While running the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon this October, you may see an unusual prop on course — a canoe, making its away across the 42.2 kilometres as part of a team portage. Project Canoe, a Toronto-based organization providing youth facing barriers with the opportunity to experience Ontario’s wilderness on canoe trips each summer, is one of STWM’s official charities and part of the Scotiabank Charity Challenge. They have long dreamed of completing the marathon as a portage, and this year everything has finally fallen into place to make it happen.
Tim Richardson, executive director of Project Canoe, joined the organization in 2015. Originally from England, Richardson fell in love with the Ontario wilderness when he first came to Canada. Canoe trips have become a huge part of his life. He is passionate about bringing that experience to youth from all walks of life, acknowledging the life skills he himself has gained through the activity.
“There’s a lot of self growth and opportunity to learn about yourself on a canoe trip,” he says. “In many ways, much like a marathon.”
Project Canoe was established in 1977 and to date has helped over 4,000 youth between ages 13 and 18 go on canoe trips in Algonquin Park. Whether its mental, emotional, societal or economic barriers, Project Canoe helps youth who would be otherwise unable to participate through fully-funded trips with highly-trained and specialized leaders who help them learn the necessary skills for success on a wilderness trip and provide mentorship tailored to the individuals.
“Project Canoe has proven to be a powerful engine to change youth’s live,” says Richardson. “Canoe trips help build important life skills and the portage aspect is as important as the canoe part itself.”
Portages on a canoe trip — the portion of the route where the canoe must be carried over land between bodies of water — typically range between one and five kilometres. It’s a demanding physical and mental effort that requires skill, strength and patience.
“It’s a euphoric and beautiful moment when you get to the end of a portage,” says Richardson. “The same as completing a race. You’re completely free, you’ve made it.” He says that many of the alumni from the canoe trips look back on completing a portage as one of the major accomplishments or defining moments of their lives.
Completing a portage on the streets of Toronto won’t be an easy feat, but Richardson says there’s a good group of people (some camp alumni, some charity supporters) interested in making it happen. While a portage takes place on mixed terrain and soft ground, the team knows it’ll be a challenge to complete it on concrete so they’re beginning to talk about some training strategies to prepare. Ideally, the team will switch off between members every few kilometres with the rest of the crew running alongside the portaged for support.
The goal is to rise $15,000 for Project Canoe through the endeavour. This would allow them to run four more trips next summer.
Project Canoe is one of close to 200 charity partners participating in the Scotiabank Charity Challenge as part of the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. Read more about the Scotiabank Charity Challenge here.
Registration for the Oct. 21 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon is currently open.