The Madawaska Kanu Centre was recently named a Canadian Signature Experience, one of only ten launched by the country’s national tourism board for the year. The designation adds MKC to a list of over 200 iconic destinations on Canada’s official adventure bucket list, which includes skydiving, polar bear watching and cowboy camp.
MKC is commonly considered the world’s first whitewater kayak and canoe school. It was started in 1972 by husband-and-wife slalom champions, Hermann and Christa Kerckhoff. The pair had a novel idea: combine world-class instruction with the comfort and luxury of the ski resorts they’d loved so much back in native Germany.
The location they chose was two hours east of Ottawa, in the forested heart of Ontario’s Madawaska Valley. Here the Madawaska River cuts through a scenic section of Canadian Shield, forming a compact procession of pools, swifts and Class II-III rapids. It was and remains an idyllic classroom, studded with boof rocks, surf waves, deep eddies and a 25-gate slalom course.
Forty-four years later, the school is owned and operated by Hermann and Christa’s daughter, Claudia Kerckhoff-Van Wijk, and her husband and two adult daughters.
Kerckhoff-Van Wijk hopes the Signatures designation will attract more people to the sport and its heritage.
“Canada wouldn’t be a country without the canoe,” she says. “This simple, elegant vessel was invented by the first people to live here, and it’s still used today to access our beautiful wilderness.”
MKC offers 5-day and weekend courses from May through to September. They cater to canoeists and kayakers, beginners and experienced paddlers, and host four Family Week courses throughout the summer.
Skydiving and polar bears are certainly fantastic, but for paddlers, the quintessence of Canada will always be the canoe.
“Our rivers are our roads,” says Kerckhoff-Van Wijk. “Everyone should have the opportunity to paddle down them, but it’s not something you do without a little preparation. First you need to learn your strokes.”