the canoe pilgrimage

The Canoe: Vehicle for Reconciliation

The canoe has played an important role in the story we tell about the country that we know call Canada. The First Nations invented the canoe and built it using birch trees. It’s elegant design allowed the First Peoples of this land to thrive. These canoes were the vehicles that enabled the first encounters between the European settlers and the Indigenous peoples. Quickly adopted by the Europeans, canoes carried them far inland as they explored and conquered. The canoe symbolizes the generosity of the First Nations towards the early colonists. However, in the hands of the fur traders and others, canoes became the means by which the natural resources of this land were exploited. Canoes also became the vectors of disease, carrying small pox to those who had no immunity. The tables had been turned: what was once a tool of forging new relationships became a tool of exploitation and conquest. Soon the First Peoples were forced off the very land from which they built their canoes. Placed on reserves and sent to Residential schools they were no longer free to travel the water ways. As this sad story winds its way towards the present, we begin to hear the calls for healing, reparation and reconciliation.


In the summer of 2017, the canoe will once again become a vehicle of encounter and relationship. Pilgrimage will be the next page of the story of the canoe in Canada. The Canadian Canoe Pilgrimage will bring together people from the First Nations, from English and French Canada, young and old, men and women, Jesuits and lay. These cultures and peoples will encounter each other while paddlers canoe together on the water ways of our ancestors. Listening to the Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the paddlers wish to return to the canoe so that this vehicle of encounter and relationship may lead towards healing and reconciliation.


The Canadian Canoe Pilgrimage will take place over 28-days and follow a 900km water trade route from Midland, Ontario to Montreal, Quebec. Along the route, young adults and others, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, will have the opportunity to be immersed in each other’s customs and traditions for an entire month. This pilgrimage will foster deep respect, trust, dialogue and hopefully friendship, the building blocks for reconciliation. During the pilgrimage the paddlers will animate and participate in prayer, ceremony and sharing that will be based in the traditions of Ignatian Spirituality and Indigenous Spirituality.


In order to cultivate a lasting impact on the process of reconciliation, our project will develop training and educational materials, so similar experiences can be repeated in locations across Canada. Additionally, we will be developing activities and that will educate youth about both the historic relationships between the European settlers and First Nations Peoples and the ongoing process of reconciliation post Truth and Reconciliation Commission.


The Canadian Canoe Pilgrimage is currently looking for people who are interested in supporting this project, either through their participation or by their financial contributions. More information on this project can be found at or by emailing Please return to this blog for regular updates and for perspectives from many participants who will make this pilgrimage possible.

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