Harry Teitelbaum and his colleagues at the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) were anticipating Saturday, June 18 to be a big day. Not only was the conservation group planning its third annual fundraiser paddle on Toronto’s Rouge River, they were predicting an announcement from representatives of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government that the area would be Canada’s first national urban park. What Teitelbaum didn’t expect was a visit from the PM, a notoriously avid canoeist, himself.
Then, the wheels of political propaganda started to roll. Environment minister Catherine McKenna would be there. And, in case Trudeau decided to make an appearance, Teitelbaum was asked if he could loan the PM his cedar-strip canoe. “We couldn’t tell anyone,” posted Teitelbaum, who asked if Trudeau would be able to autograph his canoe. “Once we cleared it with the advance team they said, ‘Leave a Sharpie in the canoe.’”
Teitelbaum describes the Rouge River, located just east of downtown Toronto, as a “very short but instantly enjoyable paddle.” The waterway is at the center of a new national park that puts 19,500 acres of wild space at the doorstep of seven million Canadians. The Prime Minister, along with his wife, Sophie Gregoire and their daughter, Ella Grace, got a sense of that last Saturday from the seats of Teitelbaum’s picture perfect canoe.
“I have studied the pics and watched his style and his technique was a perfect 10 and so was Sophie’s,” said Teitelbaum in an interview with CanoeKayak.com. “Both myself and the [Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers] had serious difficulty staying with them. We just couldn’t keep up!”
Teitelbaum was doubly impressed by Trudeau the person. “I’ve worked for 23 years as an executive recruiter, so I’ve interviewed thousands people. Justin instantly felt like an old friend,” Teitelbaum said. “I felt comfortable enough to put my hand on his shoulder and joke with him. His wife Sophie too was extremely friendly and very natural, and I was impressed that Justin and Sophie both had water shoes. They really knew what they were doing, plus he brought his own PFD.
“What struck me in all the mayhem of being around semi-crazed people eager to get selfies was how chill he was,” continued Teitelbaum. “He was really happy to be around fellow paddlers…He closed his speech with, ‘You’ve elected a paddler.’ I’m sure we will see robust efforts for increased conservation and getting this signature legislation for the Rouge demonstrates that commitment.”
As for Teitelbaum’s autographed canoe, “I had a RCMP officer at the event offer me $4000 for it,” he laughed. “Several folks have suggested donating it to the Canadian Canoe Museum since it has a Pierre Trudeau exhibit. I’ll consider it, but that is years away.”
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– Watch video footage from the Prime Minister’s paddle on the Rouge River and announcement to create a national urban park