Image: Petawawa River Whitewater Canoe Trip with Yervana Local Erin
Life’s Better on the River: Yervana Local Erin on Multi-Day Canoe Adventures in Ontario
Picture this: you’re sitting outside your tent with a cup of warm coffee in hand as the first rays of morning sun shine down, warming up the forest that surrounds you. You hear the sound of the river rushing next to you, and can smell a healthy homemade breakfast cooking over the fire as you and your group prepare for a day of paddling whitewater. Your cell phone has no reception, and you haven’t seen any people, other than those in your group, in days. You take a deep breath in, and feel a sense of total calm.
If this sounds like your idea of paradise, you might want to add a multi-day canoe trip in Ontario to your summer plans. Ontario is known for its culture of backcountry canoe tripping, and the best way to experience this is with a local and experienced guide to ensure that your experience will be safe, convenient, and relaxing – if your idea of relaxation is paddling and portaging through the backcountry of course!
Yervana local Erin Pehar has been guiding canoe trips since 1997, and though guiding has taken her to many places, like Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand, the lakes and rivers of Ontario are where her heart lies. She runs a successful guiding business, is a mom to two young children, and still continues to guide two canoe trips a year! We caught up with Erin to gain some insight on the canoeing culture in Ontario, what to expect on a multi-day canoe trip, and her River Roots guide training and leadership development program!
Canoe trip culture in Ontario
The summer camp culture in Ontario is particularly unique. In the province, there are hundreds of summer camps that many youth attend, which is where the love of canoe tripping originates in many former attendees – such as Erin!
Today, Erin’s love of Ontario’s forests and rivers is what keeps her happily planted in Ontario. She says, “I lived in Fernie, BC for a while and lived in Vancouver as well and I was like, the ocean’s great but I really miss the forest – and people out west think that’s absolutely insane, like “Onterrible” is pretty much the going phrase out there!”
But Erin says she has started to see more clients, mostly from Alberta, come to Ontario specifically for canoe trips, and for good reason. Rivers in Ontario are, “magical. They’re big and deep and historic.” As Erin explains, Ontario has many heritage rivers with deep historical importance. On her canoe trips, her and her team are, “passionate about sharing with our clients the history of the land and connection to the Aboriginal people, and talking about treaties and sharing that kind of knowledge. There’s a lot of history on the river.”
At the end of the day, the beauty of a multi-day canoe trip comes down to the opportunity to slow down, spend time in nature, and foster true authentic connection with others. As Erin says, “There is now more than ever the need for people to disconnect, with no screens and no cell phones and no internet service, and those opportunities don’t really exist anymore. So we love when we get our groups out there and we’re all like, okay, we’re all gonna be fully present, and engage in conversation because those cell phones aren’t there, and it’s really interesting to see those relationships and how important it is.”
What to expect on a multi-day canoe trip
All of Erin’s guided trips are all-inclusive, meaning they take care of everything (aside from personal clothing and a sleeping bag – though you can rent one of those too)! From scheduling flights and train rides, to camping permits and professional guides, to preparing gourmet, healthy, delicious food, all you’ll need to worry about is hopping in your canoe and paddling away.
There are also different levels of difficulty so that anyone who wants to attend can find an adventure that suits them. According to Erin, “Some of our trips are moderate, beginner, intermediate and advanced, but really what I tell people when they call and ask, “can I do it?” I’m like, “you can do it.” We’ve never had anyone not be able to do it. You need to want to do it, and you need to be comfortable going to the bathroom in the bush.”
If you’re looking for a beginner trip, you don’t have to limit yourself to only shorter options. Erin takes into consideration how remote they are, and the technicality of the whitewater as well. On all levels of trips, including beginner, there is an element of physical fitness or physical exertion every day as there will be hours of paddling and carrying gear – though you won’t necessarily have to carry the heaviest equipment if it’s not within your ability.
Why book with a guide?
For Erin, there are many reasons that you should consider booking with a guide rather than trying to facilitate a multi-day trip on your own. Erin and her team, “pride ourselves on three things: our guides, our equipment, and our food service. At the end of the day if you have the most amazing guide that’s going to take you to the best campsite on the river, and a tent that’s going to keep you warm and dry, and a gourmet dinner, then all of those other things are forgotten – all the other things being the bugs, the weather, and any other element that is out of our control.”
There’s also the consideration of having appropriate gear to use as, “it’s a huge investment in all the equipment so if you’re just doing one or two trips a year it might not be worth that investment.” If you travel with a guide, the equipment will be provided for you.
A multi-day canoe trip also involves a large amount of planning – from routes to permits to shuttles – whereas if you book with Erin’s team, all you need to do is meet at the starting point. In addition, “a lot of people come on our family trips because they have little kids and they’re intimidated about taking their kids out without having someone help.”
Staying safe is another big concern, especially if you don’t have much experience with whitewater. Erin observes that, “water is scary. The water will always win. That’s another piece, a lot of people come on guided trips because they want to do whitewater and it’s much better [with a guide]. Either get some training or go with an outfitter.”
Respecting and honouring Indigenous land and culture
Personal interest, authentic relationships and direct conversation with people in local Indigenous communities have given Erin and her team of guides the knowledge to share the history of the land and its original people.
According to Erin, “Our bread and butter and my love is the Missinaibi River and that’s the only place we used to do trips. The Missinaibi River ends in Moosonee Moose Factory, and Moose Factory has two reserves on the island as well as federal land. Just from traveling up there, we’ve built so many relationships with so many different people and we’re able to offer a cultural immersion piece to our trips that end in those communities.
“And I say cultural immersion because when we have folks up there we really do go and have dinner with local people, and go and see the water treatment plant and have a lot of informal conversation and folks will share their stories about the Sixties Scoop and being involved in that and residential school experiences.”
In addition, Erin and her team of guides include land acknowledgements with all of their adventures and have committed to learning about the land on which they’re traveling, and share that information with participants.
Image: Upper Missinaibi Whitewater with Yervana Local Erin
Erin’s favourite canoe adventure is the middle section of the Missinaibi River, also known as the Thunderhouse Falls section. Though it’s the hardest trip they do, with the most technical whitewater and longest, hardest portages, it’s incredibly beautiful. According to Erin, “I’ve had clients say that it really should be an eighth wonder of the world, this location, like the falls and the canyons on that stretch of river.”
Learn to guide! Introducing the River Roots Program
The River Roots Program is an intense six week guide certification and leadership development program, where participants can earn six certifications, embark on a 21 day expedition, create relationships with Indigenous people, facilitate decision making, and learn about environmental sciences, risk management, and traveling remote locations.
Erin has drawn on her years of experience in the guiding industry to create a successful program with which she can guarantee that you will get a job in the industry once you graduate. It’s so thorough that, “I actually have employers asking me if I have a [participant] list, because they want to hire River Roots grads, which is awesome.”
As relationships are the basis of the outdoor industry, Erin and her team have ensured that participants in the River Roots program will have a chance to make relationships and connections with other professionals in the industry. They bring in guest speakers to speak on different parts of the industry, and facilitate deeper learning and connections for participants.
River Roots attracts people from many different backgrounds – from people in their early 20s wanting to launch a career in the outdoor industry, or people looking for a career change. Last year, participants were between 19 and 56 years old, with diverse stories and reasons for choosing the program.
Though the River Roots program will set you up for a career in the guiding industry, it’s not restricted to those wanting to pursue a career – in fact, for some, it’s a personal challenge to embark on, in order to spend time outside, disconnect, and learn.
Image: Killarney Fall Colours with Yervana Local Erin
Erin is extremely excited about the upcoming season, and has seen firsthand what an impact multi-day canoe adventures can have on participants, especially after the last few years. Erin says, “we’ve had multiple people at the beginning of our trips just break down in tears when they get in the boat and they’re like, “Wow, it’s been a really crazy, stressful couple of years,” and they didn’t realize how much they were carrying until they got onto the river in this canoe with 10 people they don’t know and they’re like, “I didn’t know how I needed this,” so it’s really powerful to be able to facilitate those kinds of experiences for people.”
Spots on Erin’s canoe trips are filling fast! Join her and her amazing team of guides this summer for an adventure you won’t forget.