North

Man and dog duo paddle from Fort McMurray to Yellowknife for veterans

Mike Ranta and his dog Spitzii arrived in Yellowknife after a 22-day paddle down the Athabasca River.

'I lost a couple of really good friends in that WWII era ... These people really meant a lot to me'

Mike Ranta poses with his paddle buddy Spitzii. The duo recently arrived in Yellowknife after a 1,500-kilometre paddle from Fort McMurray, Alta., to raise money for veterans. (Priscilla Hwang/CBC)

A longtime canoeist and his furry best friend arrived in Yellowknife on Friday, after paddling from Alberta to raise money and awareness about veterans with PTSD.

Mike Ranta ​​​​​​travelled about 1,500 kilometres from Fort McMurray, Alta., on the Athabasca River to Great Slave Lake. It took 22 days — a "short trip" compared to the five weeks Ranta said he expected.

Spitzii — a purebred, 11-year-old Finnish Spitz — joined him.

"He's my campsite soldier, my best friend, my bear scare," said Ranta. "I take him on all my trips. He's been on every single one of them."

Ranta said he started paddling for causes in 2011, when he canoed from Alberta to Montreal for a youth centre.

"I got the bug," he said.

Ranta said he started paddling for causes in 2011, when he canoed from Alberta to Montreal for a youth centre. Later, he decided to paddle for veterans struggling with PTSD. (Mike Ranta's Paddle/Facebook)

In 2014, veterans' issues became more personal for Ranta.

"I lost a couple of really good friends in that World War II era. And again, it gave me that realization of what's really important that we have as a nation," said Ranta, who's not a veteran but is close to the cause through his brother, a veteran with PTSD.

"These people really meant a lot to me."

Ranta said he decided to do his trips for Warrior Adventures Canada, an Ottawa-based charity that helps veterans and first-responders heal through outdoor activities like canoeing and rock climbing.

"I paddled from legion to legion, shaking hands and saying thank to you an amazing group of people," he said.

"As Canadians we're very sheltered. And what these men and women see in a run of a career is astounding."

Ranta said he raised about $5,000 last year by raffling off the canoe he paddled with at an outdoor show in Toronto. He said he'll do the same this year with his canoe.

'What an amazingly awesome lake'

Ranta said the flies and heat were "incredible" during his recent journey, but they learned to cope with it.

"What really struck me was the kindness and the generosity of the people we met along the way," he said. "Fort Chipewyan was amazing — everybody there was so kind." 

Spitzii photographed here during their trip from Fort McMurray to Yellowknife. The duo arrived in Yellowknife Friday. (Submitted by Mike Ranta)

Ranta said he was able to meet a few veterans en route and said thank you to them.

"That meant a lot to me and Spitz." 

For me it's a quest for knowledge, and a quest for better understanding of Indigenous peoples and their communities.- Stephen O'Neill, Retired Ontario judge

And about Great Slave Lake? 

"Wow, that's all I got to say," said Ranta. "What an amazingly awesome lake."

Ranta has paddled across the country twice, and has made several other shorter trips within Canada.

Ranta said he holds the world record for the longest solo canoe trip from B.C. to Nova Scotia in 2014, recognized by the World Paddle Association.

Stephen O'Neill is a retired judge in Ontario who writes about his paddling trips to raise awareness among judges and lawyers about issues for Indigenous communities. (Submitted by Mike Ranta)

Stephen O'Neill joined Ranta and Spitzii on a part of the stretch, stopping at Fort Resolution, N.W.T. The retired Ontario Superior Court judge is now a full-time lawyer advocating for First Nations groups in Ontario. 

O'Neill said while he supports Ranta's cause for veterans, he had a goal of his own.

"I just realized how important were the communities, the people and the presence of Indigenous peoples on the land," said O'Neill.

"For me it's a quest for knowledge, and a quest for better understanding of Indigenous peoples and their communities." 

O'Neill writes about his paddling trips for the Ontario Superior Court's newsletter, to raise awareness among judges and lawyers on the issues in Indigenous communities he visits.

Ranta, Spitzii and O'Neill have plans to paddle from Yellowknife to Tuktoyaktuk next summer.

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