Members of the 2014 Gulf Island Brigade arrived in Ladysmith with big canoes and big smiles.
As part of a six-day voyageur canoe trip late last month, a large group of paddlers camped at Transfer Beach, on their way from Nanaimo to Victoria. Fifty-four paddlers came from across Canada and the U.S. to participate, including members of the Rocky Mountain Voyageurs from Alberta.
“The purpose of brigades is, first, to bring awareness of our waterways and the importance of our waterways. Secondly, it is to educate people on the use of our waterways, and thirdly, it is to bring an interest back into paddling,” said Rita McCreary, who lives outside of Calgary.
The Rocky Mountain Voyageurs spend a lot of time on education, working with young children in schools, she explained.
“It’s a marvelous thing to participate in,” said McCreary. “It’s awesome, really fun. It’s a team effort.”
McCreary says they usually have a support vehicle with them, but for this brigade, they carried all their equipment.
“This is our first ocean voyage, so we’re very excited,” she said. “The scenery is amazing.”
The 2014 Gulf Island Brigade was hosted by the Victoria Canoe and Kayak Club (VCKC).
Brigades started back in 2006 or 2007 around the re-enactment of voyageur trips and fur trader, explorer, surveyor and mapmaker David Thomson’s route to the Pacific Ocean, explained Ellie James from VCKC.
“We’re trying to build up momentum for Canada’s 150th birthday,” said James. “The nice thing about voyageur canoes is people without much experience can get involved. [Voyageur canoes] are used more and more for school groups and camps; they are becoming more popular because you can take out more people, and you don’t have to have the experience. It’s also very social.”
The brigade is a tour, not a race, emphasized James.
Six people fit in each canoe, which weighs from 200 to 400 pounds.
“They are all self-sufficient,” explained James. “Everyone carries their own gear. Every team has to look after their meals.”
The group included paddlers from the U.S., Ontario and across the Prairies. Historian Ken Gibbard paddled with them and told them stories about points of interest along the way.