National Canoeing/Kayaking group advocates for protection of Grand River (Churchill River)

Alicia Elson
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L-R: Blair Doyle, Jeff Martin, Johnny Walsh, Corey Locke, Richard Alexander of Paddle Canada were recently in Happy Valley-Goose Bay after returning from their canoe travels on the Churchill River.

Members from a national recreational training canoeing/kayaking group known as “Paddle Canada” said they were blown away by their trip down the Churchill River.

The group of five, who began on July 23 from Churchill Falls, arrived in Goose Bay at the Grand River Keepers main headquarters, where they were met by supporters of the river, whose interests include preserving and protecting the river from future hydro development.  

Blair Doyle, Regional Director and President of Paddle Canada, Nova Scotia, said last Tuesday the group had originally planned to canoe up the Churchill River last year, however it did not work out. This year, while the travel was in part recreational, Doyle said the group saw it as a perfect opportunity to see the longest river in the province as well as the Muskrat Falls, before it is dammed and gone forever.

Paddle Canada is the national training body for canoeing, kayaking, sea kayaking, river kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding.

The group included Doyle and past president of Paddle Canada Richard Alexander from St. John's, Corey Locke, past NL regional representative (St. John’s), Jeff Martin current NL regional representative (Corner Brook) and Johnny Walsh-Paddle Canada Instructor.

“I’ve traveled across Canada doing a few expeditions,” Doyle said, “I guess this is one of the bigger ones that we’ve done.”

Along with teaching safety and skills out on the water, Paddle Canada also delivers their mandate of environmental protection: preservation and awareness related to the long-standing heritage uses of kayaks and canoes across waterways in Canada.

“Our whole goal for this was recreational, but secondary purposes are kind of who we are, what we do, and the challenge of the river I guess on a length basis. On the environmental context, we understand that they’ll be damming it (Muskrat Falls) possibly soon. Some of the beauty and some of the original, that would be the river, the flow and so on, will no longer be such so that’s…after having seen it was a little disheartening,” said Doyle.

He says the environmental component is equally important to protecting waterways for future recreational use.

“If there’s no rivers, there’s nowhere to paddle. Canada is still pretty big and there is a lot of heritage Rivers. That’s the other thing that’s been discussed is could this become a heritage river because there is so many rivers that are heritage rivers,” he said.

“They’re nationally supported, federally supported as a heritage rivers- it doesn’t say that they’re not going to be changed or dammed or manipulated in anyway but this is the next discussion is could this become one? I could see it being as such because it has such an impact on everyone here,” he added.

Doyle said if anything else, if the river was classified as a heritage river it would help define particular aspects related to industrial/hydro development across waterways.

“It seems like every province has one to two (heritage rivers), so who knows. But that would help define some lines on how far you’re going to go to change and manipulate it.

On the other end of the spectrum is progress, power, keeping society rolling, so it’s the balance right. Most of modern practices I think, are less impacted, so that’s good,” he added.

Doyle said the group was able to run all of the rapids along the river, except of course, for the Muskrat Falls area.

“No one does that. The beauty in its own right, is for its size and magnitude, we portaged the Muskrat Falls and a very vertical portage it was I will say,” he said.

Doyle said along the trip he met a gentlemen who had a camper set up along Muskrat Falls who informed him when the Churchill Falls dam was built in 1969 the water levels had gone down to about 10-20 feet from its original level and he expects it to be impacted further by the Muskrat Falls hydro-electric dam.

“You could see all around where the original basin, the original height of the water used to be,” said Doyle. “It almost makes you want to be born back in the 1800s to really appreciate the size because I don’t know if Goose would be able to exist the way that exists right now as far as Happy Valley goes, if the water was running the way he speaks of anyways.”

The group also had filmed the trip down the Grand River and said they will now be working on putting together a video clip by Fall 2012 that they will submit to be included in the upcoming Waterwalker Film Festival.

“The changes in the river where we started at Churchill down to here was very unique. Like all rivers it goes through transitional points where there’s fast and high gradient moving water and it gets very flat, very open and very big and the height of the land and the broadness of the basin, I just really enjoyed the change, I really enjoyed the difference I guess so it’s really unique in that way,” Doyle said.

The Labradorian

Organizations: Paddle Canada Richard Alexander, Churchill

Geographic location: Canada, Muskrat Falls, Grand River Churchill River Goose Bay Nova Scotia St. John's Corner Brook Happy Valley

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