They say, “Even a bad day of paddling is better than a good day at work.”
“They” are canoeists whose love of being on the water propels them down rivers, through lakes, and over portages to witness and connect with nature from a point of view rarely seen from land. For members of the Ancient Mariners Canoe Club, their paddles have steered them through the Grand River and its tributaries as well as lakes and rivers throughout Ontario and beyond for 25 years.
Celebrating their anniversary on July 4th, the club is preparing for a special event with members, families and dignitaries at their boathouse in Riverbluffs Park. Earlier in the week, the Ancient Mariners will be participating in the Canada Parade. As well, 25 trees will be planted in the Pollinator Park on the banks of the Grand.
“It shows the vibrancy of the club,” says current President, Art Alyea. “It’s a family network.”
This “family” was launched in 1988 with 20 enthusiastic members. That number has reached over 125 with a waiting list for the next three years. Members must be 55 years of age or older, belong to a local recreation centre and have a passion for the outdoors.
Art and his wife, Lynda, have been paddling with the club for ten years. Lynda, retired from Cambridge Memorial Hospital, recalls gazing out at the sparkling waters of the Grand River from the windows of the hospital. “I wanted to be there,” she says. “Since retirement, we haven’t looked back.”
Mabel Fisher does look back, fondly, on the memories, friendships, and experiences on the water with the Ancient Mariners. At the age of 90, she is the last of the original 20 still holding full membership. She’s hung up her paddles, but keeps in touch with the group. “I miss it, but I’m thankful for all the times I’ve had.”
When the Mariners started out, seniors’ centres were coming into effect. The Department of Health and Welfare (at the time) had an objective to involve seniors in healthy activities within their communities.
Eric Thomlinson, a businessman who had traveled throughout Ontario, had dreamed of spending his retirement on the water. An avid canoeist, he had an idea that flowed throughout the centres in Cambridge. He wanted to establish a canoe club strictly for seniors. Mabel’s club, along with others, jumped on board.
Eric’s knowledge of the sport was infectious. Input from the new membership created training opportunities and safety measures. With a few borrowed canoes, the Mariners took to the water.
Recalling the first day the group put-in on the river, the poems of Mabel’s husband, Les, come to her mind now. Many of his words were scooped from the rivers and lakes they explored together until his death in 1995.
The inaugural day was a nippy, April morning. Chunks of ice still floated on the dark, rippling waves of the river. With no experience, Mabel literally got her feet wet and took the stern of the boat while her husband sat forward. Trying to steer from a higher level taught Mabel her first lesson: The heavier passenger sits aft.
When they reached their first set of rapids, the current danced and twirled them down the river. While floating backwards Mabel learned another valuable lesson: “You have to go with the flow.”
In 1989, the club developed a stewardship plan based on the amount of damage caused by pollution, dumping, erosion, and tree cutting they observed while on their excursions. Their weekly reports to the GRCA were heard throughout the Region and steps were taken by Regional Council to enhance public awareness and pride for this natural resource.
The Ancient Mariners have not backpaddled from that plan. Today, their environmental initiatives continue to grow and take on new levels of activity.
Each year, the Ancient Mariners begin their canoeing season with River Day by picking up garbage, trimming back branches, and beautifying the banks of the Grand. As well, volunteers care for the gardens of Lisaard House which gives comfort to palliative care patients and their families in our area.
The Cambridge Pollinator Preserve is a restored natural habitat located behind the Ancient Mariners boathouse. It was created and is maintained to give the community an educational tool for the importance of pollinating insects to ecology and the food chain.
“The city has been supportive of the club,” says Art. “We try to give back to the community.”
They don’t stop for the snow. During the winter season members gather for cross country skiing and hiking along local trails and social events.
“There’s so much to learn from everyone,” says Art.
Lynda agrees. “We’ve made lots of good friends and lots of good memories,” she says. “We’re still making them.”
For Mabel, the memories from the first days remind her of a different time. “The river has changed,” she says, but the beauty of the water and the ripple effect of friendships continue to flow… like the river itself.
O’er river or lake or stream
Resist the call of the ocean spray
Keep broad, bright lands abeam
Let younger folk ride out the storm
Of life on treacherous sea
We’ll seek a sheltered harbour warm
And Ancient Mariners be!
-Leslie Gordon Fisher
For more information, please visit www.ancientmariners.ca
Tags: Ancient Mariners Canoe Club, Art Alyea, Cambridge Memorial Hospital, Canada Parade, Eric Thomlinson, family, friends, Grand River, GRCA, Lisaard House, Mabel Fisher, new, Pollinator Park, Regional Council, River Day, Riverbluffs Park, visit, water, work