By Adrick Brock
The Canadian Shield is a top whitewater destination for kayakers and canoeists. The region forms a horseshoe around Hudson Bay, roughly 3 million square miles between Labrador and the Northwest Territories, the Arctic Archipelago and central Ontario.
Glacial ice has scoured its surface and left it strewn with thousands of rivers.
This spring and summer promises to be one of the best in years. Heavy snowfall and a late winter means high run-off levels well into the warmer months. Rivers in Ontario and Quebec will be prime for boaters looking to push their limits and explore new routes.
"It's a lot of fun to paddle a river for the first time," says Claudia van Wijk, owner of the Madawaska Kanu Centre (MKC). "You don't know what's around the corner, and after you've completed a rapid you get to look back and say, 'Wow.'"
Logistically, however, the rivers of the Canadian Shield are not all easy to access. Like any river, they're often best tackled for the first time with a guide.
This is rationale behind MKC's Week of Rivers, a 5-day river running retreat in the southern Canadian Shield. The program is offered to experienced kayakers and canoeists looking to explore five of the region's best rivers in a compact, all-inclusive road trip/whitewater getaway.
The program has an extensive arsenal of rivers to choose from, depending on water level and skillset: the Upper Madawaska, Upper Petawawa, Ottawa, Gatineau, Lievre, Batiscan, and Rouge are regular destinations. This year's canoe course will be lead by wilderness canoe guide, Stefani van Wijk, and Echo Paddles guru, Andy Convery. The kayak course will be run by MKC Head Instructor, Stef McArdle, and Argentinian pro-boater, Fidel Moreno.
MKC has been offering the program since the mid-90's to their advanced students who wanted something more than the regular 5-day course. At first, they tried to include canoeists and kayakers in the same itinerary, but found that splitting the group by boat-type made more sense. In the words of Claudia van Wijk, "Canoeists and kayakers run different rivers and play in different spots… and boy do canoeists like to scout."
The best part about Week of Rivers, according to Claudia van Wijk, is that all the logistics are taken care of so that guests get to enjoy the fun part of being on the water. Rapids are scouted and run with the guidance of instructors. Vans are shuttled to the take-out, so that paddlers are greeted at the end of every day with snacks, cold beverages, and warm clothes. They're then driven back to the MKC base camp for dinner, showers, sauna and lodge-style accommodation. For more remote rivers in Quebec, the group often spends the night at a local bed and breakfast.
Gail Shields is long-time Week of Rivers canoe instructor. She says the best part about the program is getting out on the road every day, stinky neoprene and all. "The group really gets to bond and enjoy the feeling of freedom."
She's seen how the Week of Rivers program gets those would-be river runners into their boats, so that they experience the rugged beauty of the Canadian Shield, miles of whitewater that never seems to end.
The 2015 instalments of Week of Rivers run June 1-5th (for kayakers) and June 8-12th (for canoeists). Dress warm!