With my right hand on the grip and left on the shaft, I dip a wooden canoe paddle into the North Saskatchewan River and pull against the water. The effort leaves a miniature whirlpool in my wake, spiralling against the canoe as it is propelled eastward. With each stroke, the splash and drips of water from the paddle break the silence of my surroundings. Thick tree lines run along the river’s edges. The only souls in sight are those of the occasional eagle or osprey in the sky or coyote striding along the bank, keeping a careful eye on the banana-yellow canoe and its two passengers. My companion for the day, Conor Kerr, is a canoeing enthusiast who makes this same two- to four-hour trek down the North Saskatchewan River, sometimes four times a week from May to October.
Today, Kerr is dressed only in a black T-shirt and corduroys. It’s not that strenuous a trip, he tells me, so wearing “workout clothes” is not necessary. He has been gracious enough to share with me his favourite pastime. On the water, it’s secluded, it’s peaceful and, at times, filled with only the sights and sounds of nature – which is remarkable given that we are nearly smack-dab in the centre of Edmonton, cutting through the waters of the North Saskatchewan River from Whitemud Park to Rafters Landing, the home of the Edmonton Queen riverboat.