Canoe Your Heart Out
An article by Hailey Tallman about canoe-camping in Parc La Vérendrye, Québec, August 8-11, 2013
If you are like me you have a love-hate relationship with cities. They can be exciting, full of culture and are where I have found most of my jobs. However, the call of the wild is ever in the background, beneath the busy roads where the concrete meets the earth, urging me to where the parks, trees and sky have no boundaries.
Yet… I do not have a car and the city keeps me intensely busy for most of the year, making it hard to plan a camping trip! So when I learned of Adrienne Blattel’s outdoor excursions where different cultures meet to simply learn from each other and enjoy the great outdoors, I was intrigued!! And then when I learned that all of the complicated camping planning would be taken care of, I jumped at the chance!
This was my third time signing-up for an outdoor cultural-exchange activity organized by Adrienne, so I knew it would be extremely well-organized, intentional, safe and supportive… and it was!
First, several of us future canoe-campers met for a potluck at Adrienne and Fred’s place to break the ice (keep in mind, we didn’t know each other!) and to plan who would bring what food as all of the dinners and breakfasts were cooked communally. Veteran campers, Adrienne and Fred were full of detailed, useful suggestions as usual! Since we would be transporting ourselves, our clothes, food and tents across water, there were extra things to take into consideration – like lots and lots of plastic bags wrapped around everything. Everyone came to a consensus on some yummy dishes we would cook, asked lots of questions, laughed, and said our goodbyes until the following Thursday.
The next time we saw each other was at the central bus station where we loaded all of our stuff onto a bus for a 5.5 hour bus ride north-west of Montreal.
Who were we? As usual in these inter-cultural exchanges we were a diverse group of people (15 in total) from Mexico, Colombia, Syria, Tunisia, The Netherlands, Algeria, France, and Canada (Ontario and Quebec). We paired up to share tents and canoes with virtual strangers, and were fast friends – even with the snorers! 😉
After the bus ride, a quick camp set-up and sleep, we awoke on Friday for our first full day at Parc La Vérendrye. We rented our canoes and all of our gear right there at Le Domaine. Then we took a few paddling lessons in our canoes, led by our intrepid volunteer guide, Patrick. We set out 2 by 2 with nervous paddles onto the biggest lake of our three-day canoe journey. About half-way out onto the lake most of us were getting the hang of either paddling to propel the boat forward or paddling j-stroke styles to steer. I could hardly believe my eyes and ears when I heard the haunting calls of 16 loons and saw them all convening together on the lake not far from our canoe. They would inevitably dive and disappear beneath the surface of the water by the time I managed to find and focus on them with my camera, so I have no proof, but that is the largest group of loons I’ve ever seen – and I’ve seen my share of loonie groups! 😉
If my memory serves me right we had two short portages on the first day of our canoe-trip. You may have noticed that the word PORTAGE looks and sounds French. Well, you are right! It is French, and I would like to think this word comes from the early French explorers to Canada and the brave Voyageurs who traversed Canada by canoe to trade animal pelts. I am secretly in love with voyageurs and lumberjacks. (Ok, not-so-secretly!!) But just look at them!!
Luckily our group was comprised of several wannabe voyageurs who carried our canoes across the small bits of land that separated our lake pathway. The rest of us ran back and forth transporting the big plastic barrels containing our food, tents and sleeping bags from one lake to the other, but don’t worry, none of us worked too hard – the portages were only a few hundred feet long.
After our first day of canoeing and portaging, we arrived at our campsite nestled in the woods with our own private beach and lake to swim in! The temperature of the lake was divine and we had a leisurely few hours to set up our camp and enjoy our totally natural environment.
Cooking meals was a group effort – I was on duty for the main course that night, and had lugged with me 6 big red peppers and 4 heavy zucchinis as well as some onions, garlic and spices. Someone else had brought couscous and another person, merguez sausages. As we chopped veggies and boiled water a big storm blew in. The merguez were frantically cooked over the campfire on a grill (several fell into the fire but were rescued by brave and hungry cooks) while the rest of our group hurried to form a human barrier around the fire-pit to block the wind and others scrambled with the tarp to create a shelter for us to eat under. It all turned out delicious and we huddled together to eat our yummy meal while the storm blew by overhead.
There were many other fun moments, tasty meals, fascinating conversations and scenes of beauty that weekend, but for the sake of time let me highlight a few of my memories:
watching anxiously as my new friends and fearless guides navigated the rapids (actually they were pretty tame but I was still nervous for them!) finding and holding a calm and beautiful garter snakethe black, black, endless night sky so full of stars that my eyes couldn’t register them all. Seeing shooting stars!Camp-stove-warmed crepes in the morning!Wild blueberries!The glass-calm lake reflecting the mauve morning skyCanoe-races and splash attacksCanned-food lunches on private beachesNew friendsNew canoe and camping skills!
In conclusion, there is no need to suppress the call of the wild when it beckons you! Hop on a bus with some friends to La Vérendrye and rent all of your gear at Le Domaine. I had a rejuvenating time there thanks to Adrienne, Fred and Patrick as well as all of the inspiring people in our group – I declare us all honorary voyageurs!!
Merci à Hailey pour ce très bel article!
Et maintenant, quelques mots d’une autre participante (merci!!):
Cette activité était une « initiation au canot-camping et échange linguistique français-anglais ». Pour plusieurs personnes, c’était leur première fois en canot et en camping ; d’autres avaient plus d’expérience déjà. On espérait non seulement donner la piqûre pour le canot-camping ainsi que de donner des outils pour que les participants puissent refaire ce genre de chose dans le futur, mais aussi de rapprocher des gens d’origines, cultures et langues diverses. C’était l’occasion d’échanger en français, anglais et même espagnol et de pratiquer sa deuxième langue.
Et maintenant pour quelques remerciements très importants !
Merci à nos deux guides bénévoles, Patrick Daigle et Frédéric Ménagé, qui ont rendu cette sortie si agréable, sécuritaire et formatrice.
À nos donateurs privés, à Patrimoine canadien et Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) pour leur soutien financier.
À nos partenaires la Fédération québécoise du canot et de kayak (FQCK) et la Maison de l’amitié qui ont tant aidé avec l’organisation, la promotion et les finances.
À Autobus Maheux, on vous remercie pour le service exceptionnel et le rabais de groupe, et de si bien desservir ce parc, 3 fois par jour !
A la réserve faunique la Vérendrye, merci pour l’accueil chaleureux, l’aide logistique et votre grand enthousiasme pour notre projet !
À tous les huards, couleuvres, oies, brochets, grenouilles, tortues, lapins, sangsues et moustiques que nous avons rencontrés au parc, nous vous remercions de votre accueil également !
Et merci à tous les participants, pour votre ouverture d’esprit, les bons échanges culturels et linguistiques, votre participation et tous les bons moments ! On espère vivement garder le contact !
Pour encore plus de photos de cette activité, veuillez voir ici.