Wearing his iconic birch bark hat and accompanied by his dog Spitzii, trans-Canadian canoeist Mike Ranta hauled his boat onto a Back Bay dock on Aug. 2 after a three-week journey from Fort McMurray.
The 47-year old made the trip to raise funds for Warrior Adventures Canada, an Ottawa-based charity that is committed to improving the lives of veterans and first responders with PTSD through therapeutic backwoods activities.
“Our veterans are an amazing group of people,” said Ranta. “Especially our World War Two men and women. They’re getting up there in age and I really just wanted to say thank you for everything they’ve done and their sacrifices.”
Spitzii, Ranta and his friend Steven O’Neill, a retired superior court judge, departed Fort McMurray on July 11. The trio began their journey on the Athabasca River before joining the Slave River at Fort Chipewyan.
“He’s one tough old bird,” said Ranta of O’Neill. “When it comes to stroking that paddle he knows how to keep up with this old kid.”
Ranta said they portaged the Rapids of the Drowned at Fort Smith during an “incredibly” hot day – “I’ve never seen horseflies that big,” he said – and were then put up by Fort Smith residents Leif and Natalie Anderson. After that, they paddled across Great Slave Lake to Yellowknife. The 1,500 kilometre journey took them 22 days.
“Great Slave paddling was just a dream,” said Ranta. “Scary lake though. Reminded me a lot of Lake Superior, just the way the winds would come up. I was always dropping my tobacco, that was a big thing, just to give that little bit of thanks and she gave me a pass in a lot of ways.”
Ranta said he’ll be canoeing from Yellowknife to Tuktoyaktuk next year.
“Going to Tuk next year to get to the third coast, that’ll be a big sense of accomplishment for me,” he said. “I’m looking forward to seeing the First Nations communities along the Mackenzie River.”
Now 11-years-old, Spitzii, a purebred Finnish Spitz, has gone deaf but still knows how to handle himself in the backwoods, said Ranta.
“He lost his hearing last fall,” he said. “I noticed he was not listening a little more than usual. He’s still an amazing asset in the bush. We’ve had a few bears come in on our trips and he still steps up to the plate.”
Originally from Atikokan, Ontario, which bills itself as the “Canoeing Capital of Canada,” Ranta has been canoeing around the country to support worthy causes for a number of years.
In 2011, he paddled and portaged about 5,400 kilometres from Rocky Mountain House in Alberta to Montreal.
In 2014, he crossed the North American continent solo, by canoe, in seven months. Canoe and Kayak magazine recognized the accomplishment as the longest solo canoe expedition in a single season in history.
“It was quite the haul,” said Ranta.
Then in 2016, Ranta repeated the feat when he portaged and paddled from Steveston, B.C. to Dominion Beach in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, to raise funds for his hometown’s youth centre. The 7,500 kilometre journey took him 200 days
“The people I’ve been meeting on my trips have been second to none,” said Ranta. “Vancouver to Cape Breton, we’ve got an amazing country and anyone who wants to get travelling the way I do, or any other way for that matter, should get out there and do it. We’ve got an amazing kindness and generosity and it’s just beautiful.”