“Slowly” | A Paddling Love Letter to Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo

This land draws you in slowly.

It isn’t vast cityscapes punctuated by flashy architecture. It’s more subtle, more wild. It isn’t bustling subways or crowded downtown corridors. It’s the friendship and community that we find far from home. It isn’t even oil and industry, the first people to live left the stuff in the ground. It’s the rivers and the forests that have provided for so many in so many ways.

This land draws you in slowly, that is until you put a paddle in the water. Suddenly, you’re in love.

You’re in love with misty mornings on northern lakes and endless sunsets that stretch across the sky. You’re in love with rivers coursing with history so strong you can feel it in the current. You can almost imagine the first peoples hunting and gathering along the banks, the fur traders loading up their canoes with their precious cargo, or even the clamour of the shipyard on the edge of town.

Some people say there’s nothing to do here, and honestly, I just don’t see it. I can drive 40 minutes in any direction from town and be hiking in the middle of the vast boreal forest or paddling a winding river. You might see a few beavers, a whiskey jack, or an eagle overhead. The day will almost surely end laughing with friends over a crackling campfire late into long northern nights.

The thing is, you won’t really know what I’m talking about until you experience it yourself.

This land drew me in slowly.

“Slowly” is a short film about paddling in beautiful Nistawâyâw (Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo). It’s inspired by the work of Canadian filmmaker and canoeist Bill Mason and created by friends Willi Whiston, Genoveve Zepeda, and Matt Lorenz.

How to make a paddle (and survive a Canadian winter)

One of my winter bucket list items was to carve my own canoe paddle. A quick internet search seemed to indicate that with a marginal degree of patience the project was beginner friendly and likely to be a success. I sourced some rough cut spruce from the local classifieds and armed with a brand new jigsaw, some borrowed hand tools, and enough ambition to be dangerous I set out on a mission to carve my very own canoe paddle.

I’m fairly certain I printed my plans at the wrong scale and ended up just tracing a beaver tail paddle that I knew I liked. Cutting the shape with the jigsaw was a dream, and besides installing the blade backyards in the hand plane the project went off without a hitch. It was a delight to see the paddle emerge from the wood following a few simple directions.

I made a few mistakes here and there and and now with a bit of experience and a copy of Canoe Paddles: A Complete Guide to Making Your Own I’m excited to try my hand at paddle no. 2.

With the help of my wife Genoveve and my friend Matt we made a little film about the whole thing. The script is written by yours truly and narrated by Harvey Tulk.