Pace, Ward’s Canoe North Adventures now a Canadian Signature experience

November 23, 2016   ·   0 Comments

Al Pace and his wife, Lin Ward, are co-proprietors of a fabulous adventure company, Canoe North Adventures.

For this second installment in a two-part series, we talked to Mr. Pace and, later, Ms.Ward, about their life in the north and the people they take with them.

Mr. Pace and I were seated, coffee to hand, in the Hockley Road cafe they opened a few years ago. “Canoe North Adventures has recently been designated a Canadian Signature Experience,” Mr. Pace said with some satisfaction. “Every couple of years, they send us over to England.”

As part of the Canadian tourism board and Destination Canada, the “Signature” adventure packages encourage people from abroad to come to Canada for the wild wilderness, for the sheer size of the country and its many mammoth mountain views, all part of the great Canadian experience, not to mention the fine theatres, good food, great icewine and the CN Tower.

“I’ve been travelling to the north since I was a kid,” he said. “Then, Lin and I went up, canoeing and with the kids, up to the Yukon. I used to write about our family holidays. People were fascinated by the trips and, eventually, some of them wanted to come.

“At first, we did trips one month a year and it grew as the demand increased,” he said. “Over the 26 years we’ve been running this adventure business,” he said, “we’ve done over 150 expeditions – we’re now doing 10 trips yearly. There have been royalty, politicians, celebrities, youth, seniors, couples, all women, all men-”

He went on to say, “We’re continuing to learn how to engage. We have aboriginal staff. Next year, an expedition is culminating in a feast. We’re taking soldiers paired with executives for mentoring. This has been organized by a fund raising organization supporting veterans’ services. Because of the 150th Anniversary of Canada, we’ll be celebrating by taking 20 executives and 10 veterans.

“There is a civilian leader who has been knocking on doors to see if his old colleagues will support it. There’ll three pods, separated, taking the trip. At the end, there is the Dene Community  feast –  one member will be on this trip.”

He paused, adding with real sincerity, “We are very honoured to do this.”

He talked about his family history in the west and north: “My forebears were the Cree founders of Winnipeg. My ancestor, Andrew McDermot, was the first mayor of Winnipeg.”

In fact, as he told us, “I just got my Metis card on July 26. Because my forefathers were political, there were proper documents. My mother always knew there was a connection.” He went on to comment, “I don’t know if this will makes a difference to the Metis as far as I’m connected to them.

“You have to feel your connection to the land. Tens of thousands of kilometres on a canoe, I’m sure I feel that connection. We pride ourselves on knowledge sharing.”

It is in this theme that Mr. Pace is also excited about the young people they are bringing along. This year will see a private school making an expedition with them.

“It is important to think about the connection between the youth and the country as the future leaders- possibly being funded by alumni.”

For Lin Ward, the trips north were “something we did together.”

With the business, once it began, they are “fully partners and partnership.”

For her, “What’s important is so many of our paddlers are from Ontario and southern Canada – the far north is not known; there is trepidation about the weather – it’s not winter there all the time. They have no concept but once they get there, they see it’s wonderful.

“Over the 25 years and some 170 trips, I could count on one hand the people it was too hard for. It’s the wilderness – they feel young again. The trip gives them that opportunity but you have take that world inside you.”

She too had her own reflections about the whole amazing affair: “Being a woman guide has been a challenge. The company just keeps growing bigger but for our young people, you want to give them the chance.”

Touching on the emotional aspects of the trips, Ms. Ward remarked, “When we’re there , we ask our paddlers to really care for one another. We’re so lucky with our paddlers – it’s such a privilege to travel with them because when you’ve paddle with someone, you’re friends for life.”

We talked a bit about the possibility of retirement, of winding down but Ms. Ward was more forward-looking than that.

“I don’t think we could just walk away from it. We’ve had so much North West Territories support – from the government and our suppliers.”

And then, there are the young people to take up the legacy and continue to show the north to people who need to understand.


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