Edmonton

Stolen canoes leave festival organizers stranded

Three canoes meant for the annual Flying Canoë Volant festival put on by La Cité Francophone were stolen last month — only the latest of eight stolen from the non-profit since spring.

La Cité Francophone hit by string of canoe thefts

The canoes were destined for La Cité Francophone's annual Flying Canoë Volant Festival on the first weekend of February. (CBC)

Canoes meant to celebrate a legend are now the subject of a mystery. 

Three red canoes were stolen from a storage locker at La Cité Francophone building on 91st Street and 88th Avenue in late October.

"Somebody at about 4:16 a.m. on October 22, proceeded to pull up with a pickup truck and cut the locks and help themselves to three canoes," general director Daniel Cournoyer said.

They're only the latest of eight canoes stolen from La Cité Francophone in the last six months.

The boats were to play starring roles in the annual Flying Canoë Volant festival on the first weekend of February.

"These canoes were purchased expressly for that," said Cournoyer. "So it's a challenge and we're sorry to be faced with this fact."

La Cité Francophone has reported the theft to police. Cournoyer said he hopes tips from the public can help in recovery.

"We just thought we'd put the call out there and let people know that our lost voyageurs are now looking for their lost canoes. So how will they find their way home?"

Cournoyer said surveillance footage shows the culprits driving "a later model GMC dark blue truck." One Old Town Discovery and two Upper Canada models were stolen, all made from poly-based material suited to function in cold winter weather.

The festival also posted the canoes' serial numbers on Twitter.

La Cité Francophone bought four used canoes from Edmonton-based trip operator Canoeheads — one of those stolen still bore its markings — for $2,000.

"As a not-for-profit and as a festival we're always working on tight budgets and whatnot and this is more than an unfortunate incident," said Cournoyer. He said he plans to reach out to local suppliers and see if others can be secured by sponsorship or borrowing.

"It's just a pain in the backside to be quite frank."

The canoes were designated for use during a multi-event race at Edmonton Ski Club. The canoes were to be ridden down the luge run where competitors would then carry a flag and fur bundles from within to a mock trading post. A sawing and axe-toss would finish the timed event.

The festival celebrates the legend of the chasse-galerie, often translated as "flying canoe," an oral story of mixed French-Canadian, Métis and First Nations origins first put to paper in the late 19th-century. In it, lost fur-trading voyageurs make a pact with the devil and are condemned to fly the skies forever.

"Except every year on the first weekend of February they make a cameo appearance down in Mill Creek Ravine," Cournoyer added after retelling the legend. The festival runs three days and features light installations, singing, dancing, and storytelling celebrating French-Canadian and Indigenous culture.

With files from Pippa Reed