MOUNTAIN LIFE - Blue Mountains | Spring 2021

17 FLOATING IDEAS: THE BIG CANOE PROJECT The Big Canoe Project is a new and ambitious nonprofit social enterprise aiming to get more people on—and engaged with—water. The BCP plans to take groups on short Georgian Bay tours from Owen Sound, Meaford and Collingwood, plus Lake Eugenia. Founder Tom Thwaits has even bigger plans for the BCP this year, hoping to grow not just the fleet but also the scope of the endeavour. “The original impetus for the BCP was my conviction that the more you paddle someplace, the more you fall in love with it. And you protect the things you love. The BCP is about providing that introduction.” Thwaits feels that the BCP should provide much more than just access to canoe experiences for people who have never held a paddle. “You’re also giving them inspiration to go home and start thinking about things like, ‘How do I protect my shoreline?’” That inspiration is best attained, Thwaits tells me, with the help of partners. To that end, BCP is partnering with Water Rangers, a fellow nonprofit that has provided them with water quality testing kits in an effort to make sampling and testing a part of every group paddle.And through the Water Rangers app, paddlers can monitor and compare historical data. “It’s about democratizing access to water,” says Thwaits, “and having ecological literacy at your fingertips. It’s immediate. And it gives [paddlers] a toolkit to talk about it with others.” The BCP is also in talks with the environmental charity Georgian Bay Forever to leverage their expertise in water-borne plastic garbage recovery and make it part of the tour experience. In the works too is a plan to bring guest speakers on board. A big canoe is a natural space for oratory, with a bow seat so the speaker can face the “captive audience” of paddlers. The talks would highlight history (both local and Indigenous), ecology and wildlife. I recently joined Tom Thwaits and the BCP board of directors for a tour on Georgian Bay. It was my first time in a big canoe and being accustomed to a tripping or rec boat, their 29-footer was a new, colossal experience. As we social distanced at roughly a metre apart, the canoe felt like a floating open-air coffee house: a comfortable place to exchange ideas while taking in wild surroundings.We watched a bald eagle soar over the clay banks east of Meaford—an auspicious symbol of the possibilities of this project. “The BCP wants access for everyone, including new Canadians,” Thwaits adds. “Access is for everyone, including communities usually underserved by the outdoor adventure industry.”The BCP is also registering with LGBTQ+ tourism organizations as a safe provider. This big canoe just keeps getting bigger. –Ned Morgan “It’s about democratizing access to water and having ecological literacy at your fingertips.” COLIN FIELD UPFRONT