The community of Rocky Mountain House is about to take a step into the past during Canada’s 150th birthday week with special events to showcase the historic and legendary days of the voyageur.
The Voyageurs’ Rendezvous will see dozens of paddlers race 1,600 kilometres for 23 days from Alberta to Manitoba along the North Saskatchewan River, beginning on Canada Day. The race kickoff and celebrations at Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site will culminate an event-packed week in the town and area where historic roots go back to the early fur-trading days.
In 1967, during Canada’s centennial, Rocky was the beginning of another long race — this one was 5,259, all the way to Montreal. Voyageurs’ Rendezvous is similar, but on a smaller scale, and will include a reunion of some of the original 1967 paddlers.
Vic Maxwell, 81, has been spearheading the race. He was one of the paddlers in 1967 when he served as captain of the Alberta team. He’ll be in the upcoming race, from Rocky to The Pas, Man., but this time in a safety boat behind the racers.
“We’re going to have an exciting race from here to The Pas,” Maxwell promised.
The seven confirmed teams participating are from indigenous communities such as Wollaston Lake, Sturgeon Landing, and Pelican Narrows in Saskatchewan, and Winnipeg and Flin Flon, in Manitoba. Participants are all Woodland Cree or Dene, he said.
Maxwell expects good crowds both on June 30 — when the teams run a tough 10-km sprint from the historic site to the Hwy 11A bridge and back — and at the beginning of the big race on the morning of Canada Day.
Kathy Schwengler, event co-ordinator for Voyageurs’ Rendezvous, said they have 84 paddlers so far in the seven teams, which must each have two women.
The canoes, known as north canoes, have to be a minimum of 25 feet long, and weigh a minimum of 275 lbs. They are 48-inches wide.
Schwengler and Maxwell have already driven the race route, making arrangements with the communities along the way that will host the paddlers.
Rocky’s Confluence Heritage Society received a $624,000 grant from the federal government to help celebrate Canada’s sesquicentennial birthday. The society has partnered with the Town of Rocky and Clearwater County for the celebrations.
The Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site will host a variety activities on Canada Day. The site lies beside the North Saskatchewan River, and marks the base location that explorer David Thompson used to head out further west.
For more information about Voyageurs’ Rendezvous and related events, go online to voyageursrendezvous.ca