Second Wave of Youth Water Leaders: Rafting Adventure

The first weekend in October we welcomed a new cohort of Youth Water Leaders to the program. Their initiation took the form of an amazing multi-day camping trip, including rafting, swimming, exploration, and lasagna! This blog was written by some of the Youth Water Leaders on that trip.

Boreal River Rafting Expedition on the Gatineau River

To kick off the second wave of Youth Water Leaders, a group of youth gathered on the first weekend of October for an exciting whitewater rafting adventure. The trip was graciously coordinated by our new program leader, Naomi Sarazin, with the help of the last cohort’s leader, Katy Alambo. We set off from the Ottawa Riverkeeper office with the intent of bonding, as well as learning more about our watershed and the purpose of being a Youth Water Leader.

We arrived at our campsite late Friday evening and, despite the freezing weather, we were warmly welcomed by our trip guides. They greeted us with pre-assembled tents, a warm fire, and an amazing meal. After getting into some warmer clothes, we ate around the fire and shared a little bit about ourselves. We had a chance to say what we were studying, how we heard about the program, and what we were most excited and/or nervous about for the weekend. Unsurprisingly, most of us were worried about being cold on the river. Our guides assured us we would be warmer during the day and, after some well cooked campfire brownies, we reluctantly left the warmth of the fire and made our way back to our tents for the night.

DAY 1: Getting on the water

The next morning we were treated to an excellent breakfast of french toast and yet another fire which, along with the rising sun, quickly warmed us up. Soon our guides gave us fleece lined wetsuits and splash tops, leaving us much more ready to get on the river. Before setting off for the day, we learned about whitewater safety and what to do in the event that someone (let’s say Paige, hypothetically speaking) fell out of the raft. Finally, after a few trips from the campsite to the river, we precariously piled all of our supplies onto the gearboat and were ready to take off.

Over the course of the day, our raft guide explained some basic river dynamics. She showed us common whitewater features such as eddy lines and holes, and how these features are formed. Before our first rapid, we left the raft to scout our path from a neighboring island. We had the chance to analyse the rapid and spot some of the features our guide had taught us earlier. Conveniently, by the time we got back to our rafts we were extra warm.

Photo: Boreal River Adventures

After making it through the entire rapid, our raft lightly bumped into a rock along the edge of the river and Youth Water Leader Paige took this opportunity to cool off and go for a nice swim. After fishing Paige out of the water we continued on our way, taking in the beautiful scenery surrounding the river.

We stopped for lunch on the bank of the river and got to purposely bodysurf through some small currents. Finally, after a successful and educational day on the water, we arrived at our second campsite, on an island not far from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg.

As soon as we got to shore we formed an efficient assembly line to get all of our equipment up a small hill to our campsite. With all of our belongings in order, it was time to set up camp. This process began with tents, and soon everyone was helping to set up the kitchen, campfire, and the luckiest person (Katy) dug an excellent toilet hole. In no time, dinner was underway and we all did our best to help through small tasks such as chopping vegetables and grading cheese. By some type of magic, our talented raft guides proceeded to create a gourmet campfire-cooked lasagna. By the time our lasagna was almost ready, our eagerly anticipated guest speaker, Awema Tendesi, arrived at our camp by canoe. One of our rafting guides went to the shoreline to pick him up. 

Awema is from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg, one of ten Algonquin First Nation communities within the Ottawa River watershed. He is a singer and shares cultural knowledge and songs with youth in his community. As we sat around the fire, Awema introduced himself as a drummer in his community and began by singing and drumming a traditional song. He shared that he learned how to sing by drumming with the Mikinakonsag (Little Turtles) drum group. He taught us about the significance of the drum, and how it represents respect for others and for ourselves. He taught us that the beating of the drum was representative of the beating of a heart, and showed us how this sound is audible in old-style songs. We also learned about the history of the drum, how it evolved, what it’s made of, and how he became a drummer himself. He further discussed his desire and appreciation for young drummers in his community, and the importance of preserving Anishinabeg culture. 

Photo: Boreal River Adventures

Near the end we had an open discussion about some of the many issues currently facing Indigenous people and communities. Awema mentioned that his nearby First Nation, which is substantial in size and better off than most, doesn’t have access to clean drinking water. The lack of this basic human right highlights the ongoing mistreatment of Indigenous communities and the lack of meaningful action to address such issues. Overall his teachings and knowledge were extremely valuable and broadened our awareness of Indigenous affairs. It wasn’t long after he left for the evening, that we got ready for bed. 

DAY 2: Learning about the forest

On the second morning, we once again awoke to the smell of an amazing breakfast, courtesy of our extraordinary guides and a few extra helpers. After eating breakfast, we were given an ecology lesson thanks to one of our guides who had studied ecosystem restoration. For the lesson we each chose a small quadrant in the forest and counted the types of trees present in that area, organized by species and age. We returned to the main campsite and discussed our findings, coming to the conclusion that the forest on the island was relatively young, likely having regrown after intensive logging many years ago. We then examined the shoreline of the island and assessed the effectiveness of using certain plants to prevent flooding. After this lesson, we began to prepare ourselves for the daunting task of putting on our damp, cold wetsuits. Once dressed, we started to take down our campsite. We took down our tents, took apart the kitchen, campfire, and (again) the luckiest people got to take apart the toilet. Finally, we set sail for our second and final day on the river.

Photo: Boreal River Adventures

The river was once again beautiful, and despite the forecast, the weather was suitable for our day on the water. We rafted a multitude of powerful rapids, some of them a surprise. We were told there were two rapids, but we found ourselves going down a third, and, to the humorous dismay of our guide, a fourth. With the trip nearing its end, we arrived at our final destination; a sandy beach below a humble rafting takeout. Everyone gathered their belongings and got changed before having a wonderful lunch, then we began waiting for our, slightly delayed, bus. We took this extra time to reflect on the weekend and discuss our futures. Once the bus arrived we thanked our guides and gave them a heartfelt goodbye. 

Photo: Boreal River Adventures

The rest of the group finally parted ways after getting to know one another and gaining an understanding of the Youth Water Leaders program. Ultimately, everyone on the trip acquired a greater appreciation for the Ottawa River watershed, and the importance of protecting it for years to come.

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