Dancing on Water video

A Unique Story from the Sault Ste Marie, Ontario Brigade
By Tyler van Frankenhuyzen

I thought my dad was nuts when he asked me if I was interested in joining 23 other people in a 6-day 200 km voyage with the Voyageur Canoe Brigade to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday. I am a 28 year-old guy who has cerebral palsy. I cannot walk and use a wheelchair to get around. I also have severe scoliosis so I cannot sit on a bench. I have limited use of my arms and cannot do a single paddle stroke.

So how the heck would I participate in such a journey? “I bet your chair will fit into a North canoe”, my dad said, and so we tried. By removing the second seat from the bow in, my chair fit perfectly and with a few heavy duty bungee cords we were able to secure it to the thwart and gunnels so it would not end up at the bottom of the lake in case we flipped. By not belting and strapping me in we figured I would fall free of the chair.  A life jacket completed the precautions to ensure I would surface face up. I do need to mention here that I swim at least 1-1.5 km each week in the pool.

The most challenging part was getting me and my chair in and out of the canoe without tipping it. We figured out a safe way of doing that and practiced both dock and beach entries and exits during our pre-voyage practice sessions, with the help of the entire paddling team to do the transfers and stabilize the canoe. After a paddle on a calm inland lake followed by one on Lake Superior, I felt more comfortable and started to believe we could actually pull this off. And so we did, indeed.

The first day we crossed Batchawana Bay to the Goulais Peninsula, and the second day we crossed Goulais Bay to Gros cap. Routes fully exposed to the fury of the big lake, which fortunately stayed very calm during both crossings. When we got into the occasional chop, the gouvernail told everyone to kneel, “to counteract the higher center of gravity caused by me in my chair”, but I think he just wanted to have everyone in a praying position…..

Anyway, the trip went off without a hitch, thanks to the support of the entire team and calm wave conditions. It was an extremely cool experience; I loved being included in such an outstanding adventure. I don’t get many opportunities to test and challenge my limits. Although they were tested more than I had wished for: days of rain, drizzle, and fog, a black bear roaming around while we were eating, and thick clouds of mosquitoes on shore.

My favorite part was hanging out with and talking to everyone in the canoe and when camping. I got to do something not many people have done in their lives. I bet I am one of the first if not the first person in a wheelchair to complete a multi-day Voyageur Canoe Brigade outing. And so in our own modest way, we made a bit of history while reenacting a piece of Canada’s history.

Our trip showed how together we can make Canada a more inclusive place to live and play. Next time you are planning a Voyageur Brigade trip, think about inviting and including someone with a disability. You will be doing all participants a favor!

Click on video above, Rendezvous 150 - Dancing on Water, to see Tyler in the canoe!