Thankfully the drive to Winnipeg from Kenora was relatively short. In our journey (which we started to call epic), the pace of some 335 kilometres a day over 30 days was beginning to show and the pressure to get in two paddles per province was hard to sustain.
We tried to keep the Maple Leaf pristine as we crossed the country and it was still shiny as we posed for onlookers at the La Salle River near Winnipeg.
The mission was to see as much of Canada as we could from the water during our celebration of the country’s 150th birthday, and Manitoba would deliver a nice piece of that experience after a couple of false starts. The province also provided a first taste of the prairies’ nuanced landscape.
Louis Riel House in Winnipeg was shuttered for the season but we lunched on the grounds and rested in the ubiquitous red chairs as we thought of the Metis leader’s remarkable life.
We rolled into Manitoba with the dream of paddling The Forks, where the Red River and Assiniboine meet. But one look at the swift waters sent us scurrying for alternatives.
We found a nice launch point for The Assiniboine at a park not far from our hotel and arrived eager to try the storied river the next day, only to find Winnipeg police and paramedics were running an emergency drill on the river and the ramp to the river was shut off by yellow caution tape.
Windblown material from the canopy of trees spanning the LaSalle provided a show of nature’s art on the water.
A frenzied online search revealed a paddling blog and the recommendation to ply the La Salle River, which runs into the Red River. It threads a slow and sinuous path south of the city, beginning to the west in Portage La Prairie.
Pam, with superior mechanical skills, was in charge of strapping our Cascadia boards to Badass, the wild Wicked Campers van we took west.
We accessed the La Salle through La Barriere Park, just south of the city’s Perimeter Highway.
It was a homespun launch point with a worn wooden palette as a base but it was still easy on the eyes with shaded parking spots amongst the trees and a canopy of trees on the banks which almost met to form an arch in some of the narrow sections.
Fall was well advanced here and rafts of fallen leaves slowly moved with the current while patches of brilliant blue ski through the trees lit our passage gloriously. In sections of still water, the crosshatch of branches overhead were mirrored around our boards. It felt like we were moving across an artist’s finely-painted canvas.
The La Salle opened up for stretches to reveal farmland. In trapping days, the river was busy transporting beaver and other pelts east.
The La Salle is described as a lazy prairie river due to its serpentine route and leisurely current, but it could also be a wind tunnel depending on which tack the river took on our two-hour experience. So it was cruise efficiently in some stretches, bear down and buck the wind in others.
It was not so lazy during the booming fur trade as trappers used the La Salle and associated waterways to satisfy Europe’s hunger for beaver and other pelts. Folks who regularly paddle the river still see beaver as well as eagles and great blue herons.
Badass was on the move to Saskatchewan under pristine skies as we piled more clicks on the 425,000 kilometres we started with in Hamilton.
When planning our trip, we’d looked at trying to get up to Lake Winnipeg, where John remembered writing about sailing events at the 1999 Pan Am Games, but our chief enemy, time, wasn’t going to allow that. Like so many waterways we saw during our trip, or contemplated as we planned it, we held out hope we’d return to check out its waters.
Feature photo: The La Salle River was welcoming but came with a few surprises as we curled around sections of the serpentine waterway to hit stiff winds.