By Adrick Brock
Class III rapids aren’t your average family destination. There are rocks to worry about, plus ledges, drops, undercuts, hydraulics. But the river is also a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts looking for the catharsis that accompanies facing your fears, and according to the Madawaska Kanu Centre, the whole family should be there for the experience.
The MKC is nestled into the bank of the Madawaska River, a two-hour drive from Ottawa, Ontario. Canada’s oldest whitewater school is run by Claudia Van Wijk and her husband Dirk. With two daughters of their own, the Van Wijk’s understand the importance of paddling together as a family. “Paddling is a lifestyle sport,” says Claudia Van Wijk. “It’s so important that your kids fall in love with it alongside you.”
The real draw to their Family Week program, according to Van Wijk, is that you arrive together as a family but are challenged at your own individual level. You may prefer canoeing, for instance, but your spouse may be a kayaker. Kids are grouped together, meaning you get to focus on your strokes while your children rip around at their own fearless pace. Classes are small, split by skill level, and lead by certified instructors.
The Madawaska river itself provides an idyllic classroom. The river is dam controlled, meaning the flow is regulated and consistent all summer long. Rapids range from Class I to III, and span a short but compact 3 mile section. The crown jewel of the river is Chalet Rapid, a stone’s throw from the MKC lodge. The rapid is a dynamic class III with a smorgasbord of waves, shoots, eddies, and a 25 gate slalom course.
Off the water, students get to enjoy the hospitality of the MKC resort. You can either stay indoors in the pine-beam lodge or camp in the surrounding meadow and forest. Meals are served in the main chalet—home-cooked, healthy, and so abundant it can be difficult to get back into a PFD after lunch. The running joke at MKC is that paddling is what happens in between the eating.
Evenings are choose your own adventure. Kids are often corralled together for big games of capture the kayak and volleyball, while parents tend to go for technique videos and an extra cocktail on the patio. A massage therapist visits the camp for midweek muscle tension. There’s no internet either, meaning the city can feel about as far away as Kansas.
The days may be full but they’re not forced. At the heart of the experience is an leisurely, engaging summer holiday. For those families who come back year after year, it’s an easy-to-love tradition. MKC teaches everything from hydrology to strokes to river rescue in hopes of creating self-sufficient boating families. “It’s amazing to see families growing together,” says Van Wijk. “They continue to expand their paddling experience with river trips for years to come.”