Four seasons of canoeing - and photos to prove it

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Published on December 24, 2013

Launching from an ice-covered shore is the hardest thing about winter paddling—with this launch into the Mersey River, I completed my goal of paddling every month in 2013.

Published on December 24, 2013

“There’s no mosquitos, no black flies and no crowds. It’s quite peaceful.” – Dusan Soudek, founder of the Four Seasons Paddler Award.

Published on December 24, 2013

The eddies (or circulating back currents) along the Mersey River were all full of large cakes of ice in mid-December.

Published on December 24, 2013

The carries are easier in the winter because you don’t have to carry your canoe at all.

Published on December 24, 2013

January 29, Digby harbour.

Published on December 24, 2013

February 15, Joggin, Digby.

Published on December 24, 2013

March 31, Bear River.

Published on December 24, 2013

In April last spring I checked out Sporting Lake Stream before the big May trip into the Tobeatic.

Published on December 24, 2013

In May, deep in the Tobeatic on Sandy Beach Lake, we took pictures from the top of what may be Jim Charles’ Rock.

Published on December 24, 2013

A May sunset on the Shelburne River, just north of Stoney Ditch Lake.

Published on December 24, 2013

Walking a rocky stretch of the Shelburne River in May.

Published on December 24, 2013

A group from the Bear River First Nation and the Department of Environment set off in June from Lake Joli to paddle to Keji.

Published on December 24, 2013

Paddling past a large pile of erratics in the middle of Lake Franklin in June.

Published on December 24, 2013

My son and I ran the West River in Pictou County after a big rain in June.

Published on December 24, 2013

In July I photographed the Lobster Crate races from the comfort of a paddleboard from the Fundy Complex.

Published on December 24, 2013

In August a group of us paddled a stretch of the Annapolis River from Middleton to Bridgetown under the full moon.

Published on December 24, 2013

Stopping for a snack on the shores of the Annapolis River under the full moon in August.

Published on December 24, 2013

In September I spent the whole day in the canoe  hoping to catch a bass during the Bear River Bass Tournament.

Published on December 24, 2013

Greg Turner wasn't sure where to look at the sunrise both above and below us as we paddled Lake Joli one early morning in late October.

Published on December 24, 2013

A November sunrise on Lake Joli.

Published on December 24, 2013

Greg Turner checks out the remains of a hunting lodge on Sixth Lake in early November.

Published on December 24, 2013

Lake Franklin Brook was showing its full array of fall colours during a November canoe trip.

As Simple as That - a column by Jonathan Riley

By Jonathan Riley DIGBY COURIER

I love canoeing. I can’t get enough of the feeling it gives me – of freedom and playfulness, of going places and exploring, all combined with a real sense of being where I belong, a sense of home and tradition and roots.

Last January I set myself the goal of paddling at least once every month in 2013 – and I’ve done it.

On Tuesday, Dec. 17, between snowstorms, I set off with a trusting friend to find some open water and finish this yearlong quest.

We had an errand to run at Kejimkujik National Park and on the way out, every lake we drove by was frozen and snow-covered.

Luckily the Mersey River was still open and flowing and accessible within Keji.

Pushing off through the ice cakes, floating round and round in the eddies with those chunks of ice knocking against the thin fibreglass hull, is something I’ll never forget.

There are two things to remember about winter paddling. One: you can’t afford to fall in and, two: getting in and out of the boat on an ice-covered shore ain’t easy.

We didn’t spend more than an hour on the water but we did paddle and we did laugh our faces off. I’m very grateful to my paddling companion for trusting me and for keeping me company out there.

In fact, I am grateful to all the wonderful people who canoed with me this year, who answered my questions or gave me advice and tips, who showed me trails or roads or even just hinted about them.

This year I have paddled in Digby harbour, under the wharf, the length of the Joggin right to the Acacia Valley Bridge and all around the village of Bear River – under every bridge and every stilted-building.

In May I made my first trip into the Tobeatic.

A friend and I started on Sporting Lake Stream, just south of Fourth Lake and travelled 100 km in seven days to Buckshot Lake and then down the Shelburne River, passing south of Keji and into Lake Rossignol. To be that far out and away from the world, to be following those ancient canoe routes, to be living in the sunshine and drinking the wild air as Emerson

In June I discovered Lake Joli and slowly started figuring out where you can go from there.

On one trip I paddled with a group from the Bear River First Nation as they reopened a traditional route from Lake Joli to the West River and into Keji.

In July I almost didn’t get paddling – the poor old canoe was laid up after my son and I scraped the keel over too many sandstone ledges on Digby County’s West River.

But luckily I went to take photos of the Lobster Crate races put on by the Fundy Complex in Digby and they let me use one of their paddleboards to get a different angle for my photos. Whew!

August was another special trip with my trusty canoe: I took a group of great friends, including two from England, for a moonlit paddle down a stretch of the Annapolis River.

It was truly fantastic, and thanks to the moonlight, we could see most of the rocks.

In October I was starting to think about a new goal – to paddle every lake in Digby County. So that month I chose a little out-of-the-way lake to the north east of Lake Joli – Lake Crouse.

It was cold when a friend and I headed out just before sunrise but there was no wind – the canoe sliced through the wild sunrise mirrored on the placid lake.

The stream to Crouse Lake was half frozen, the grass and logs around us were covered in a thick hoar frost.

A beautiful day on the water for sure.

About a week later, in early November, the same friend and I did a trip I’ve been hearing about for years—we paddled down Ninth, Eighth, Seventh and Sixth Lakes and back up the Daniels and Franklin to Lake Joli.

When I first heard about this route, from Carol Ann Potter, a band councillor on the Bear River First Nation, it seemed like a mythical journey. Something I’d never be able to do.

Somehow after our Crouse Lake trip, my friend and I were like “How about next Wednesday?”

Another friend provided us with the coordinates for all the carries and voila, we were away.

We were on the trail for 11 hours that day with only 10 hours of daylight – it is a trip perhaps better suited to the long days of summer.

But Lake Franklin and the Lake Franklin Brook are my favourite bodies of water from this year because of their fanciful erratics and sentinel pines, the sandy beaches and the rugged convoluted shorelines.

And that left December; which I knocked off in memorable style.

Looking back at all the photos and scribbled on maps and reliving some of the memories, I’m struck by what a fun year I had.

I started on this crazy goal partly to make sure I made time for canoeing and partly because of a challenge hosted by Canoe Kayak Nova Scotia – the Nova Scotia Four Seasons Paddler Award.

Dusan Soudek, past president of Canoe Kayak Nova Scotia, started the award in 2006 as a bit of a joke he says.

“It was a warm winter, no snow and we went paddling,” he says. “Then we just thought let’s keep paddling all year.”

Soudek originally just floated the idea to an online canoeing/ kayaking group called Paddle Nova Scotia and a half dozen members of the group completed the challenge that year.

“That’s all it is really: a challenge,” says Soudek. “You have to think ahead a bit and if it’s really cold, it’s probably better to go snowshoeing or skiing.”

Two years ago, Canoe Kayak Nova Scotia took it over and now hands out certificates at a winter social.

The award only has three conditions: you have to paddle once a month, outdoors, in Nova Scotia.

Soudek says about a half dozen people complete the challenge every year.

“We have a lot of nice warm days in Nova Scotia,” says Soudek. “If you’re careful, stay close to shore, dress properly, then why not? There’s no mosquitos, no black flies and no crowds. It’s quite peaceful.”

To receive a diploma, paddlers can send a list of where and when they paddled to

Organizations: Bear River First Nation, Four Seasons

Geographic location: Keji, Digby County, Lake Joli Kejimkujik National Park Mersey River Crouse Lake West River Bear River Sporting Lake Stream Fourth Lake Buckshot Lake Shelburne River Lake Rossignol Nova Scotia England Annapolis River Sixth Lakes Lake Franklin Brook

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Recent comments

  • Jim Hensley
    December 29, 2013 - 16:51

    Don't stop now. I decided to canoe every month when I turned 50. And actually canoed every month for 122 months. Even with a stroke right in the middle. My EMT friends carried me to the canoe and paddled on the river to keep my streak going,. You can do more than ONE year. Keep paddling. :)

  • Seri Hamm
    December 29, 2013 - 11:42

    This has inspired me to set a goal of kayaking every month in 2014! And planning a trip to Nova Scotia. Beautiful pictures & descriptions, thank you for sharing!