Winnipeg adventurer and author Don Starkell, known for his paddling journeys to the Amazon and Arctic, has died.

The 79-year-old Starkell, who fought pirates, hunger and frostbite, lost a battle against cancer and died Jan. 28.

His son, Dana, confirmed the death to CBC News on Monday.


Paddle to the Amazon is an account of a 20,000-kilometre canoe adventure from Winnipeg to the Amazon, which began June 1, 1980, and ended May 2, 1982. (CBC)

Two years ago, Starkell was seriously injured in a fire at his home, suffering burns and smoke inhalation. He managed to overcome that setback, as he did many others during his adventuring years.

Starkell and his two sons, Dana and Jeff, embarked on June 1, 1980, on a 20,000-kilometre canoe adventure from Winnipeg to Brazil.

The journey would take them from the Red River to the Mississippi River, the Gulf of Mexico and the Amazon and Orinoco rivers in South America. But it was just Starkell and Dana who finished the trip.

Jeff abandoned it during a 3½-month stopover in Vera Cruz.

During the rest of the adventure, Starkell and Dana "encountered piranhas, wild pigs, and hungry alligators [and] they were arrested, shot at, taken for spies and drug smugglers, and set upon by pirates," according to a promotional release by publishers McClelland and Stewart.

"They had lived through terrifying hurricanes, food poisoning, and near starvation."

But when it was completed on May 2, 1982, in Belen, the journey established Starkell and Dana in the Guinness World Records book for the longest canoe trip ever.

The excursion was later detailed in Starkell's book, Paddle to the Amazon, taken from journals written during the trip.

Then in 1990, Starkell embarked on a solo kayak adventure, tracing the Northwest Passage by kayak. The 5,000-kilometre trip took three years and Starkell lost the tips on all of his fingers and some of his toes to frostbite.

The book, Paddle to the Arctic, is an account of that journey.

Flood fueled love

Starkell fell in love with canoeing during the devastating 1950 flood in Winnipeg, according to Chris Forde, who is making a documentary about him.

"He was out there everyday during the flood, delivering groceries and you know, delivering people around however he could," Forde said.

"It was his real first taste of freedom — getting in that canoe and paddling — and it continued throughout his life."

Starkell was inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame and Museum in 2006.