Travelling by water via a canoe or boat was humankind’s earliest method of transportation. Before the car or the airplane, were invented, early explorers discovered every continent by boat. Today, we still use the waterways for recreational activities and sightseeing. However, we should be using our waterways more. Our waterways are underutilized and could relieve road congestion and give us access to recreational pursuits.
Our ancient ancestors used waterways to explore and settle the planet. Modern humans settled Australia 60,000 years ago and the first Americans explored North and South America by navigating the Pacific Coast before the last Ice Age. Thousands of years ago primitive boats had to ability to travel through rivers and oceans. As centuries have past we’ve kept these designs that have allowed us to be close to nature. Using the canoe or kayak to paddle rivers allows us to feel every ripple along the water. Moving forward with a river we are a part of nature as we using it to travel efficiently with minimal interference to the world around us.
“Rivers must have been the guides which conducted the footsteps of the first travellers. They are the constant lure, when they flow by our doors, to distant enterprise and adventure, and, by a natural impulse, the dwellers on their banks will at length accompany their currents to the lowlands of the globe, or explore at their invitation the interior of continents. They are the natural highways of all nations, not only levelling the ground and removing obstacles from the path of the traveller, quenching his thirst and bearing him on their bosoms, but conducting him through the most interesting scenery, the most populous portions of the globe, and where the animal and vegetable kingdoms attain their greatest perfection.” Henry David Thoreau, American Natural Historian
Paddling in a boat with multiple paddlers requires teamwork. To maximize each stroke, each stroke needs to be synchronized. If paddlers are all striking the water at different times the boat isn’t moving forward because each stroke out sync breaks the rhythm. Successful paddling teams usually have a lead paddler; open communication throughout the journey, and larger boats could have a person banging a drum which all paddlers must sync their strokes to.
Canadians have a deep connection to the waterways. The Inuit invented the kayak. The aboriginals and the first Europeans used waterways exclusively to travel large distances. Our dependence on the canoe is celebrated in Haida artwork and stories of early Canadian explorers like the coeurs de bois. The canoe was a natural fit for Canada. All our major cities are located along waterways and our abundance of rivers and lakes made the canoe and Canada a natural fit.
With the introduction of roads, the railway, and air travel we aren’t as dependent on our waterways. Canoeing is no longer an efficient transportation mode but a recreational pursuit. Just like the first Canadians we still use the canoe and kayak to paddle rivers and lakes. New inventions have also expanded our recreational possibilities. Rafts designed as emergency rescue vessels now our used for whitewater rafting. Motorized boats allow us to reaches speeds faster than currents. Sea-do’s are smaller watercraft that still give us a close connection to nature and the ability to travel swiftly. With new speeds possible on water we also now do more fun stuff like water ski.
Waterways are the most efficient method to see most cities. Montreal has jet boat tours where visitors have the opportunity to see the city from the water and deliberately get splashed. Cities with large bays have boat tours and ferry service. Sydney, Australia residents use ferries to go to work. The best-unobstructed views of New York are from observatory decks or the water where you can see their landmark buildings from the water without having to travel through New York’s hectic streets or having to wait for traffic lights. Also it’s cheaper to see the city from the water. If you take the Staten Island ferry from Manhattan Island, it’s free. Amsterdam is one of the greenest cities in the world because its use of bicycles and canals.
We need to stop seeing our waterways as barriers. Humankind has paddled them for millennia’s. We still use the waterways for recreation but we could use them more. Every major Canadian city is faced with traffic gridlock. Waterways are more than a void but a source for recreational pursuits and the more we become dependent on our waterways the lower our carbon footprint. We need to take our waterways back with the paddle.