A Madawaska Kanu Centre Family Story

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Essay by Adrick Brock

Up until he turned 40, my dad received from my grandma a $50 bill for his birthday. He was bashful about the money (surely he was too old for it) and invariably spent it on something for the whole family, too humble or stubborn to buy a gift just for him. One year, he decided to use the money to take my sister and I whitewater rafting on the Madawaska River.

We spent our summers in a little cabin in the area and would often drive by a big blue sign that advertised Float Trips at the Madawaska Kanu Centre. The sign depicted a flouncy yellow raft full of happy, helmeted people, splashing through a cartoonish wave.

What we discovered upon our arrival at MKC was something like a treasure chest hidden deep in the forest. There was a big wooden chalet and a buzz of people marching about with colourful boats on their shoulders, making their way to the river.

A blue school bus drove us to the put-in, and from there we screamed and laughed our way through half a dozen of the most fun, most terrifying rapids I’d seen. It was a two-hour trip, and by the end of it my sister and I were hooked.

We came back the following summer for the Kids Kayak program and fell in love with the river all over again. Paddling down rapids offered the thrill of a roller coaster without any of the line-ups, and it put us in the driver seat, which could be a novel feeling for a kid. There was something magical about slipping through the current in those sharp, little boats and making it through the crashing waves upright.

We came back to MKC summer after summer. One Christmas we woke to find a purple kayak under the tree, and for our annual camping trip the following August, my sister and I took turns kayaking alongside our parents’ canoe. My dad had taken a whitewater canoe course at MKC and we’d decided to run the Petawawa River in Algonquin Park. Despite my mom’s apprehension (she preferred lakes), we had officially become a whitewater family.

It was this familial support that made paddling possible for me: by 16 I was surfing the big waves on the Ottawa; by 17, I was instructing Kids Kayak courses on the Madawaska. When I turned 18 I made MKC my summer home and started working as a raft guide, taking families down the same stretch of whitewater I’d had so much fun on as a kid. The meaning wasn’t lost on me. I’d come full circle.

There is a phenomenon unique to MKC, where work blends so seamlessly with play it ceases to feel like work at all. I would go away to university and come back each spring filled with a sense of relief to be back in the sweet spot again. My coworkers were my best friends and there were always new opportunities within the organization––a management position, guiding on the Ottawa, taking on the Head Instructor role. My sister joined the staff and made it feel like even more of a family.

We underestimate how formative our first jobs truly are, and looking back on those summers, I can appreciate the life lessons learned on the river. MKC taught me the value of professionalism and stewardship and the importance of community, and it affirmed my passion for getting outside and connecting to the deep, profound flow of the natural world.

I live in a big city now, far away from the thrum of those rapids, but there is something too essential about paddling to give up altogether. I still come back to the Madawaska to teach for a few weeks each summer. My sister does the same, trading her office attire for a helmet and lifejacket. Whitewater is in our blood, and MKC is where it all started. The place is like a recirculating eddy, cradling us in its gentle pull.

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