Sunday, May 2, 2010

Don the Paddle [Don River]

Date: May 2, 2010
Time: ~8:45 AM to ~11:15 AM
Launch Point: Ernest Thompson Seton Park
Destination: Keating Channel
Crew: William Self & Michael Mitchener
Conditions: Warm, overcast, occasional rain at times but thankfully no thunderstorms as Bill was using his metal paddle.
Sightings: Many birds, joggers, politicians, abandoned tires and shopping carts, some people living in the woods plus many, many canoeists and kayakers.

We took part in the annual Paddle the Don event today. The point of the race is to have fun, enjoy nature, and celebrate the Don River watershed. In short it was a blast and a perfect way to start the canoe season.

There are a limited number of boats allowed in the race and I think we were one of about 500 that started the day at Wilket Park near Eglinton and Leslie. After going through a thorough safety inspection where we discovered we were short one whistle, much to our embarrassment, we dropped the canoe in the water and started paddling down river. The Don is normally not a great canoe river but they raise the water level by about a foot for this event by lowering a dam upstream at G. Ross Lord Park at Dufferin and Finch. Today, the water was muddy, fairly fast, and generally deep enough for a canoe.

We soon started to get a feel of what to do and what not to do. Low hanging branches were to be avoided as they can tip you out of the canoe as the boat passes under them. As most canoeists know, you try to stay on the outside of bends in a river where the water tends to be deeper. Most importantly, large rocks are not your friend and should be avoided. We managed to stay away from most visible rocks but we did hit one particularly nasty submerged boulder near the beginning of the course. The canoe made a horrible crunching noise as we passed over it, but managed to recover as we continued on. From that point on, we paid closer attention to the canoe ahead of us to see what route they took and whether they found any rocks, which seemed to work. Other than a few scrapes, we were generally rock free from that point on.

We were amazed how long the route was and for the first half of the race, you wouldn't know you were in the city. It was truly beautiful as we rode the fast water between the trees, passing many bridges, joggers and of course, other canoes and kayaks. There were three portages along the route where we had to carry the canoe around a weir and reload on the other side. The first two portages went smoothly enough although the last one involved stepping into the river to push the canoe around some rocks before we could continue on with wet feet.

The bottom part of the race was surreal as we passed close to the Don Valley Parkway and under many bridges, highway overpasses and urban landmarks. I have to say this is the first time I've been in a canoe while watching a streetcar pass overhead.

It was also rather unusual to see the odd tent setup along the riverbank. There's a great deal of visible homelessness within the Don Valley and it was very apparent that some of these "campers" have been living alongside the Don for a great deal of time. Of course, the underside of the bridges south of the viaduct also served as shelter for Toronto's invisible minority.

We both decided to leave our real cameras at home for the race although we brought along one slightly defective, older point-n-shoot. It tends to add weird purple streaks to images and makes the sky pink, so I opted for black & white processing. We're glad we brought a camera but definitely glad we left the other hardware at home. It's not an extremely tough course but you do need to pay attention and we could have easily tipped over at many points in the course as others did.

All in all, it was a great day, a great event for a great cause and something we'd both do again. Thanks to everyone who provided a pledge towards Don River conservation. Thanks to your generosity, we were able to raise $235! Cheers.


  1. Nice to know it was a good time... and nice to see your face :)

  2. great shots and a great day...

    (the river is usually deeper/faster on the -outside- of the curve...)

  3. Oh "that's" why we kept running aground ;) Thanks for the correction, it felt wrong when I typed it and now I know why. Updated. Thanks for the comment.

  4. Some great shots, I would love to try this on year.