Have you ever found yourself at a loss for words when trying to describe an experience? You would like to narrate the feelings inside you, but you fall short. This happens when you attempt to describe the natural wonder that is northern Saskatchewan. The words for wilderness experiences just do not exist in the same way you would describe going to a concert or eating at a trendy restaurant.
Some people though—like Ric Driediger, owner of Churchill River Canoe Outfitters—have the language required. “Summer in northern Saskatchewan is like a big hug,” says Driediger. “We’ve got these warm, gorgeous, beautiful days. The sun shining off the dead calm reflection of the water and it is like nature is giving you a big hug. Here it is. Just enjoy.”
Ric and his family have been ambassadors of Saskatchewan’s northern wilderness tourism for some 40 years. With most people living in the southern part of the province, Ric has found that little understanding of the north exists, and people are regularly awed by the geography and the amount of water. There are more than 110,000 lakes in Saskatchewan and in the north they are all connected through river systems.
With canoeing being Ric’s passion and profession, he is adept at describing it. “My favourite thing about canoeing is the simplicity of it, the silence, the ease in which you travel through the land. You can load half a ton of gear into a canoe and effortlessly paddle along.”
Now with this imagery in mind, realize that northern Saskatchewan is a virtual playground for those seeking this experience. It is a real and accessible tourism option that most people have simply not considered.
The north is often absent from the historic narrative of Saskatchewan. Focus has always been on the major cities and happenings in the south. Many people forget that the province was reached by Europeans through the north and not from across the plains. There is incredibly rich and interesting history from the oldest building in Saskatchewan—Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Stanley Mission—to the rock paintings throughout many of the waterways. “I like to imagine the artist when I look at them,” says Driediger. “What were they thinking when they did these? What influenced them to create these messages and what were they meant to mean?”
Gliding through the waterways, you see an incredible array of wildlife, such as fish-eating birds like eagles, osprey and pelicans. Larger animals like moose and bears are harder to spot as they are very averse to encounters with people.
Ric encourages those who may be reluctant to engage with the wilderness to try it out. It isn’t something that is beyond their capabilities. Churchill River Canoe Outfitters has been showing beginner adventurers the ropes for decades now. Even if you don’t want to paddle a canoe, there are many options for experiencing the region. The important thing is that you experience it.
The best part of Ric’s job is speaking to people before and after their trips. He loves to help people with the planning stage, picking routes and talking about the things they will see and experience. When it’s over, he loves to see how it has changed them. “What is it about going out into nature that affects people? People often think the experience just stays in the wilderness, but it’s truly something that you take home with you, and potentially stays with you for the rest of your life,” says Driediger. “The wilderness force pushes you to reestablish or re-imagine what the important things in your life are.”
Saskatchewan is one of the best places in the entire world for canoeing, and we should be embracing and celebrating it. This summer, think about heading straight north during those blistering hot months and let northern Saskatchewan give you one of those big hugs.
In his recent book, Paddling Northern Saskatchewan: A Guide to 80 Canoe Routes, Ric details the incredible variety and diversity of canoeing experiences available to people. From rapids and waterfalls to glass-like secluded lakes, Ric’s writing and photography expose the reader to the exciting options available. The book goes beyond simply detailing the specifics of distance, portages, and campsites. Ric highlights what kind of experience people will have and what they might feel. This is the best starting point for any northern Saskatchewan canoe trip.