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If you are committed to running, walking, strolling, biking, or somehow participating in this year’s Meaford Harbour 5K Your Way, here is yet another option. How about paddling a 29-foot Kevlar big canoe?

Tom Thwaits and a committed group of volunteers have invested money and time into introducing the ‘big canoe’ experience to the municipality, starting with this year’s 24th annual Hospital 5k Harbour Run in support of the Meaford Hospital Foundation.

The boat was manufactured by Clipper Canoes of Abbortsford, B.C. Thwait purchased the big canoe in hopes of introducing his passion for canoeing to others. He recruited a board of directors to help form a not-for-profit organization and to formulate a program to introduce individuals, groups, corporate teams, and those whom he describes as “underrepresented in the paddling world: the old, young, differently-abled, Indigenous, and new Canadians.”

Thawait is an experienced paddler who relishes any opportunity to be on the water and to introduce others to the sport. “I've been making a point of using any excuse to paddle in and around Meaford for a decade now, to get the mail, to go to the library, to go shopping downtown, to get up the river to Beautiful Joe and the Trout Hollow trail-head, to get over to friends' houses, to get to the beach or the park,” he said. “My personal motivation behind the project is to share that experience with as many people as possible.

The more people are able to slow down, take in the sights, the sounds, and the life on the water, the more they'll come to value and know this great body of water on our doorstep. [This] big canoe is the Langley model, 29 feet long, weighs 335 pounds with seven bench seats plus one perch in the back for the stern person. Clipper Canoes really and truly are the world leaders in boats of this size.

From now until September 19, we're encouraging groups to reach out to me at tomthwaits@gmail.com. In exchange for a pledge on Big Canoe Project's Meaford Hospital Foundation 5K fundraising tally sheet, I will set up a time to test drive the boat. Racers who are already registered for the 5K are encouraged to reach out too, so that they can add a big canoe tour to their Meaford 5K activity log sheet. All this is, of course, is weather permitting. The length of the paddle is determined by the group's wishes and how much money they're prepared to pledge. From the boat launch, we can be at Memorial Park in under 20 minutes, at the claybanks in 30 to 45 minutes, Thornbury in a morning or afternoon's worth of paddling, or Collingwood in a day, maybe further if they're keen and able.

The Meaford Harbour 5K Your Way is our chance to introduce the boat to the community and for everyone (to) begin to get a sense of what we're planning for the coming paddling season. Our plan, after rolling out our social media, website, etc. over the next couple months, is to be booking our first tours in the spring of 2021, and run with it from the May long weekend through to Thanksgiving, with plans for a couple weeks of floating day camps in the summer.”

The Big Canoe Project board members have applied to present their plans to the Meaford Dragons on September 30. By spring, they plan to offer citizen science initiatives. “Whether it's water quality monitoring, temperature, turbidity, testing for microplastics, bird sightings, weather observations, our goal is for bayside residents and visitors to have greater ease discussing rates of change in the bay, a better sense of what is usual and unusual on this body of water (by working up a baseline data set of citizen science observations) and best practices for living near such a body of water,” Thwait said.

For information and bookings, contact Tom Thwait at tomthwaits@gmail.com.

For more information on Clipper Canoes big canoes, go to http://www.clippercanoes.com/big-canoes/

Photo: Tom Thwait (right) introduced the Big Canoe Project board members (l-r) Shannon Matamoros, and Diana Young, Mountain Life Managing Editor Ned Morgan, and board member Mary Ferguson to the ‘big canoe’ experience on September 1.