Four Lives, Four Stories, One Watershed

Stories from the Ottawa River watershed from writer Tracy Guenard and photographer, John Rathwell’s new project, Searching For Sero(tonin).

Words: Tracy Guenard   |   Photos: John Rathwell

Flowing like blood in our veins. Connecting ecosystems, communities, people. Rivers have forged this country providing newly established communities with food, a complex network of river routes and energy. Ottawa’s history is bound to its rivers.  

Local aboriginals have been present around the Kichissippi (Algonquin for Great River) for over ten thousand years before the first Europeans settled where Hull now lies. By using the river’s flow to transport timber all the way to Montreal and Quebec City, they changed the area forever. Today, it is less of a commercial avenue and plays a more recreational role in peoples’ lives. Although it is the physical divider between Quebec and Ontario, through its linking powers, the river manages to connect people in a way we are sometimes unaware of. For these four people, the river is their happy place.

Dave Crichton

rathwell2 squareOttawa native and former professional freestyle skier, Dave is now a passionate river surfer. He started surfing as a kid during a family vacation on the East Coast and has surfed ever since. He only found out about river surfing on the Ottawa about ten years ago. He now surfs almost daily when the ice does not prevent him from doing so.

“I river surf because I am land locked, and I always drive home slower than on my way to the river […] All I think of is “I’m going surfing, I’m going surfing”…and after surfing, you are completely content, exhausted and happy.”

The river provides him with the playground he needs to attain balance in his life while staying close to friends and family because although ocean waves are more fun, they are not home. Dave is also wise enough to recognize the unique pleasures that come with river surfing. “In the ocean or lakes when you are waiting and waiting for the waves, you get a little frustrated sometimes, whereas on the river you don’t ever experience that. You are there, the wave is going, so in some regards it’s more relaxing.” On his surfboard, he found the balance he needs by washing away the day and all that comes with.


Kalob Grady

rathwell3 squareUpstream, is the home of Kalob Grady, professional kayaker and river lover. Being on the water from an early age, it is where he learned most of his life lessons. Inspiration, fear of danger, environmental care, life goals, his relationship with the whitewater shaped his life and dreams. From paddling early on with his family, to finishing sixth in the men’s division of the 2015 ICF Freestyle World Championship, this place represents bliss to him.

“Days I have not been able to go kayaking, which I try to limit to only a few, people can definitely tell I haven’t been. You don’t want to be around people because all you want to do is go kayaking. […] As soon as I feel the water around me, everything else disappears.”

Water levels are important to him because the chance of not having any more whitewater would be detrimental to his way of life, and would mean having to find a new place to call home, however heartbreaking that might be. Thanks to the collaboration of everyone, we can enjoy whitewater kayaking near Beachburg, Ontario all summer.


Courtney Sinclair

rathwell4 squareA few years ago, Courtney Sinclair was looking for herself. She rented a cottage on the banks of the Ottawa River for a summer hoping that this modest place and the time to herself would help her find what she was looking for. She found it, and more. She made permanent residence by the river so she can continue to enjoy the water regularly through her new passion for stand-up paddle boarding. She tries to spend as much time on the water as she can. When asked what that place means to her, she defines it as being a canvas for experience, whether that experience be one of adventure, curiosity, solitude, or inspiration.

“When I go on the river, I feel joyful and playful. This is the place where I want to make my decisions from. Not stress, survival, or frustration. I want to make decisions where I can feel connected to me.”

Also, the quality of the water is of great importance as it has a direct impact on the quality of our lives.

“Clean, fresh water means the opportunity to fully immerse yourself in nature, to know that it’s safe to jump or fall in, to be able to swim, to paddle alongside wildlife, and to be surrounded by a thriving ecosystem.”

Courtney found on the water what she was looking for all along.


Cregg Jalbert

rathwell5 squareWe all know that the waters can be dangerous and steal lives, but it can also save some. Cregg Jalbert suffered immensely for years before finding grace through whitewater kayaking. Depression, alcohol addiction and attempts to end his life are all part of his story. The river gave him something to enjoy, thrive for, play in and love.

“The river as a healthy outlet has changed every aspect of who I am over my last three years I’ve been paddling. I honestly feel that although the river won’t love me back, it has saved my life in many ways. I would have probably lost everything that I had going for myself if I had not found this outlet, alongside the people who care about it.”

Cregg enjoys the waters every time he can. He uses the physical activity provided as an outlet and the beauty of nature as an inspiration. He is also aware of how lucky we are to have clean water as he hears stories from fellow paddlers stating that in their “home river”, they need to wash off right away, when they get out of the water. With clean and powerful whitewater, Cregg can continue to enjoy his passion and work at creating a positive and happy life for himself.


These four stories depict different recreational river users. Although their paths and passions differ, the importance of the watercourse in their lives cannot be denied. For all of them, their playground provides an outlet that allows them to leave worries on the shore while they immerse in the peace, beauty and power of nature. For all of them, this river represents their happy place. What does the river means to you? How important is it in your life? #FoundSero


Searching for Sero(tonin)

Guenard and Rathwell are about to embark on a two-year journey in their ’91 VW Westfalia that will share the stories of those who use outdoor adventure to bring happiness and balance to their lives. Please offer your support for the project or read the full Sero Stories at