Now THAT’s Community Collaboration (and a heck of a lot of fun!)

May 25, 2017

“It all started with an email from a stranger:

Dear Tina:

Bit of an odd one this … a bit of a shaggy dog canoe story….”

And ended with a group of over 20 local paddlers – and the coast guard – accompanying a 16 passenger Voyageur canoe in a paddle around Kingston’s inner harbor, before exchanging formal greetings in a reception at The River Mill, which included the Town Crier and the Mayor!

Oh – and I had the incredible pleasure of being one of the paddlers in the big voyageur canoe – what fun! (and my team delighted that I was in rubber boots and rain coat, laughing that was something they’d never see again!).

It was an amazing event –a true demonstration of community spirit and collaboration.

I left the event thinking “Wow, that was fun!” and being so proud of my community that pulled together to make it all happen. It was a fun, energizing event, involving some incredible people which I reflected later was a true demonstration of community spirit and collaboration. I was so inspired by what happened that I want to try to share this amazing experience with you.

The Context…

The Canadian Canoe Museum out of Peterborough was organizing a canoe journey from Kingston to Ottawa to celebrate Canada’s Sesquicentennial and to demonstrate the potential, in this nation of rivers, that physical canoes or the idea of canoes have for building community and a renewed sense of Canada.

Their project involved more than 16 diverse paddlers – young, old, Indigenous, non-Indigenous – in a 10 day canoe journey where they would brave the elements of a Canadian Spring together, while engaging in discussions about the on-going importance and possibilities of canoes for community building, and ideas for building an equitable, sustainable and inclusive future for Canada. Each of the 16 paddlers brought their own open-ended questions about the future of Canada inspired by these topics for discussion.

They were reaching out to Community Foundations along their route along the Rideau Waterway, and asked us if we might like to connect with them to convey our good wishes up the line as they move north and into the districts of the Perth and District Community Foundation and the Ottawa Community Foundation before opening the Community Foundations of Canada national conference.

It was a really interesting project, I wanted to say yes, but it was only a few weeks away and our team was busy with several other projects. What do to? How could Kingston give them a good welcome/send off on this historic journey?

How others came on board (forgive the pun!)

Long story short, wanting to be supportive of this great initiative, but not having the time or resources to do it alone, I reached out to the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes to see if they were interested in partnering with us to have a “small, easy to put together event”. They were “in”, but it was still proving to be quite an effort to put something together.

So we reached out to David Casson – an individual well known to both our groups who is active in the rowing community, to see if he would get involved.  David agreed (thankfully), and reached out to several local paddling groups who expressed enthusiasm for participating: the Cataraqui Canoe Club, 1000 Islands Kayaking Company, Limestone Board and Boat Club, the Sydenham Lake Canoe Club.

All of a sudden, we had a flotilla! Plans (and contingency plans) were being made, and excitement grew.

In the end, seven community groups (the Foundation, Marine Museum, and the four paddling groups listed above), two local businesses (Trailhead, The River Mill), the Coast Guard, and the City of Kingston (Tourism Kingston, the Town Crier, and the Mayor!) were involved. We had ourselves “an event!”

And everyone pulled together to do their parts to make it an incredible event.

This weekend, I received an email from James Raffan who started out as a stranger and is now forever connected by this shared experience to the Community Foundation and all the groups who came out to participate in the event.  He wrote:

“As the Connected by Canoe dust is settling, I wanted to take a minute to say again how much we all appreciated your efforts to create a Kingston send-off for the canoe crew.  The paddlers, the Coast Guard, the Mayor and Town Crier, the people, the reception at the River Mill … it was all a wonderful start to the Connected by Canoe project.  With rain (and snow!), flooding, and miscellaneous pestilence of near biblical proportions (we were ordered off the river by Parks Canada for a couple of days … and that turned out to be a fun challenge for delving deep into ‘Plan B’ for ways to realize the goals of the project off the water) the journey had all the hallmarks of a great adventure but it also turned out to be a idea with potential for replication.”

James went on to say that they are looking to make a short film about the project, in the hope that others might see the potential in this ‘pilot project’ for bringing Canadians together in other places and other ways using the same model and to thank us for “rising so splendidly to the occasion of our visit to Kingston.”

He concluded by writing “I’d love to stay in touch and, one day, return the kindness you showed to the Canadian Canoe Museum and Connected by Canoe”.

I wish to extend my sincere thanks to everyone involved for making this such an incredible event experience possible: particularly Doug Cowie from the Marine Museum, David Casson and Mary Price for coordinating the flotilla, James Malcolm from Trailhead for providing kayaks for people to use, and of course all of the paddlers and attendees for coming out to make this a true Community Event.

May this serve as a reminder of what we can do when we work together.

You can read more about the Connected by Canoe journey by clicking here.

For more pictures, visit our Connected by Canoe Facebook Album here.

165 Ontario Street Suite #6
Kingston, ON K7L 2Y6
Phone: 613.546.9696
Fax: 613.531.9238