Canada Day: Madawaska Madness

Archie Smith’s whitewater clinic

I can’t think of a better way to warm up for the Canada Day weekend than a couple of days of whitewater canoeing on the Madawaska River in eastern Ontario. That’s just what I did on Thursday and Friday with Archie Smith and his friends. They are superb canoeists with a huge amount of experience.

To give you an idea of just how good these guys are, Archie, Dru Allen and Brian Swan along with three others did an unguided trip of nearly four weeks down the legendary Nahanni River more than 25 years ago. They know how to stay afloat when the going gets rough.

And for more than 30 years, Archie and his friends have gathered for an annual whitewater clinic at Palmer Rapids on the Madawaska River. This year they invited me along for the ride. And what a ride.

Thursday was very warm and a good day to spend on the water. Archie and friends, including Brian Evenchick, Steve Ferguson and Joan Freeman – taught me a lot about whitewater canoeing. I was paired with Archie and we dumped a couple of times in a set of rapids in the afternoon. We got it right on the third attempt.

Also working out in the rapids was a group from which specializes on canoe trips to Canada’s far north.

Best use of current

I learned strokes for back paddling, the draw and the cross-bow draw as well as several manoeuvres to make the best use of the current. Now it’s a matter of working on the technique. Many other paddlers in canoes and kayaks were also practicing in the fast water in front of Jessup’s Camping (613-758-2624) on the river.

On Friday, we packed our gear, set up a shuttle and headed down the river in the canoes through several sets of rapids from Aumond Bay. Also making the trip were several groups from the Madawaska Kanu Centre, with paddlers in rafts, canoes and some very young people in whitewater kayaks. The air was full of whoops and hollers as they bounced and dipped through the waves and troughs of the rapids.

We climbed ashore to scout several sets of rapids. That gave everyone a good look and a chance to discuss the line to take through the rushing water. Some of the rapids have names like Rifle Chute and Canoe Eater. But there was no reason to be intimidated.

I shot video with my camera from the shore and, in one case, while standing on an island infested with poison ivy. There were mosquitoes in abundance.

Couple of upsets

For the most part it went well with the canoes slipping successfully through the rapids. But there were a couple of upsets when Archie and Dru chose the most challenging and turbulent line at one set of rapids. They dumped after going over a big wave into a wash of swirling water. The other two canoes, one with Steve and Dru and the other with Brian Swan and Joan Freeman, opted for a route closer to the far shore. They stayed dry, or as dry as you can expect to be with water spraying and sloshing over the bow and gunwales.

We went ashore at Buck Bay and loaded up for the trip home. While the forecast had called for 90 per cent possibility of precipitation, we didn’t see a drop of rain until after leaving the Madawaska region.

You can call that Madawaska magic.

I have hiked and biked through Nepal, Cuba and Mexico. I also maintain a busy schedule of adventure traveling in Canada. Many stories in the blog were originally published in the Travel Section of The Montreal Gazette. My web site is:

Posted in Canoeing, whitewater
3 comments on “Canada Day: Madawaska Madness
  1. ValRic says:

    Excellent video! We went last year and had a great time but chickened out this year due to rain. I see now that that was a mistake! Thanks for posting!

  2. Arn Snyder says:

    Great shots of the guys! … and great canoeing!!!! Arn Snyder

  3. Diane Maheu says:

    Very nice video ,looks like fun

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