Family Canoes Across Canada, One Paddle Stroke At A Time

In 2007, newlyweds Pam and Geoff MacDonald (and their purebred Alaskan Malamute, Taq) launched their canoe from Victoria, British Columbia and began what would become an epic adventure: a cross-country canoe trip. Seven years later, Pam and Geoff are still living their dreams of canoeing across Canada, but their boat carries more than just camping gear and food barrels: Their young sons Jude and Rane are their most precious cargo. On August 30, 2013, the crew drew their last stroke of the season in Quebec City, and they’re eager to hit the water again this summer. Find out how weathering Mother Nature’s storms and relishing its sunsets has helped strengthen this family’s bond.

What inspired you to embark on this journey?
We both enjoy spending time outdoors, have a great sense of adventure, and a deep love of Canada. Geoff had read Magnetic North: A Trek Across Canada by David Halsey and began researching canoe routes from Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, to James Bay, Ontario. Once he told me about it, we began planning the trip. We taped up maps all over our apartment. Often we would trace different routes after work with a cold beer or glass of wine in hand. Gradually the route expanded to include both the Pacific and Atlantic Coasts.

Do you get a lot of “Are we there yet?” laments from your kids?
Surprisingly, we don’t! The beauty of canoeing with very young children is that they are very much in the moment. Instead, our son Jude often pointed out potential campsites by asking “can we camp at that beach?” He loves to dig in the sand and relishes any opportunity to break out his shovel and pail.


How has this adventure brought you and Geoff closer as a couple?
We have been through some very challenging situations where we have seen each other at both our best and worst: remote areas, wind-bound for days, rough water, relentless rain, bears, etc. We learned to communicate really well together, and lived by the rule that each of us had a veto–any situation either one of us was too uncomfortable with required we stop and find an alternate. The ultimate test was surviving infants and small children in a tent for three months straight. And we loved it!

And as a family?
Spending months together in the canoe has brought us together in ways that are hard to articulate.  We have spent countless hours chatting and singing in the canoe, reading books in the tent, exploring shorelines and meeting fellow Canadians. We hope this close relationship that we’ve fostered with our children continues into adolescence and adulthood. We can only hope to continue this family tradition of wilderness tripping indefinitely!

What has been the most challenging thing you’ve encountered together on your adventure?
One of the biggest challenges on our trip was to portage 100 km over the Rocky Mountains. We carried the canoe over three mountain passes. On the top of the Continental Divide we popped a bottle of champagne to celebrate downhill paddling for the next few thousand kilometers!


What’s been the most rewarding moment?
When Jude was  a year and half, we did 55+ portages from Kenora, Ontario to Grand Portage, Ontario through the Boundary Waters.  We got into a great routine of traveling about 25 kilometers per day, including an average of five portages with a toddler and a Malamute. We felt a great sense of accomplishment when we reached Lake Superior on the 8.5 mile long Grand Portage.

What do you do to stay focused and positive when you run into thunder storms, unwanted visits from wild animals, achy deltoids, etc.?
Usually the tasks at hand keep us very focused. It helps to concentrate on one paddle stroke at a time, and not let the end goal overwhelm us.

What comforts are you most homesick for when you’re out on the water?
Beds, showers and refrigerators.


When you’re working your 9-to-5 jobs, what do you miss most about being out on the water?
Everything… time together, watching every step of our children’s growth, beautiful sunsets, crackling campfires.

Image(s): Courtesy of Pam and Geoff MacDonald

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