700 ‘Paddle the Don’

Paddlers of all ages tackled the twists, turns and even the miniature rapids of the Don. (Christian Boyer/Toronto Observer)
Paddlers of all ages tackled the twists, turns and even the miniature rapids of the Don. (Christian Boyer/Toronto Observer)

Canoe trips are often experienced out in the countryside of Canada. The canoe becomes a vessel that connects man to untouched nature and brings to mind the beauty of the natural environment that we so often take for granted.

Here in the big and bustling city of Toronto, very few of us find the time or opportunity away from our daily grind to enjoy or experience a canoe trip. For the past 20 years, however, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority has brought canoeing to the big city and the event is ever-growing.

Started in 1993, the event has traditionally been held on the first Sunday in May, and this year over 700 paddlers took part — with 200 volunteers helping to make it happen. Paddle the Don runs from E.T. Seton Park to the mouth of the Don at the Keating Channel.

Adele Freeman, the Watershed Management Director for Toronto and Region Conservation, addressed the crowd of eager paddlers about the attention the event brings to the Don River.

“Manulife Paddle the Don is all about having fun, enjoying nature and celebrating the Don River,” said Freeman. “The trip also provides a time for reflection on all the benefits we derive from our environment: air, water, resources, recreation and spiritual renewal that are all integral to the health and function of our city.”

Ontario Premier and Don Valley West MPP Kathleen Wynne has been paddling the Don for the past decade and spoke about the significance this event has to the health of the Don over time.

“Congratulations to everyone who has kept this event going for 20 years,” she said. “You’ve raised the awareness to the issues in the Don and over 10 years I’ve seen the difference. It makes no sense to me in a blessed place like Ontario, where fresh, clean water is abundant, that we shouldn’t protect and treasure it.”

Premier Wynne was unable to paddle this year because of her new responsibilities at Queen’s Park.

Donald Guloien, President and CEO of Manulife Financial, spoke about the importance of his company’s long-standing sponsorship of the event.

“We are very honored to support this wonderful initiative,” he said. “Getting people out paddling the Don, enjoying nature and the beauty that our urban environment can provide, it is quite amazing that we can have such a beautiful wilderness in the middle of the city. It’s up to all of us to look after it.”

Though the registration fee was $100 for paddlers, all proceeds go to helping the regeneration of the Don — and helped to provide lunch for all guests and members of the media.

Beyond the veneer of the event, Paddle the Don provides an opportunity for eco-minded students with two grants of $2,500 for those who are working to protect and regenerate the Don River Watershed through their programs of study.