Edmonton family launches 4-month canoe journey to Montreal

Moving to another city is always an ordeal, but one Edmonton family has turned it into an adventure, setting off by canoe with their young son to get to their new home in Montreal.

'We're doing it for real,' wife says about husband and son making the 3,500-km trek

Magali Moffatt, her son, Mali, and husband, Benoit Gendreau-Berthiaum, launch their canoe into the North Saskatchewan River — the first step in their 3,500-km journey.

Moving to another city is always an ordeal, but one Edmonton family has turned it into an adventure, setting off by canoe with their young son get to their new home in Montreal.

"Yeah, we're super excited," said Magali Moffatt, paddle in hand on the banks of the North Saskatchewan River just before beginning the four-month, 3,500-kilometre journey Saturday morning.

"After a year and a half of prep like that, it's just fantastic to be here."

It has been five years since Moffatt and her husband, Benoit Gendreau-Berthiaume, moved to Edmonton.

Moffatt said those years have passed quickly. The couple had a son, Mali, and Gendreau-Berthiaume completed a PhD in forest ecology at the University of Alberta.

When the couple decided to move back to their hometown of Montreal this summer, they wanted to find a way to slow down and carve out some quality time together.

As a joke, Gendreau-Berthiaume suggested the family paddle the 3,500-odd kilometres to Montreal. Soon, it became a plan. And finally, after launching their canoe into the river from Capilano Park in east Edmonton, it was a reality.

The family will follow the North Saskatchewan until it turns into the Saskatchewan River. From there, they'll portage until connecting with the Assiniboine, which will take them to the Winnipeg River. The longest portage will have them carrying their canoe over 20 kilometres of land and will likely take multiple trips.

"There's a lot of stuff in that canoe there. So it will be challenging," Moffatt said.

Paddling upstream, Moffatt said they will reach the Great Lakes and, aside from a short drive for safety reasons, follow them to the Ottawa River and their final destination.

Five-year-old Mali will be with the family every kilometre of the trip. Moffatt said he frequently joins the couple on outdoor adventures, and she's confident her "tough little one" will be able to handle the trip.

"Since Mali's been six months old, he's been following us on our adventures.  He's been backpacking with us, cross-country skiing. So he'll be fine," she said.

She said the greatest challenge will be getting the energetic five-year-old to sit in a canoe for eight hours at a time.

"Chocolate is the key here."

It was a sunny send-off for the family as they set off on the calm North Saskatchewan River. The family estimates the trip take about four months, and Moffatt knows Mother Nature will show them much worse.

"Having to deal with Mother Nature for sure, wind, cold, whatever she'll be offering," she said.

"We [will] live outside, so that's probably one of the biggest challenges. So, we'll go day by day."

They set out with several weeks of food, and have arranged for friends to leave supplies along the route to carry them the rest of the way.

No matter what the trip holds, she said the excitement and the thought of spending time with her family will carry her through.

"It's been so crazy lately. We haven't got a lot of time to get together and enjoy that. So definitely being just the three of us together and realizing that, 'Oh my god, we're doing it for real.'"


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