Paddlers end successful journey from Cross Lake to Winnipeg

By Adam Wazny - Winnipeg Free Press, Photo Ken Gigliotti - Winnipeg Free Press

After 18 days on choppy waters, members of the Ininiwi Aski Quest finished with a smooth glide into their Winnipeg port.

The crew from the Northern Manitoba community of Cross Lake arrived to the sound of drums and cheers at The Forks this afternoon. It was a warm welcome for the paddlers, who made the 890-kilometre canoe journey through mighty headwinds, a few thunderstorms and a broken boat.

"This is special, this is really something else," a humbled Nelson McKay said moments after stepping out of the large warrior canoe and on the concrete platform that hugged the Assiniboine River. "It was tough but the arms and shoulders feel good, though. I could keep going."

The goal of the 18-day paddle that started at Cross Lake (Pimicikamak Cree Nation), south along the east side of Lake Winnipeg and eventually onto the Red River, was to get the youth in the Northern Manitoba community connected to their environment. It was also designed to bring attention to the needs of Lake Winnipeg, which environmental groups have distinguished as one of the most threatened lakes in the world.

The paddlers were supposed to leave on July 7 but the weather in Cross Lake wouldn’t co-operate, so the launch was pushed back to the next day. They made it to Norway House the first day on the water, but were forced to wait another day because of high winds.

At one point, the group had to fetch another canoe from Cross Lake, as their first vessel cracked due to the stress of the 14-member crew and the rocky waters.

Officials with the journey reported no injuries (outside of a jammed pinkie finger) and no health issues for any of the members -- including an 81-year-old grandmother -- along the way.