The week of June 26 will bring an amazing sight to the waters of the Rideau and South Branch rivers. A flotilla of fourteen replica Voyageur canoes, each one between 26 and 36 feet long, with crews of 14-16 paddlers, will be travelling down the Rideau Canal on a trip from Kingston to Ottawa. This colourful and historic sight will fill the Canal, a wonderful reminder of this country’s early years of European exploration and trade.
The flotilla is called the South Wind Brigade, and is one of four Brigades converging on Ottawa for Canada Day. Leaving Kingston on June 23, they will be stopping in communities along the way, reaching Merrickville on the afternoon of June 28 [see details in the Merrickville-Times section of this issue].
The North Grenville Times, in partnership with the Navy League Cadet Corp Assiniboine in Kemptville, has arranged for the Brigade to change their original plans and travel up the South Branch River on June 29, when they will camp overnight at Curry Park. The Kemptville Rotary Club is providing a BBQ, and there will be free rides in the big canoes for the public during the early evening.
It is expected that the South Wind Brigade will bring around 140 paddlers to Kemptville for the night, in addition to the support cars which follow the flotilla, carrying their tents, sleeping bags, cooking equipment, and so on. This is something the community will remember for many years, and cameras and phones will have a lot to record for posterity, as this once-in-a-lifetime event comes to town.
Max Finklestein has been working on the “Four Winds” as a brigade theme for the brigades paddling into Ottawa for Canada Day since the summer of 2015. In working with the NG Times, and with Donovan Arnaud and Mike McIntosh of the Navy League, he has provided the background to the entire project. The concept is that there will be four brigades, one from the north down the Gatineau River from Kitigàn-zìbì (near Maniwaki), one from the east up the Ottawa River from Lachine (Montreal), and one from the west down the Ottawa River from Mattawa. The fourth is, of course, the South Wind.
The four brigades will meet at Victoria Island (Asinabke) at the foot of Parliament Hill on July 1. Asinabke is sacred Algonquin territory and has been a traditional meeting place for first nations for over 5,000 years. The brigades will be carried out in honour of Algonquin Elder William Commanda and his vision for a Circle of All Nations, with the canoe as a symbol of how people, water and nature combine and work together to animate peace, healing and understanding.
The Four Winds mission is to draw attention to the need for everyone, from citizens to the highest political echelons to the spirit of reconciliation with Indigenous people to the spirit of reconciliation with the ecosystems along these waterways that support the life of all living creatures.
Another important goal is to draw attention to the historic role of the voyageur canoe, and Canada’s rivers, in the founding of our nation: to celebrate the historical and ecological significance of rivers like the Ottawa, Rideau and Gatineau that connect our communities, our ecosystems, and our people through time and geography and, at the same time, draw attention to the need to protect them. The long term goal is to restore these rivers as the world’s cleanest, most ecologically healthy rivers to flow through a national capital city.
Come out to Curry Park on June 29 and experience this amazing event for yourself. The South Wind Brigade hope to arrive at Curry Park between 4 and 5 pm. The Brigade expect to leave Lock 17 around 2 pm, though all times are tentative, depending on how long it takes to get through the locks between Merrickville and Burritt’s Rapids. If you or your group would like to join them on the section from Burritt’s Rapids (Lock 17) to Kemptville in your own water craft, you are welcome, but you are responsible for your own safety and behaviour on the water.
This Canada 150 event will be one of the most memorable ways to celebrate the anniversary, so make sure you get to the South Branch on June 29.