Working the Rapids at Fort Smith’s Paddlefest

Unlike what my previous post would suggest, the rapids along the Slave River aren’t only an attraction for pelicans, it’s a pretty big tourism draw in the Northwest Territories. Home to some of the top whitewater rapids in North America, the Slave River screams adventure and Fort Smith’s Paddlefest is the reciprocating answer.

A Yearly event over the August long weekend, Paddlefest draws visitors from all over the Northwest Territories and even as far as California to compete against each other – and the rapids. As one of the kick-off events is a 7person “voyageur” team canoe race and my museum offers programs (which I planned out, thankyouverymuch) about these crazy French-Canadian fur-trade explorers, our entire staff got together, in full, authentic voyageur costume, to show off our skills. We even portaged a flag and several boxes down the slopes to the rapids to set up our camp and intimidate our opposition.

(The museum team are the ones sporting the awesome red Where's Waldo-esque hats)

(The museum team are the ones sporting the awesome red Where’s Waldo-esque hats)

Raring to put our get-ups to the test, we clambered into our canoe against a team from Yellowknife.

IMG_0149Coming out of the starting gate, I could feel my dragonboating skills coming back to life. I paddled my heart out with passion, setting the team’s rhythm, with my “row”-ing chants.strong, our team took an early lead,

The pace was all-too-soon interrupted by a new “TABERNAC” call when we hit a particularly strong section of rapids (which, despite our best efforts, were IMPOSSIBLE to manoeuvre through) and got derailed off of our course. Being sent spiralling cost us our lead, which, although the course was rather lengthy, we weren’t able to recover from. In the end, we didn’t place, but we didn’t end up dead last (we even beat our newspaper-team rivals – haha) OR fare as badly as the museum’s team from the previous year, so I’m counting this as a success in my books!

With that, some co-workers and I celebrated with a Paddlefest Chilli Dinner and Pancake Breakfast. The weekend continued on to host a series of intense competitions featuring the best paddlers from all over, awe-ing (and intimidating) me to bits

Throughout the weekend, I came to see how accurate Paddlefest’s “Worth the Drive” slogan really was. People from all over North America admitted that although they arrived in Fort Smith exhausted after X million hours of transport, they’d be return for the paddle-themed festivities again next year.

Crazy skills!!

Crazy skills!!

Altogether, I loved being part of an event that was able to seize not only the best in local Fort Smith spirit, but also the spirit of great paddlers across the continent. The event had been raved about throughout the entirety of time I spent in Fort Smith, and lived up to its reputation entirely.

Yup, definitely worth my 0 minute drive :P

Yup, definitely worth my 0 minute drive :P

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