A dozen young Métis youth, who are canoeing 2,200 kilometres as they retrace the historic voyage of their ancestors, took a detour and stopped at the Balmy Beach Club in Toronto on Monday afternoon.
The paddlers have completed a third of the 90-day journey, which began in Ottawa and will end in Kenora, as part of the Métis Nation of Ontario Canoe Expedition.
"It's an incredible shock to step out of how I've lived my entire life," said Will Mclean, who is of Cree descent and from Toronto. "It's really cool to be on the waters and be sleeping in the same places they slept and sweat as they would have paddling these routes."
During their stopover, the young paddlers wore historic clothing and set up a voyageur tent.
"They are retracing those historic fur trade routes; they are spending the summer learning more and more about their history as Métis people, about their culture, language and traditions," said Margaret Froh, president of the Métis Nation of Ontario, who was part of the crowd welcoming the expedition to Toronto.
"As they move from community to community across Ontario they are celebrating our existence as Métis, not just historically but who we are today as strong members of Ontario's society," she said.
For McLean, the experience is about appreciating the hardships his ancestors went through and learning more about his culture.
"The voyage helps me develop myself as a Métis man, and putting that better Métis person, a more understanding person, into our communities and trying to help facilitate growth and solidarity in our community across Ontario," he said.
Froh said the original travellers led a challenging but rewarding lifestyle, something the crew and paddlers are hoping to replicate during their voyage.
"They lived a very rugged life ... It was a life of adventure, a life of camaraderie," she said. "It was extreme in terms of the physical challenges and endurance these voyagers had to show."
With 652 kilometres done, Mclean said the team is a "well-oiled machine now so the coming 1,500 kilometres should be easier."