From Canada by Land
By Abigail Baldwin-Thomson and Duncan Thomson. October 2003.
On April 7th 2003, we landed at Montréal's Dorval airport from Edinburgh, Scotland, carrying two rucksacks, nearly 70 topographical maps and a camera. On April 26th, with only 3 hours previous paddling experience, we began our canoe journey up the Ottawa River—Vancouver is our goal.
Alexander Mackenzie by Thomas Lawrence (1800) courtesy National Gallery of Canada.
Crossing the North American continent by canoe is nothing new. From the earliest days of European settlement in the new world, explorers pieced together an intricate web of aboriginal waterways, trails and rumours. Successive generations, including de Champlain, La Vérendrye, Hearne and Pond delved further north and west until, in 1793, Alexander Mackenzie, leading a single canoe-full of voyageurs, reached the Pacific coast and inscribed the following on a rock:
"Alex Mackenzie from Canada by land 22 July 1793"
Two notable expeditions following on from Mackenzie's were that of Lewis and Clark (1805), sent by Thomas Jefferson to counter any British claims to the Pacific coast that may have resulted from Mackenzie's expedition, and Simon Fraser (1808) who refined Mackenzie's route over the Pacific divide, and followed the river that now bears his name to the Pacific ocean.
In recent years many "modern-day voyageurs" have travelled all or portions of these same transcontinental routes. Each expedition is unique in some regard—solo/two people/six people/children/dog, east to west/west to east, Mackenzie's route/Fraser's route, GPS/sextant, Lycra/linen, canoe/kayak/birch-bark/bathtub and so on.
The only precedent we are setting is that we've never had so much fun!