Edmonton

Benoit Gendreau-Berthiaume's family to canoe from Edmonton to Montreal

An Edmonton family will be following the watery paths once paddled by the coureurs des bois when they return to their original hometown of Montreal — in a canoe — this summer.

Family's 4-month canoe trip will start May 1

'I've always had a passion for adventure, I've always been outdoorsy since I was a really young child, so it kind of started as a joke,' said Benoit Gendreau-Berthiaume of his family's plan to paddle from Edmonton to Montreal. (Benoit Gendreau-Berthiaume)

An Edmonton family will be following the watery paths once paddled by the coureurs des bois when they return to their original hometown of Montreal — in a canoe.

Benoit Gendreau-Berthiaume, his wife, Magali Moffatt, and their five-year-old son, Mali, will paddle to Montreal this summer.

For Gendreau-Berthiaume, who is just finishing his PhD in forest ecology at the University of Alberta, the past five years have been a bit of a blur.

"It's been a pretty intense life doing my PhD here, moving to a new city, and seeing our son grow up so quickly — we kind of wanted to slow down the pace and spend quality family time as we were moving back out east."

Benoit Gendreau-Berthiaume, his wife, Magali Moffatt, and their five-year-old son, Mali, paddled from Edmonton to North Battleford, Sask., last summer. (Benoit Gendreau-Berthiaume)
What better way to slow down as a family and indulge in one of his favourite hobbies, taking the family on a four-month paddle?

"I've always had a passion for adventure, I've always been outdoorsy since I was a really young child, so it kind of started as a joke," he said.

That joke quickly became reality, though, as he and his wife started researching others — including a family of five — who had made similar voyages.

"It kind of inspired us," he said.

As the couple talked more and more about their trip idea, their families also started to get used to the idea.

"Once [our parents] saw all the planning that we put into it and all the preparation, then they started to feel more confident about our abilities."

Last year, Gendreau-Berthiaume's family did a trial run from the John Janzen Nature Centre in central Edmonton to North Battleford, Sask.

"It took us half a day to just get out of town, so this year we decided to start a bit further east," he said.

They plan to set off from Capilano Park, following the North Saskatchewan River until it turns into the Saskatchewan River just east of Prince Albert, Sask. They'll then portage through Cedar Lake, Lake Winnipegosis and Lake Manitoba to connect with the Assiniboine River, which will bring them to Winnipeg.

"Then it's going upstream on the Winnipeg River, a bunch of lakes … to Lake Superior [they will drive from Thunder Bay to Sault Ste. Marie for safety reasons] … to Lake Huron, French River, Mattawa River and then finally the last stretch on the Ottawa River."

By road, the trip is about 3,500 kilometres and would take about 35 hours in a straight haul.

By water, Gendreau-Berthiaume expects the trip to take about four months, with days off from paddling scheduled every three or five days, depending on the difficulty of the terrain.

They will carry enough food to last three or four weeks, and will stop to pick up prepacked caches being held by friends along the way.

Gendreau-Berthiaume expects the weather to be their biggest problem — especially across the lakes — as they simply won't be able to go out on the water during really windy days.

The family plans to dock their canoe for keeps once they reach the western part of Montreal Island, where they intend to live.

The trio plans to start the trip on May 1, and will be keeping a blog of their adventures along the way. You can also follow their progress on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Vimeo.

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