Shelley A. Leedahl
Sask Book Reviews
Prince Albert-raised Darryl Sexmith is an avid canoe-tripper and former United Church minister who’s built his community—wherever he’s lived—around his passion for wilderness canoeing and the fellowship group canoe-tripping naturally inspires.
Reading Always Another River, his well-written, chronologically-told collection of canoe stories—he’s completed over seventy-five trips and “hasn’t hung up his paddle yet”—stirred fond memories of my own canoeing experiences. It’s a Canadian thing, eh.
The nineteen chapters are mostly titled by location, and it’s evident that Sexsmith’s playground has predominantly been the rivers (and lakes) of northern Saskatchewan, but his lifetime of paddling expeditions also includes the far north. He’s a former executive director of Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society’s (CPAWS) Northwest Territories chapter, and in that role he canoed the South Nahanni and Mackenzie rivers to promote conservation.
He also participated in the 2008 David Thompson Brigade, paddling six-person voyageur canoes from Alberta to Ontario “to commemorate Thompson’s historic trip of 1808,” a journey also heralded in 1967 with the Centennial Canoe Pageant.
How interesting to read about the grueling paddling across Manitoba’s massive lakes (with high winds and just five-minute breaks every hour), group dynamics, and the receptions held in various communities, ie: in Cumberland House, schoolchildren canoed out to greet the contemporary voyageurs and a banquet of “beef stew and bannock” was enjoyed.
Sexsmith’s love of paddling began in 1981 with a short adventure on the Churchill River between Stanley Mission and Nistowiak Falls. The College of Commerce student (ministry came later) and his fellow paddlers “vowed around the campfire that this would be the first of a lifetime of trips”. That vow was kept, and more than forty years later, he’s still canoe-tripping with these longtime friends, and several others.
The writer employs a jocular tone. Of a fellow canoe-tripper, he says: “We were warned not to use big words with Bill since he was a kindergarten teacher.” Before an adventure on the Paull River, the group stopped at the Co-op in Air Ronge to buy fishing licences, because “for the last two decades they have given away free sunglasses with the purchase of a fishing licence”. Sexmith selected his “from a wide selection of 1970s styles”.
After studying theology at Queens—“My classmates always marvelled when I found theological insights in canoeing books, and my practice preaching often included reflections on the joys of canoe-tripping”—Sexsmith’s first United Church posting was in Hudson Bay, ideally “located at the junction of three rivers”. After paddling through the Clearwater River’s “big-ticket scenery,” he wrote: “One simply knew that God was real when travelling in the majesty of the Clearwater Valley”.
There’s classic Canadian shield camping, “with clean granite sloping gently into the water, making for a perfect swimming hole”. There are bears, caribou, muskox and moose. Wicked whitewater, appalling portages, and “[learning] the art of drinking water through a head net”. Simply put, this book is great reading, and you’ll complete these stories knowing with certainty that nature is surely sacred.
‘Always another river’ is written by Daryl Sexsmith and published by YNWP. The book is available for purchase at your local bookstore or from www.skbooks.com.