Brains, Brawn, and Boating Skills—These London Paddlers Have it All!

Steering into summer with Paddling with Pros: Canoeing on the Thames.

Catering to the thrill-seekers that brave fast-flowing rapids—and to the nature enthusiasts climbing aboard for a leisurely paddle—the canoe is the icon of Canadian summers. Nothing beats an early-morning launch into the still of the river, with your paddle, PFD, and bail bucket in hand. On Saturday, June 8, 13 novice canoeists joined the Freshwater Alliance for the 14km journey from the Springbank Boat Launch to Kilworth. Theirs is a story of exploration, of friendships forged, and of a new skill learned.

The Journey Begins!

Our expert guides, Don Barrie and Rose Sirois, kicked off the event with a tutorial on best paddling practices and an overview of our route. Following a practice session of key paddling techniques out on the water, such as the sweep stroke and draw- and pry-strokes, we began our 4-hour journey downstream. Paddlers were met with beautiful stretches of calm, followed by short passages through rapid moving waters where they had the chance to test their steering skills.

At a sweet spot for lunch just downstream of Byron Bridge, Dr. Adam Yates of Western University gave an overview of the Thames River’s ecology. Urban rivers, Adam mentioned, are often mistaken for low areas of wildlife diversity. Unbeknownst to many, however, the Thames is one of the best places for aquatic wildlife in Canada, and is home to approximately 90 species of fish, 30 species of freshwater mussels, and 30 species of reptiles and amphibians.

Among these reptiles is the spiny softshell turtle, which we managed to glimpse perched on a protruding rock from our boats. Highly unique to the Thames watershed, this flat turtle is listed as endangered and has been a priority of the Upper Thames Conservation Authority. The Longnose Gar, a prehistoric ray-finned fish, is another such species that enjoys this stretch of river.

Other highlights of the day included a visit from a blue heron overhead and sightings of a bald eagle. Despite skepticism from the rest of the group, the Freshwater Alliance canoe managed to keep upright for the entirety of the trip and cruised through the rapids all-smiles.

Having closed off another wildly successful Explore the Thames event, the Freshwater Alliance wants to express its gratitude to river ecologist Adam Yates for his insight on Thames river ecology; our fearless leaders Don and Rose for their guidance and patience; London’s Paddle Shop and Nova Craft Canoes for providing equipment transportation and Grand River Rafting for outfitting us; Thames River Paddling Routes for helping us map our course; and a big thanks to all of our wonderful participants.

The City of London’s Fish and Paddle Guide can be found here.

For those of you that weren’t able to attend, the summer’s not over yet! We’ve still got a number of other great events coming up along the Thames!

All photos taken by Jade Prévost-Manuel on June 8, 2019. More photos of the event can be found here.

Explore the Thames is made possible thanks to the support of: