Dozens gathered at Clearwater Lake for a canoe journey that would take them around the 22-kilometre long body of water in an effort to help advance reconciliation.
The sun was out and the air warm as the crews for 18 canoes, comprised of First Nations, law enforcement and public service agencies, readied their vessels. Paddlers ventured out onto the lake in the early morning, stopping for lunch after a couple of hours, and headed back to the boat launch later in the day.
The Pulling Together Canoe Journey celebrated it’s 20th event, after the COVID-19 pandemic forced a three-year delay. It’s a trip participants have been prepared for since 2019.
“It’s pretty good, I really enjoyed the company of all the other canoe families,” said Cory Sampson, acting chief of Cstélnec (Adams Lake) First Nation. “It was a great atmosphere all around. Good to have everyone there.”
He paddled in a team of 14 people in a canoe about 40 feet long. The journey welcomes those from all ages, he said, and the youngest person in their canoe was 11.
The eight-day journey began on July 12 in Belvidere Park in Enderby, with stops at Grindrod Park, Mara Lake, Pierre’s Point and Blind Bay on Shuswap Lake. After moving their camp from Chase to Chu Chua over the weekend, the group paddled Dunn Lake on July 18 and took the trip up to Clearwater Lake the next day. Paddlers can spend five to six hours on each part of the journey, travelling upwards of 26 nautical miles per day.
While the days have been very hot, Sampson said everyone kept a good pace and no one was too exhausted.
One of the event’s larger canoes was navigated by the Royal Canadian Navy, holding 18 people, said Rod Tulett, a local resident on the Pulling Together Canoe Society and member of the Navy reserves. The smallest canoe is a dugout style that seats six.
Plans were made to take part of the journey on the North Thompson River from Ferry Road boat launch to Kamloops. But high water brought up safety concerns and those plans were moved up to Clearwater Lake.
“Because the river is so high…it’s far too treacherous for those big canoes,” said Tulett. “It was decided that we paddle some lakes.”
He added safety is their number one priority on the water. The group has a safety committee that runs everything on the water, chaired by a Royal Canadian Navy member with 42 years experience and has been the safety officer for the journey since 2007. Local RCMP members and search and rescue crews would escort the paddlers and a safety boat was always in the water with the canoes.
“Safety comes before even the First Nation protocols,” said Tulett. “We want to end the journey with the same number of people that we started the journey with.”
The journey ended on Green Lake, as the area serves a cultural significance. It was a traditional halfway meeting point of the nations from north and south.
Cstélnec (Adams Lake) was one of four hosting the event this year, along with Splatsin, Simpcw and Tsq’escenemc (Canim Lake) First Nations, in cooperation with Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc. The journey promotes healing, reconciliation and respect for Indigenous host nations, as well as the sharing of Indigenous cultures.
“It’s been awesome,” said Sampson. “Good collaboration between all the bands…just great working with everybody again.”