Al Pace Receives Lifetime Achievement Award!


The 2016 Mike Stilwell Lifetime Achievement Award

Presented to:  Allan Pace

Presented by: Spectacular Northwest Territories

‘This individual has had a significant impact on the development of the tourism industry, past and present. He has provided longstanding and exceptional service, has demonstrated leadership and integrity, has left a strong legacy, and has gained the respect of those in the tourism industry. ‘

Response From Al:

Last week I was deeply honoured to receive the Mike Stilwell Lifetime Achievement Award from Northwest Territories Tourism. My love affair with the north began on July 6, 1977 while aboard a Wardair Twin Otter destined for Point Lake and the Coppermine River. I grew up in a canoe tripping family and explored many regions of the Ontario wildlands – but flying over the tundra for the first time as an 18 year-old school boy captured my imagination and fueled my desire to explore countless northern rivers over a 40 year period. In 1987, my wife Lin Ward and I founded Canoe North Adventures and began sharing our love of wilderness river adventures with Canadians – mostly from Ontario.

With almost 170 canoe expeditions under our belts, many tripping clients ask me “what is your all-time favourite river” and my response has always been the same – I have favourite places on many different rivers. What brings me endless joy and satisfaction in each expedition, is the passion and spirit-of-adventure our intrepid tripping clients bring to each adventure. As we approach Canada’s 150 Anniversary, I have never felt more pride in being Canadian and more privileged to have the freedom to share my canoe with fellow Canadians who want to fully embrace their wild side, often stepping way outside of their comfort zone. And to be able to explore and paddle freely on the ancestral lands and rivers of the Mountain Dene in the Mackenzie Mountains or the Inuvialuit Region – I feel privileged and truly grateful. My Dad always taught me to respect the wild rivers and lands and leave each campsite as nature intended – with just footprints left behind – and this fatherly advice has been the hallmark of our Canoe North Adventures legacy.

I want to thank the following northerners and fellow adventurers for helping guide my canoe on my life journey over sometimes rough and stormy waters. I am grateful for your wisdom, guidance, friendship, support and campfire stories. Walter Brennan & Anne-Marie da Silva, Mark Stenzig, Warren & Carolyn Wright, Nick & Liz Dale, Dave & Jennifer Thompson, Terry & Sue Guest, Donald & Marsha Grant, Dave & Sylvia Hodgetts, Rick & Vaila Hagg, Bob McLeod, Andy Short, Jess Fortner, Richard Zieba, Travis & Sue Wright, Michele McKenzie, George Tuccaro, Kelly Kaylo, Gloria Loree, Marion Lavigne, Ronne Heming, HRH The Duke of York, Wendy Cecil, Fran Pilon, Gord Burke, Beth Grant, Laurie Smith, Alison de Jong, Maurice Mendo, Peter Scott, Deb Simmons & Morris Modeste, Alex Von Bibber, Eddie Hodgson, Ethel Blondin & Leon Andrews, Ron & Wendy Oe, Everett & Peggy Pouw, Dianne & Andrew Bailes, Ann Voyame & Harry Feinig, Susan and Matt Casson, Carl & Jan Feairs and Jamie & Cathy Macdonald. Special thanks to my Mom & Dad and my sister Carla who paddles a canoe better than I do! My son Taylor who finds sweet lines through every rapid and is truly “at home” in the wilderness – thanks for inspiring me to discover rivers less travelled and to Lin, the love of my life, for sharing my tent and for putting your love of horses on hold to follow your heart north.

Lessons Learned in A Canoe


Reflections on the Keele River Expedition, August 2006

By Cathy Macdonald


I think it’s safe to say that my husband, Jamie and I are at the “Is that all there is?” phase of middle age. We are constantly busy with such things as work, kids, volunteer commitments, elderly parents, meetings, and socializing – but we struggle to find meaning in all the commotion.

So it was that as I was approaching a “big” mid life birthday with a dream of touring the Tuscan countryside, Jamie signed us up for a 2 week wilderness expedition with Canoe North Adventures. I suspect this is because it is something he had always wanted to do, so thought it would be the perfect birthday gift for me!

I considered the prospect of paddling the Keele River located in the Northwest Territories. Let’s see… paddle hard all day, no showers for 12 days, do our own cooking in some kind of soot-covered pot over a fire, lug around heavy gear, sleep in a sleeping bag on the ground in a tent surrounded by bugs and wild animals, with all the experience of a weekend or two paddling in Algonquin Park. How perfect does that sound??

I had several months from signup day to departure day for my trepidation to build. Might I get “up close and personal” with a bear? Would my inexperience let the group down? Was I fit enough for the physical demands of the trip? A practice excursion on the Grand River in the spring with Guides Al Pace and Lin Ward eased my mind somewhat as “eddy turns”, “draws”, “cross-bow draws” and “lean downstream” became part of my vocabulary – although they weren’t yet a big part of my skill set!

Well, it turns out there’s a lot one can learn in a canoe. Over the course of this expedition I learned a few things I expected to learn, and many, many more that I didn’t.

Jamie and I were the least experienced paddlers in our group of ten so naturally, whenever we paddled in the same canoe, we seemed to lag far behind the others. He suggested that I paddle just a little harder but my arms were already feeling like rubber. Then one day, out of the blue, (well, with a little coaching from Lin and Al), we GOT IT. It was all about finding the current and allowing ourselves to be carried by it, rather than fighting it – “going with the flow”, so to speak. Suddenly everything felt effortless. Great life lesson learned!

Then there was this issue of confidence. I didn’t have much – fast water paddling was just so far outside my comfort zone. But here’s what I learned – confidence is the sum of good teaching (thanks Al and Lin!), experience (say, paddling 375 km. of river) and an enthusiastic cheering section. I couldn’t have asked for more encouragement and support than I got from our wonderful paddling gang. The amazing thing was that by the final days of the trip, Jamie and I had abandoned the safer gentle water on the inside of the river bends in favour of the “big bouncy water” on the outside of the curves – with whoops of delight, I might add. Riding those waves, feeling the icy water spray on our faces, was more fun than any roller coaster ride. Exhilarating!

One day on our trip we had a hiking adventure that truly stands out as a memorable learning experience. The plan was to hike several hours along the nearby Ekwi River valley until we reached the Godlin River where we would be rewarded by a shower in an ancient hot spring that gushing from the mountainside. We had discussed before setting out that this was a challenging hike, and that teamwork and possibly a little luck would be required if we were to reach our destination. The group decision was that if any portion of the hike seemed to be too much for even one hiker, we would turn back together.

As we tramped through the woods, singing loudly (and poorly!) to deter any wildlife from venturing near us, we came upon our first obstacle. The fast-moving Ekwi had to be crossed in order for us to continue up the valley. So with hands grasped tightly to one another, we waded through the bone-chilling water in a single line, each of us protected from the swift current by the person upstream, until we arrived, breathless, at the other side. We sure appreciated the value of teamwork at that moment.

The second obstacle proved even larger than the river crossing. This one was more of a mountain climb – on a “goat path” a few feet wide in places wide in places with a small drop on one side down to the rushing river far below. This little section of the hike didn’t make any of us jump for joy, but for two in the group who had a more serious fear of heights, it was nearly heart-stopping. We knew turning back was an option, but at the same time, that hot-spring dream was awfully appealing. Much hand holding and encouragement ensued and a rope was rigged up the steep hillside for climbers to hang on to. In the end, though, it was the summoning of extraordinary courage and inner strength by our two apprehensive hikers that allowed us all to proceed. We returned to camp that evening, exhausted from our day-long adventure, full of respect and admiration for those who dared to push their personal limits. And, yes, the incredible experience of bathing in the ancient hot-spring perched high over the Godlin River was a memory for life indeed.

Spending time on the river clearly taught all of us a bit about having fun – something we seem to forget in the day-to-day rat race of city life and “to do” lists. But it all started to come back to us on the banks of the Keele. There were hilarious moments as we tried to write group poems after a particularly hearty selection of cocktails at Happy Hour, or attempted to crush opponents at euchre under the midnight sun. On the night of my 50th birthday, Jamie baked a chocolate cake in the dutch oven which we devoured while watching a black bear walk along the river’s edge! I recall spontaneous “bocci rock” tournaments at our riverside campsites, and the excitement of swimming with a brave few in the icy waters of the Keele. Hearing the whoops of delight from the guys down at the fishing hole as they caught (and released) another huge bull trout was unforgettable! And I’m not sure I have ever laughed as hard as I did watching one of the more reserved members of our group perform a striptease – from a discreet distance, of course! – as he waded into the pristine water to wash. (Perhaps we have to blame that one on Happy Hour as well.)

But by far the most important lesson I learned over that marvelous two weeks was to slow down and appreciate the world and people around me. I remember our last night on MacKenzie River, when one of my co-mates and I were finishing our drinks by the fire and talking about some of the challenges and frustrations in our lives. We looked up and just above the trees on the horizon was a huge yellow moon perfectly reflected on the shimmering water. It was breathtakingly beautiful. All thoughts of problems and frustrations faded – I felt like a little part of something much larger, and all I had to do was “go with the flow”, not fight the current.

So I don’t really know what I was looking for as I set off on the river last August, but I think I found it. In the year since we have returned home from our paddling trip, Jamie and I have noticed subtle changes in our outlook on life. We are no longer satisfied with the mundane, or the busy treadmill that takes us nowhere. It makes more sense to slow down, consider what we really want, and then set about going after it. Our confidence buoyed by achievements on the river, and inspired by others on our trip, we try to push our own limits. Brave enough to venture outside our comfort zones, we dive into new challenges, and sometimes even succeed!

When life gets too hectic, or presents us with set backs, Jamie and I endeavor to find that same sense of inner peace that surrounded us that magical night under the moon on the Mackenzie. We have promised each other that if we should ever feel that calm, that confidence, that inspiration slipping away from our lives, we know it is time for another wilderness encounter.

Awesome 2016 Expedition Season!

Congrats and thank you to our amazing Canoe North Adventures Team and our intrepid CNA Trippers, for making 2016 our most memorable season ever. We are so grateful for the passion and enthusiasm each one of our trippers brings to the adventure. 2016 highlights include getting up close and personal with a bull moose and grizzly bear (thanks to Ranger, our trusting hound!), a record size bull trout caught by Guide, Keiran Rankin, a delicious blueberry/cranberry compote created by Karen, spectacular aurora borealis on our August trips, a Ukranian folk-singing family and a dreamy night-paddle on the historic Mackenzie River.

We are busy preparing our 2017 Expedition Season and are updating our website each week as we get deeper into our planning. New for 2017 will be a Snake River, Yukon trip, a Natla-Keele River option for whitewater junkies and a Classic Coppermine River Trip. We are gearing up for our Info-Sessions at our home base in the Hockley Valley, Ontario.

CNA at Canada Shared in London, UK

London was grand! An amazing city full of the sights and sounds of an era gone by. We wandered its streets in the warm sun taking in wide boulevards, spring flowers and grand buildings. Our stay included a visit to Buckingham Palace; a stint called Canada Shared at Canada House, our Canadian Embassy, with Destination Canada promoting travel products to UK, French and German travel operators; and last but not least a fine visit with our Irish cousins and friend Fraser Macdonald. Canada Shared was spectacular!

We joined 30 other Canadian travel companies who share the coveted Canadian Signature Experiences designation. Our unified purpose was to blow the top off Brits coming to Canada for their vacations! We have turned some of our attention to the British Isles after a hugely successful 2015 Coppermine River trip with the students from Malvern College, an English independent school. Canoe North Adventures specifically aimed to connect with a few UK operators who would showcase our canoe trips to UK travellers. It was hugely successful for us! Congratulations to Destination Canada for representing us so well and for supporting such a positive and enthusiastic event.  The Northwest Territories and Canoe North Adventures will be a feature article this week in a magazine published by TTG Media and we hope to be included in a travel book called Lodestars Anthology of Canada that will be published this fall. But more importantly, we have met  a number of travel agencies who would like to feature our product in their promotions for 2017.  We’ll keep you posted on news from this front!

Related article

Canoe North Adventures Gang Storms Buckingham Palace!

On March 1, Al Pace and  Lin Ward and Guide Maja Zimmerman joined the Malvern College  UK Coppermine River Team for an epic trip reunion party hosted by HRH The Duke of York at Buckingham Palace. The Duke and  Al canoed the Coppermine  River together in 1977 with Lakefield College School, so the reunion at The Palace was both boisterous and at times, quite emotional.  The Duke regaled the student group with tall tales from his five Canadian canoeing adventures from 1977 to 2011 and the students bragged about monstrous arctic char, squadrons of killer mosquitoes, grizzly bears and an extremely  close encounter with a wandering wolverine!

On March 3, Al road the rails to Greater Malvern and visited the expansive Malvern School campus. The students gave him a grand tour including attending a piano concert and field hockey house tournament! Half the Malvern team have graduated and are attending various universities across Europe.  Malvern College celebrated its 150 anniversary in 2016 and The Coppermine River Expedition was the exclamation point of the school celebrations. Malvern is now looking out to 2018 for a return trip to northern Canada with Canoe North Adventures.

This news was featured on CBC North!