Paddling: The perfect pandemic pastime in Alberta

Sherry Heschuk glides along Hermitage Pond in her kayak on a scorcher of a day.

“What better place to be that in the water,” she says.

This spot in northeast Edmonton is where the 53-year-old first learned to canoe in her mid-20s. 

“I love paddling. It’s that awe; and what an inspiration to be able to float on the water and to create that movement on water. It makes me feel like I’m literally floating and I have gained a lot of confidence.” 

Heschuk is the boat wrangler for the not-for-profit Ceyana Canoe Club operating in Edmonton since 1978. It’s one of several groups offering lessons for beginners in nearby Rundle Park at the Rundle Park Paddle Centre. 

Today Heschuk, in her kayak, and fellow club member Kathryn Zimmermann, in her canoe, are the only ones out circling the pond, aside from some cranes, geese and a muskrat.

We’re spending time on the water with members of Ceyana Canoe Club at Hermitage Park in northeast Edmonton. 2:03

You can see more from Hermitage Park on Our Edmonton Saturday at 10 a.m., Sunday at noon and 11 a.m. on Monday on CBC TV and CBC GEM.

“We like to call it a hockey stick apart, actually it’s a paddle and a half for us and yes, you can absolutely social distance when you’re putting in, when you’re taking out as well,” Heschuk says. 

Zimmermann believes paddling is the perfect pandemic pastime. 

“I love to be on and in the water. It makes me feel really calm and relaxed and at peace and if you can feel nature, smell nature, hear nature, see nature, than that’s a bonus.” 

Zimmermann first floated her boat in Grade 6 as part of an outdoor school trip. Now 63 and recently retired, she gets “to paddle whenever I want which is really a luxury.” 

Pelicans at Telford Lake in Leduc, Alta. (James Evans/CBC)

Other paddling hotspots in the region include Telford Lake in Leduc and Black Nugget Lake, east of Tofield. 

“Islet Lake out by Blackfoot or Astotin Lake out at Elk Island National Park,” Zimmermann adds. “It’s beautiful with all the wildlife and all the bays and the islands; and Big Lake in St. Albert and the Sturgeon River.” 

And then of course there’s what Zimmermann calls “our treasure,” the North Saskatchewan River. 

When flooding and rising river levels make moving water less safe, it’s best to do your research before going out such as checking the province’s streamflow advisory map.

“It’s never the same from week to week, the river flows change,” Zimmermann says. “You could go two different weekends in the summer, on the same river and it will be completely different, the experience you’ll have.” 

That’s part of the excitement and adventure of never knowing what you’ll see around the next bend, she says. 

Kathryn Zimmermann takes a morning paddle in her canoe on Hermitage Pond. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)