The Wolastoq – St John River
The oldest portions of the Trans Canada trail are the water routes. They were the highways of this land for thousands of years and the Wolastoq River in New Brunswick is one of them. In its entirety it is 673km long and weaves through Maine, Quebec and New Brunswick. The Trans Canada trail includes 93km of the lower river before it flows into the Bay of Fundy. The ancestors of this area are the Wolastoqiyik , which in Algonquian means “people of the beautiful river” and the Wolastoq means, “ the beautiful river”.
map of the tctrail on the Wolastoq River map of route to Gagetown
The 93km paddle begins outside Fredericton in Oromocto and goes down river to Grand Bay-Westfield, about 20km before St John.
So after picking up the canoe in Fredericton from Radical Edge, who kindly loaned me a canoe for this part of the trail, I got a late afternoon start paddling from Oromocto’s shores. After just a few kilometers and a strong north west wind I decided to camp on some green space near the Burton bridge and prepped for a 6am start the next morning when the wind would be calmer.
The next day I paddled a beautiful section of trail for 30km to Gagetown. Morning sunrise painted the landscape and water in magic hour lighting. I paddled, I floated and silently watched the osprey and eagles bring food back to their gigantic nests and muskrats swim along the shoreline where fiddleheads were in abundance.
As I got near Gagetown I noticed on the map the river split, one route would take me around the other side of Gagetown Island and one right into Gagetown. If I had camped I would have stayed to the course and camped on one of the islands but I needed a place along the shore to meet up the next day with Cecelia Brooks, a woman I had asked to paddle with me. Cecelia is blending traditional ecological wisdom with water science and management.
As I paddled into town I met Ann Verrall on the shores. The LangHouse B&B , located right on the river’s edge, offered a warm bed, home made sour dough bread and fresh fiddleheads. So it was a no brainer.
The next morning I met Cecelia Brooks and we paddled together downriver four or five kilometres against some head winds and then back tracked with the wind on our backs to where she could be picked up later that afternoon.
After a half day paddling and talking, my mind and heart still sit with her words and her fusion of perceptions. Traditional knowledge and science, not one or the other – both. Science without traditional wisdom is a child with no parent or elder to guide and teach. We shared some tea and cherries on the rivers shore. She showed me fiddleheads and muskrats sleeping in the boughs of a maple. I was moved when she told me that reconciliation requires healing for everybody. That we are all wounded by the scars of the past.
The next day I was joined by a friend from Nova Scotia, Denise de Tufts. She volunteers with Nova Scotia search and rescue so she is one of ten friends who keeps an eye on my GPS as I travel on the trail. So for the last three days of the paddle, some in some heavy rainfall, we paddled together.
We managed the final 57km in three days with Ann Verrall filming from the shoreline. The Evandale Resort provided accommodations for two nights and a man named Wayne living on the shore near Victoria Beach offered up his river side home while he went into town and stayed with his girlfriend; classy.
The kindness of those on the Wolastoq-St John River is a tradition as old as the stories layered on her shores. From the kindness of the river herself in providing home to the Bass, Sturgeon and Atlantic salmon that fed the land’s ancestors for thousands of years to the fertile land on her shores that continues to feed those who live there and beyond. And it can continue to flow as a source of life if our generation embraces the belief of this land’s ancestors – that these waters are sacred. I hold space that this will happen. The people I met are a testimony to this revival.
Ann Verrall is the quiet backbone of this journey. When she is making sure I am not lost, or filming while brushing off black flies, she does numerous other cool projects such as this next one she is presenting through her company, Shortworks Productions. Cross Cultural Conversations is a series of talks, screenings, performances that explores the question – Indigenous, African Nova Scotian, Settler – different world views, common goals, how do we reach understanding?
When I first met Ann at the AMMP last year, her friend Michele Sereda, along with three other artists, had died in a violent car cash in Saskatchewan. Ann had done several video projects in First Nations communities with Michele and Saskatchewan filmmakers Trudy Stewart and Janine Windolph. After Michele’s death Ann decided to bring Janine and Trudy to Nova Scotia to share the community projects and their process of working with Indigenous communities.
It has been inspiring to watch Ann create this healing event with her grief and love of her friend Michele. I am sure something beautiful will grow from these seeds she and others plant in the fertile soil of the arts.
The June 4th event is at my favourite library in Canada, the Halifax Central Library, and is free. Drop in and be part of the conversation.