Pierre Trudeau and his Passion for the Canadian Wilderness

pierretrudeauIn 1941 then twenty-two year old Pierre Trudeau wrote his memorable essay ‘The Ascetic in a Canoe’ which contemplated his relationship with nature and his passion for paddling in the Canadian Wilderness – an experience he described as a place for personal renewal.

In 1970, Pierre Trudeau, then Prime Minister, together with two aides landed by float plane above Virginia Falls on the Nahanni River and paddled the length of the river to its junction with the Liard River at Nahanni Butte, over 150 kilometres downstream. The group camped for three nights without tents, sleeping under the stars. (Video: Trudeau on the Hanbury)

Just after Trudeau and the Liberals lost out to a minority Conservative government in 1979, Pierre accepted an invitation to join our canoe team for an expedition down the Hanbury-Thelon rivers in the Northwest Territories. He joined the team for two more canoe trips – the Stikine River in British Columbia in 1994 and the Petawawa River in 1996. Here are the stories that emerged from those expeditions.


Kotcheff3On the Hanbury River

It would be a gross exaggeration to say I knew Pierre Trudeau well. I didn’t – not many people did. He was an intensely private person. But I did get a glimpse of the man – a Canadian icon – in a very personal way on three canoe trips – the first in 1979.  Recollections by Tim Kotcheff.


proflessilcoxPierre Trudeau – Connoisseur and Perfectionist 

Trudeau had been a much talked about national celebrity for more than a decade before I met him on our 1979 canoe trip. I thought I knew whom I was going to meet. But three things about him surprised me completely, and they became clear to me over the two weeks or so, every day and hour we spent together in the Arctic…By David Silcox


gowPierre Trudeau and Seven Others

In my mid twenties I fell in with dubious company, a group who each year paddled a different Arctic river, usually unknown and untravelled by recreational canoeists. The trips took us across the great Barren Lands, through the MacKenzie Mountains, down the Nahanni and onto Baffin Island. The Hanbury and Stikine Rivers …by John Gow.

johnsonOn the Stikine 

Paddling out to mid-river, I thought I had us positioned pretty well, but as we hurtled ahead, it became apparent to me that I had missed the line by a good margin. In my imagination I could feel the coldness of the water, and, even worse, I imagined the headline that I was certain would appear if we kept going: “Former PM Trudeau and one other lost in rapid.”...By Ted Johnson.

Helen Falls, on the Hanbury River – August 1979

L-R Back: John Gow, Peter Stollery, Craig Oliver, Jean Pelletier, John Godfrey. L-R front: David Silcox, Tim Kotcheff, Pierre Trudeau

L-R Back: John Gow, Peter Stollery, Craig Oliver, Jean Pelletier, John Godfrey. L-R front: David Silcox, Tim Kotcheff, Pierre Trudeau.

On Stikine River – August 1994


L-R: Tim Kotcheff, John Macfarlane, Pierre Trudeau, John Gow, Craig Oliver, Peter Stollery, Eddie Goldenberg, Ted Johnson.

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