Barreling down the Ottawa River’s Deschênes Rapids, birchbark hat on tightly, canine friend Spitzii howling into the morning light, solo continent-crosser Mike Ranta was bound for Canada’s Parliament Hill. The duo left Vancouver, British Columbia, on April 1 and would arrive at Dominion Beach, Cape Breton, on October 18.

Mike Ranta paddles for a good cause

From bow to stern, over its red paint and Canadian flags, Mike Ranta’s canoe was covered in hundreds of signatures from the men and women who have served Canada. “I couldn’t think of a more Canadian way to honor our veterans,” said Ranta of his second cross-Canada voyage in as many years. “We lost a lot of men and women in the wars and the problem is, we are still losing them.” His 2016 trip was done in support of post-traumatic stress disorder research.

Ranta was captivated by the idea of detouring to the home of Canada’s government, chatting with people, collecting signatures, and taking time to consider the kilometers behind him. Arriving on the shores of Ottawa, his portage began just above the Chaudière Dam. He loaded his canoe onto a homemade cart, put Spitzii on a leash and hit Wellington Street with a smile the size of the world’s second largest country. Cars honked, passerbys took double takes, many stopped for pictures and police officers signed his canoe.

The last voyageur arrives at Parliament Hill

Rounding the corner of West Block, Ranta saw the Parliament Buildings in full.

“There it is Spitzii! Parliament Hill!” Ranta exclaimed. Ranta wanted to set up by the famous Centennial Flame monument, and say hi to every curious onlooker.

Security stopped him.

“I’m sorry, but you can’t come on the Hill with that—uh—canoe,” explained the young guard.

“I’ve paddled from Vancouver to get here, eh! You’re saying I can’t take my canoe to Canada’s capitol,” said Ranta.

“Sorry. It’s a beautiful canoe. It’s just a safety concern,” reiterated the guard. Backing away and parallel parking on the busy downtown street, Ranta looked back at the security guard who apologized a final time.

“Next time I should call, or make an appointment, I guess,” said Ranta in disbelief. Streetlights changed, cars whizzed by, tourists shuffled by as if passing a strange street performance. But this was no performance—at Canada’s doorstep stood a nation’s last voyageur.

Turning around, the duo silently marched back down to the banks of the Ottawa. With Parliament’s lofty towers behind them, Ranta loaded the canoe and paddled away into the final month of a nearly seven-month trip.

Ranta returns to honor veterans

On November 11, almost one month after completing his solo canoe trip across the country, Mike Ranta passed back through Ottawa. He had received an invitation to lay a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier during Parliament’s official Remembrance Day ceremonies. This time, there was no canoe and Spitzii relaxed in a hotel room. All he had was his birchbark hat, and a wreath made of sticks from every province he paddled through.

Mike Ranta places a handmade wreath at the Remembrance Day ceremony in Ottawa, Ontario. | Feature Photo: David Jackson

Approaching the Tomb, wreath in hand, Canadian flag draped over his shoulders, Ranta’s usually jovial attitude briefly disappeared. Looking up at the Unknown Soldier, bagpipes playing and the 21-gun salute sounding off, he laid his wreath in a moment that lasted an eternity and thousands of arduous kilometers.

A satisfying end to Mike Ranta’s trip

“That was closure, my trip is over,” Mike Ranta told me afterward. Canada’s last voyageur left Ottawa, this time in a Toyota Tacoma heading west, his canoe floating on the breeze of his homecoming.

This article originally appeared in Canoeroots
 Spring 2017 issue.

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