Last summer, Benoit Gendreau-Berthiaume and his partner, Magali Moffatt, heard lots of criticism when they told their family and friends about their plans to canoe from Edmonton, Alberta to Montreal, Quebec, with their 5-year-old son, Mali. Benoit and Magali envisioned the 2,500-mile expedition as a great way to celebrate the completion of Benoit's Ph.D. studies and return to their hometown. Mali has always been part of the family's outdoor adventures, and the parents saw no reason why he wouldn't be able to make the five-month trip.
In the end, Mali proved to be the expedition's most stalwart member. "He was more often a source of motivation and inspiration for us to push further and harder by seeing how well he endured the challenges and was always upbeat and happy," says Benoit. "We thought having him with us would be more of a challenge but more of a benefit."
To this end, resilience was the greatest lesson the family gleaned from their trip, which was a shoe-in for a 2016 Canoe & Kayak Award nomination. "We're more resilient than we thought," says Benoit, who arrived in Montreal with his family in late September. "We can push through big challenges together and our son was a key component."
We caught up with Benoit to hear more about lessons learned from a wilderness epic.
Small Canoe, Big Water "On the big lakes of Manitoba [Cedar Lake and Lake Winnipegosis] we had to be careful. It seems like it was always windy, day and night. We paddled close to shore and our Northwater canoe spraydeck was a lifesaver. We learned the hard way to camp far from the lakeshore on those big lakes."
Friendly Strangers "Canadians are amazing people. Everywhere we went, we received such warm welcomes and generous offers. This allowed us to make more personal contact with people. They were following our website and would randomly meet up with us on the river, and often provided us with fresh food. Magali and I were amazed by the generosity and happy to show this Mali as well."
Wilderness by Water "We saw the prairies on the Saskatchewan River. It was really beautiful and a very wild, and felt very different than the highways. The lakes in Manitoba had big beaches and amazing sunsets. As a forest ecologist, I was surprised to see oak trees way up in northern Manitoba. On the Winnipeg River the scenery changes from prairies to Canadian Shield in a span of only 100 meters."
Carbon is Key "I've always used big-bladed canoe paddles, but on a long trip having a light paddle really helps. We switched to Grey Owl Raven paddles after two months on the water and they saved our shoulders."
A Child of Nature "Mali is really keen to get back canoeing. He's always asking, 'Are we going to go canoeing like last summer?' He's going to canoe camp this summer and we have some smaller trips planned. He doesn't understand yet that last summer was a bit exceptional."