Written by Liz Huff
posted on June 13, 2012 07:23
The Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II celebrates a remarkable 60 years on the throne by a monarch who has radiated calm, dignity, and higher purpose for most of our collective memories, whether we live in the Commonwealth or not.
London was not the only place going gaga over the Diamond Jubilee; recently the small hamlet of Seeley’s Bay in the Township of Leeds and Thousand Islands, got to play a direct role in helping to prepare for the spectacle of a flotilla of 1000 boats that filled the famous Thames River estuary to celebrate the long and glorious reign of a much-loved queen.
Seeley’s Bay, tucked into the northwest corner of the Township, sits right on the UNESCO-designated Rideau Canal system, and it is home to James Raffan. Raffan is the Executive Director of the Canadian Canoe Museum located in Peterborough, Ontario (about 2 hrs drive for 1000 island area residents and well worth a visit).
[Click to enlarge all photographs]
Raffan and the Museum applied to have a canoe in the flotilla some time ago but were originally turned down since the British officials felt canoes were incapable of handling the tidal unpredictability of the estuary and the presence of hundreds of other larger water craft. After considerable and gentle clarification about the capacity of North American canoes (i.e. opening up a continent to trade routes over dozens of treacherous and mighty rivers), and with a bit of help from the Canadian High Commission in London and the Garfield Weston Foundation, the Thames Pageant officials relented. But with only weeks to spare a whole series of miracles had to happen.
The canoe originally planned for the project was out on loan, and a new canoe had to be found. Thanks to Paddle Canada a couple of derelict replica “canot du nord” (freight canoes) were located near Merrickville and then painstakingly restored in Raffan’s driveway in less than two weeks.
On May 24 Raffan invited Seeley’s Bay residents to help test drive the craft, ensure she was seaworthy, and “fit for a Queen”. Residents of the village, many of whom are paddling junkies, turned out in full force. Even the local Township firefighters helped out by using their rescue boat to pump streams of spray over Raffan and his crew as a small taste of the obstacles they would face on the Thames.
For the local test run, Raffan chose Scott Ewart of 1000 Islands Kayaking to be his “avant” at the prow of the large 10-person canoe. Raffan of course was the “gouvernail” who steered and commanded the crew. Raffan is probably Canada’s most famous canoeist, having authored many books related to canoeing, including their role in the history of the development of the continent, and in so doing, probably paddling more Canadian routes than anyone else alive. Raffan is also a pioneer in outdoor education and a remarkable story teller. In the winter months he can be heard locally telling tales of his research adventures at the Seeley’s Bay Story Fest.
On the morning of June 3rd, Seeley’s Bay area residents sat glued to their tellies watching for glimpses of our mighty canoe. Raffan and his crew paddled with grace, dressed with flair, and in every way reflected Canada’s magnificent heritage. It’s fair to say we wept with pride to see our ‘local boy’ chatting to Peter Mansbridge on a cell phone in the midst of this pageantry.
An interesting back story to the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant and the 1000 boat flotilla is that the project was in part initiated by a group committed to bringing the Thames back to life, both in terms of its ecological vitality, and its value as a transportation route. Those of us who love the St. Lawrence can take extra pleasure in this project that is making a difference for the Thames, and maybe pick up some ideas for a grand flotilla of our own.
By Liz Huff
Liz Huff is a resident of Leeds and Thousand Islands Township having retired from Ottawa where, among other things, she was a director of community development policy for the federal government. Now she volunteers on local initiatives and works as an artist – a painter and a primitive rug hooker – inspired by the Frontenac Arch region. Liz is one of Seeley’s Bay greatest fans and boisterous promoter and we thank her for the hours she puts into bringing well deserved recognition to this unique community. Currently she is Secretary, Seeley’s Bay and Area Residents’ Association (SBARA) and Co-ordinator, Seeley’s Bay Steps Up (the economic revitalization project of SBARA).
Photographs below: Thanks to photographer Marco Venzelaar, who shared his photographs with Liz Huff for TI Life. Marco lives in England and is cousin to James Raffen. He wrote about the difficulty capturing the shots as the conditions were “challenging with weather and location (crowds)”. Also the Canada One was on the opposite side of the river so Marco had to extend the 500mm lens to its fullest”.
To learn more about James Raffan see http://www.jamesraffan.ca, and John Truyens can be reached at email@example.com