Across the great Canadian landscape stretching from the Pacific coastlines of British Columbia to the Maritime Provinces of the Atlantic, there lies an intricate, interwoven pattern of streams and rivers.
To those who first settled these lands, those rivers were the lifeblood of a nation, carrying goods, services and pioneers and paving the way for the birth of the Canadian economy via the fur trade.
Centuries after the fact, one Canadian man seeks to retrace the steps of his ancestors on a 5,073-kilometre, six-month journey spanning six Canadian provinces — by means of paddle and foot.
“I think that it started a number of years ago,” said Michael Hartley on Tuesday, during the first rest stop of his journey in Prince Albert.
“I always wanted to paddle across Canada because my forbearers were fur traders, both on the French Canadian and then on the Scottish side, and it was something that I’ve always wanted to do.”
Hartley began mapping out his journey more than 10 years ago, completing the first leg, from Vancouver to Rocky Mountain House, Alta., before being derailed by unforeseen circumstances.
“In 2006 my son got cancer, so I put this all on hold, and he died in 2007,” Hartley explained.
“In the interim stage, we started a foundation in his name, the Strachan Hartley Legacy Foundation (SHLF).”
The SHLF seeks to provide opportunities for youth through sports and education.
After various other fundraising expeditions undertaken through the SHLF, the time came for Hartley to complete the historical review he began years before; this time with an added source of motivation.
“This year I retired. I’m 65, and it was sort of ‘Well dad, it’s your turn to do a fundraiser, and you’ve always wanted to do this anyway,’ so it’s a combination of things,” Hartley said, noting that his journey, dubbed the “Canadian Odyssey,” has already received about $10,000 in indicated donations.
“I think a lot of people are saying, ‘Well let’s see if this guy is actually going to do this,’” Hartley said.
“I think once people see that actually, this is going to happen, they’ll get behind it.”
By the time he reaches the end of his journey in L’Ilse-aux-Grues, 65 km east of Quebec City, he hopes to have raised between $50,000 - $100,000.
Since departing from Rocky Mountain House on May 13, Hartley has travelled 800 km of waterways, spending his nights camping along the riverbank.
His first urban stop in Prince Albert will be used to rest, replenish his supplies and gather lost intel from an early-trip mishap that led to him losing many of his supplies.
“I was coming out of Rocky. It’s a much narrower river, it’s fast flowing, it’s rated as an intermediate river, and I’m taking a sea kayak, and I was trying to put everything into one type of boat that would satisfy all of my needs, be it a great lake, or a river … and some wheels to get around dams,” Hartley explained.
“I was overloaded, and it was really too rough of a river for that kind of overloading. I was trying to brace, and I was just a silly fool.”
Due to the overloading, Hartley’s kayak overturned, sending him and many of his supplies into the river.
“Once I fished myself out of the water and I got over the convulsions, I thought I was going to have a seizure, because I had been in the water for 45 minutes,” he said.
“Then I realized OK, I’m warming up, it’s a nice day, I’m not going to go into hypothermia shock right away.”
Thanks to the GPS tracker he employs for situations such as this, rescue and fire crews from Rocky Mountain House were able to come to his aid.
“They came out and got me out,” Hartley said.
“Even though I was able to salvage the boat, a lot of (my equipment) was torn off the boat.”
The GPS also serves as a live tracker of Hartley’s journey, allowing friends and supporters to track his progress through the foundation’s website, www.shlf.ca.
For now, still under one-fifth of the way through his Canadian Odyssey, Hartley says he’s taking it one leg at a time.
“I try to stay focused, day-to-day, on where am I going,” he said.
“My target was P.A., and now my target is The Pas … I haven’t thought about what it would be like to arrive in Quebec City, (but) I think it would be very special. You know, you work for an end, but I don’t want to just focus on the end yet. It’s just too far away.”
Hartley said he has adopted the mantra of a Vancouver-based SHLF instructor who trains alternative school kids to run marathons.
“He takes them, and gives them some purpose, and what he says, and it applies to my trip, is that a marathon … is 42,000 steps, and it’s one step after another, so you might as well get over it, and just start,” he said.
“I use that as a mantra on the river. When I’m sitting there, and the wind’s in my face, and the rain’s coming at me, and I’m going, ‘geez there’s a lot of quit going on here,’ and then I go, ‘well, it’s 42,000. Just keep going.’”
To track Hartley’s process, or donate to his cause, visit www.shlf.ca.