are still required. At the end of the road, we get to see what the forest dirt road is… Tomorrow we will be in it for two hours.

Marie-Michelle calls out the crews, and what a coincidence, all the crews are gender mixed except for one. One of the guides, Raphaël, gives a short lesson on the basics of canoeing, which includes, among other things: how to hold the paddle, a few principles of physics to better understand the effects of different strokes on the canoe’s course, how to get on board without getting anything but your feet wet, etc. And then, it’s off to board.

Our first objective: crossing the lake in the most direct possible way. As it is the first experience in a canoe for many, we go more or less directly. The guides are busy clarifying the concepts shared on the beach and suggest corrections for their practice. At the other end of the lake, we move on to another skill that must be acquired before the great journey on the river: we practise trading places. And it is at this moment that some of us end up in the water…

We then try what the canoe technicians call the T-shaped recovery. And that’s when we realize that getting back into a canoe is not easy, even with the help of another canoe. Others also decide to capsize, by rocking the canoe. And we practise recovery in T over again…

It’s rather nice to see this flotilla of twelve canoes. Looking at it, we can fully appreciate how wise it was to change rivers because finding places to safely stop that many canoes would probably not have been possible on the Northwest Mistassibi.

Paddling is all well and good, but it helps to get hungry, so we come back to the beach where we left. It doesn’t take long for the meal made up of tabbouleh and 4 different vegetable breads to be swallowed.

Invited by our guides, the group returns to the water to keep practising. The first suggestion is a “tag” game where we must touch others with our hand or our canoe another canoe. After a few rounds of this game, we witness unintentional capsizing. It’s easy in the excitement to forget that canoes are not so stable after all…

Then, we get a small ball, we divide into two teams, and we must pass it 10 times to score a point. The paddling technique is improving, and the canoes are twirling.

And it’s already time to leave, we pack up and attach the canoes on the trailers.

Everyone now knows what to do, we’re a lot more efficient as a group. Some fall asleep on the way back.

This evening, to underline the contribution of the Foundation’s first collaborators, a small party is organized. Already yesterday, everyone had pitched in to decorate a room that is usually an interpretation centre on wolves. Balloons, newspaper clippings and T-shirts recalling the evolution of this important fundraising activity that is, for the Foundation, the Marie-Hélène Côté Shave-O-Thon.

For 20 years, Réjean Côté and Dominique Larouche have steered this annual activity held in St-Bruno. The trigger for this extraordinary involvement was the participation of their daughter, Marie-Hélène, in the great expedition of the year 2000 to Ellesmere Island. Over the years, they have rallied hundreds of volunteers and thousands of brave men to shave their hair for the cause.

The significant sums raised over the years through this activity have enabled the participation of hundreds of young people in the Foundation’s expeditions. They are now handing over to other people and it is at the end of this extraordinary self-sacrifice that the Foundation wanted to highlight their major contribution in a special way. It was therefore during an expedition, with the active collaboration and participation of young people and volunteers, that this celebration was held. On behalf of all the participants and volunteers of this expedition and previous expeditions, we say THANK YOU Réjean and Dominique.

Tomorrow’s program: travelling to our launch point and a short hike to a spectacular waterfall.


– Louis-Étienne Prévost, Blogger and Photographer for the On the Tip of the Toes Foundation