DNTO

My canoe trip with Justin Trudeau

Journalist Ed Struzik thought Justin Trudeau was a pretty boy, "somewhat effeminate, a little bit shallow and superficial." Then he went on a canoe trip with him down the wild Nahanni River that completely changed his view.
Justin and Ed by the Nahanni River. (Ed Struzik)
Listen4:55

Stephen Harper isn't the only one who underestimated Justin Trudeau.

Back in 2003, journalist Ed Struzik was invited to canoe down the Nahanni River in the Northwest Territories with Trudeau, who was re-tracing his father's famous canoe trip from 1970.  Trudeau was also testing the waters for politics, bringing along a camera crew to film the journey.  

Struzik didn't have a very high opinion of Trudeau going in.

I kind of bought the media line at the time that he was a pretty boy, somewhat effeminate, a little bit shallow and superficial.- Ed Struzik

Things started to change once Struzik watched Trudeau expertly manoeuvre some rapids in a difficult stretch of the river. 

"They got caught in a whirlpool right away and I thought they were toast. But Trudeau kept his calm and pulled them out of it rather surprisingly well. I realized then that this guy knew what he was doing on the water and that he was pretty skilled."

As they continued to paddle downstream, most of the conversation consisted of talking points, with Trudeau speaking directly to the camera. Struzik was frustrated. "I got the sense that I was never going to get an idea of who he really was, and what he was all about."

But one afternoon, Trudeau surprised Struzik once again. Struzik asked him about his favourite line from a poem, and Trudeau immediately recited: 

"The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;

Surely the Second Coming is at hand."

Someone piped up, "Yeats, right?"

That opened up a game. Someone would recite a passage from a poem, and everyone else tried to guess. Trudeau and his old university friend Gerald Butts dominated the game. To find out what finally stumped Trudeau, click the listen button above.    

It was kind of a revelation. It was a glimpse into someone who truly enjoys a part of life that you'll never see a politician talking about – the humanities. It really suggested there was somebody else under that persona that presented himself that first day.- Ed Struzik