When making the all-important leap to higher learning, it’s too easy to get sucked into our culture’s consuming obsession with overreaching academic excellence, Ivy League reputations, surveys and rumours about which schools are the absolute “best.” In fact, we have nationwide standards of education and there are no bad schools in Canada. Attend any of our government-funded universities and you’ll get an education that’s as good as what you bring to it. The “”best” academy is the one that’s right for you, and depends on a multitude of non-academic factors including the one that’s foremost in the heart of every paddler—the whitewater! To help you get your priorities straight, Rapid has compiled a sampling of Canadian universities and their whitewater credentials. Although we don’t feel bad about leaving out the University of Prince Edward Island where the highest point of land is less than 500 feet and you’d be lucky to find class II in springtime, or the University of Regina where whitewater is a day’s drive away, we haven’t been able to include every great whitewater university. And we missed a lot of good ones that didn’t have the right combination of pumping local whitewater, climate, or kick-butt outdoor programs, campus paddling clubs and pool time. There are some notable trends; for example, the “top” academic insti- tutions, the research schools with the big bucks and golden reputations, either have prime local whitewater or an outstanding campus paddling club but never both. The smaller schools are a mixed bag and even among paddlers the “best” school is a matter of personal style. Are you laid back or hard driving? An aspiring architect or a mountain guide? Jazz buff or mechanical-bull rider? The take-home lesson: Whatever you choose, don’t forget the factor in the whitewater. No amount of ivy on the walls can replace the academic boost you get from sloughing off exam stress on a sweet wave 10 minutes from residence or from having a close-knit commu- nity of fellow paddlers to see you though the mid-term, mid-winter blues. 

UVIc in Victoria BC

Vic is Canada’s number one winter water playground.

Paddling on Vancouver Island goes off during the school year instead of beginning when you’re studying for April exams. Victoria recently pissed off the country by count- ing 3.5 billion flower blossoms in the first week of March. Rain fills the rivers all winter long and there’s nary a day below freezing. Park’n play is limited to a tidal rapid in town, but there are quality wilderness river trips within two hours’ drive. Rivers dry up in the summer; student paddlers hit the road in search of work and water.
Park‘n play: Tillicum Rapid, a class II–III tidal rapid in the Gorge Waterway 10 km from campus. There’s also Pacific Ocean park‘n surf 1.5 hours from campus at the tiny coastal logging town of Jordan River.
River trips: Cowican River, a popular class III rain-fed river with lots of features (1.5 hrs from campus), the Koksilah, Nanaimo, and Chemainus rivers (2 hrs) and a classic creek run on the Gordon (3.5 hrs). Also the Gold and Nimpkish rivers, or surfing in Tofino and Skookumchuck (6 hrs).
Peak season:
Male to female ratio:
Student pub: Felicita’s
Price of a pitcher: $13.50; daily special $12.75.
Club: UVic Kayaking Club ($20/semester)
Pool sessions: 3 hrs/week on Friday nights (free for members)
Selling points:
World-class year-round mountain biking, sea kayaking, golf and surfing. Smoke-free pubs and bars.
Maclean’s national reputation rank: 15 out of 47.
Verdict: Best winter paddling. 

UBC in Vancouver BC

Vancouver is in a temperate rainforest backed up against coastal mountains, which means lots of rain-fed, year-round creek paddling. The nearby whitewater on the city’s sodden North Shore is as steep, fast and technical as the world- famous mountain biking. Next to Victoria this is the place to go for full-on school-year paddling. UBC is not a great pad- dling school—there’s no club—but Vancouver is a great pad- dling city, with a huge club scene and local paddling schools. You have Squamish, Whistler and Skook to the north, Vancouver Island to the west, the Fraser Valley rivers to the east and cross-border options to the south, all orbiting around a laid-back latte-and-sushi culture.
Park‘n play: No great in-town spots, but many OK ones: Lower Seymour Pipeline (40 mins), Capilano Ender Spot (45 mins), a “walk and play” hole above Seymour Canyon (45 mins).
River trips: North Shore rivers (45 mins): Capilano (class III), Lynn (class III–IV), Upper and Lower Seymour (class II–III), Seymour Canyon (IV–V). Weekend trips: Skookumchuck (3–4 hrs). Squamish/Whistler rivers (1.5 hrs): Mamquam, Cheakamus, Elaho, Ashlu etc. Fraser Valley (1.5–3 hrs): Chilliwack, Chehalis, Nahatlach, Thompson.
Peak season:
Year-round Courses: Outdoor Environmental Education, Turf Management (AGRO 429)
Male to female ratio: 43:57
Student pub: The Pit
Price of a pitcher: $10.50 ($8 specials)
: None
On-campus pool sessions: None
Selling points: 12-month paddling season, Whistler skiing, great sushi, North Shore biking, climbing, Wreck Beach (clothing-optional).
Maclean’s national reputation rank:
8 out of 47
Verdict: Best creek paddling. 

Caribou in Kamloops BC

At UCC in the central–B.C. cowboy town of Kamloops, you can get a full university degree or earn a diploma like the Adventure Guide Diploma, a grail for those who want to make a life of climbing and paddling. After two years you can be certified as an advanced kayak instructor, swiftwater rescue instructor, raft guide, assistant sea kayak guide and wilderness first aider. Tuition is the lowest anywhere and there’s a small-town, community college feel. With the Coast and the Rockies both four hours away, UCC is centrally located for all western Canadian whitewater.
Park‘n play: The Frog on the Thompson River (1 hr 20 mins). River trips: Adams (class II–III, 45 mins), Clearwater (III–IV with class V drop above put-in, 1.5 hrs). Several class III–V creeks within 3 hrs in any direction. Season: Feb/Mar–Nov
Programs: Adventure Guide Diploma
Bird course: Food Preparation
Male to female ratio: 45:55
Student pub:
Price of a pitcher:
On-campus pool sessions: 9:00- 10:30 pm Mon, Wed and Fri
Selling points: Selkirks backcountry skiing. Jennifer Lopez and Robert Redford will be shooting a movie in Kamloops this summer. Mechanical bull-riding at Cactus Jack’s. Nursing program (lots of nurses on campus).
The word: “Kamloops is a good central spot to live if you are a paddler”—David Tiedje
Best place to study paddling. 

U of Calgary in Calgary AB

The irony that the water is up when school’s out, be it a blessing or a curse, is particularly true at UofC. Diehards in Cowtown find ways to paddle year-round—going out when the Chinook blows in the dark months—but those clean, green, glacier-fed Rocky Mountain rivers are summertime playgrounds. That said, there are rivers aplenty within 1.5 hours of campus. Students are most likely to paddle on the dam-controlled Kananaskis River, a popular easy-access spot with year-round flow, slalom facilities and ample parking. UofC’s phys ed department has one of the country’s premier outdoor degree programs. All students get free on-campus pool sessions twice a week although you can’t bring your own boat and have to settle for the old river runners provided. 
Park‘n play: Kananaskis River (II–III, 1.5 hrs). Local river trips: Bow River, Sheep, Highwood, Kananaskis (all less than 1.5 hrs).
Weekend trips: Red Deer, North Saskatchewan, Pipestone (1.5–2 hrs), Kicking Horse (3 hrs).
Programs: Outdoor Pursuits (Bachelor of Kinesiology)
Male to female ratio: 45 to 55
Student pub: The Den
Price of a pitcher: $8.25
Club: None
On-campus pool sessions: Tuesdays 9:15–10:45pm, Sundays 6:45–8:15 (free, non-students $7.50)
Selling points: Kananaskis Whitewater Festival each May, Rockies skiing, no sales tax.
As featured in:
Canadian Rockies Whitewater guidebooks by Stuart Smith
Maclean’s national reputation rank: 13 out of 47
Verdict: Best summer water levels. 

U of A in Edmonton AB

UofA is one of Canada’s top research institutions, perfect for over-achievers who don’t want to be distracted by warm weather in winter. Edmonton isn’t blessed with any whitewater under two hours away, but the opportunities grow exponentially as you drive westward to the Rockies. UofA joins Western as a school that makes up for a lack of whitewater with a large, well-organized club and lots of pool time. The UofA Paddling Society (UAPS) was formed in 1975 and has become probably the largest university paddling club in the country with 200 members. UAPS runs pool sessions and classes, summer river trips, polo, boat rentals and surfing trips to West Edmonton Mall’s wave pool.
Park‘n play: The Brierley Rapids, North Sask. River (II+ run with some play, 220 km).
River trips: Foothills rivers (3–5 hrs): Red Deer, Blackstone, Brazeau. Rocky Mountain rivers (4–5 hrs): Big Horn, Cline, Mistaya, Pipestone. Jasper rivers (4 hrs): Sunwapta, Whirlpool, Athabasca, Maligne, Miette, Astoria.
Male to female ratio: 44 to 56
Student pub: The Power Plant
Price of a pitcher: $11.00
On-campus pool sessions: 11.5 hrs/week (classes, open sessions and polo)
Selling points:
Ice climbing, skiing, kayak sledding, climbing wall, monthly socials.
The word: “Just when paddlers are becoming good they graduate and move, hence we suffer from periodic shortages of expert paddlers.”—Mario Bertovic, UAPS President
Maclean’s national reputation rank: 5 out of 47
Verdict: Largest paddling club, best mall park’n play. 

Lakehead U in Thunder Bay ON

On Lake Superior in the working port of Thunder Bay, Lakehead is surrounded by hundreds of kilometres of fresh water and boreal forest. You don’t have to drive far to hit wild rivers cascading over Canadian Shield granite onto Superior’s North Shore. LU is perfectly situated for specialty programs like Outdoor Recreation, perhaps Canada’s best all-around outdoor degree program. Lakehead has long been a scrappy underdog at or near the bottom of the Maclean’s rank- ing. Now Maclean’s has introduced a “Value Added”” category that ranks the school number one on student improvement from entrance to graduation. Either the exams are easy or there’s something about all that fresh water and clean northern air that makes you smarter.
Park‘n play: Crooked Rapids on the Kaministiqua (II, 30 mins). Local rivers: McIntyre River (on campus, has great whitewater for about 5 days in spring), Current River (river run, 10 mins), Cascades (multiple waterfalls, 15 mins), The Gorge (35 mins), Pigeon River’s Middle Falls (12–14-foot drop, 1 hr).
Weekend trips:
Black Sturgeon (90 mins), White River (5 hrs).
Programs: Outdoor Recreation, Parks and Tourism
Male to female ratio: 46:54
Student pub: The Outpost
Price of a pitcher:
Club: Lakehead University Club of Kayakers (LUCK) ($15)
On-campus pool sessions: Sundays 8:00–9:30, boats provided
Selling points:
Ice climbing, nordic skiing, Finnish culture, Hoito Restaurant for cheap eats.
Notable paddlers
: Bill Ostrom (gear manufacturer), Tyler Curtis, Tyler Lawlor (of Level 6), James Roddick, Scott MacGregor (Rapid publisher).
Maclean’s national reputation rank: Didn’t make the top 25.
Best alumni (we’re biased). 

Western in London ON

UWO, on the sleepy Thames River in London, Ont., is blessed with academic excellence and cursed with poor whitewater. In the words of student and national freestyle team member Kate Townsend: “Let’s just say the Thames doesn’t cut the mustard! Nonetheless, Western has a happening paddling scene built around thrice-weekly pool sessions and a dedicated club. “Sessions consist of listening to good music, learning basic strokes to new advanced vertical moves, ripping flips off the diving board, playing kayak water polo etc,” said club president Andy Baines.
Park‘n play: Parkhill in Cambridge (solid hole and wave, <1 hr). Elora Gorge/Irvine Creek (I-–IV+, 1 hr 15 mins), Big Bloop (small play hole, 45 mins), Kings College Parking Lot (a tiny wave for spinning when the Thames is flooding in April, on campus), Burlington Beach surf (1 hr, 15 mins).
Peak season: The pool knows no seasons
Recommended courses: Altered States of Consciousness, Psychology of Sex
Male to female ratio:
Student pubs: The Spoke, The Wave
Price of a pitcher: $12.50 domestic; $13.75 premium
Club: Western Kayak Club
On-campus pool sessions:
3 times/week, 6 hrs/week.
Selling points: Paddling club video nights, pub nights, “actual river trips.”
Random complaint: “Western ladies—and I thought wallpaper was stuck up?”—Anonymous
The word: “We have many of the current low-volume boats and an executive group full of talented paddlers. A few of our first-year kayakers are already doing superclean cart- wheels.”—Patrick Camblin, VP Corporate Affairs, UWO Kayak Club
Maclean’s national reputation rank
: 11 out of 47
Verdict: Best of a bad situation. 

 Trent in Peterborough ON

“An untapped resource waiting to explode” is how one student describes the paddling scene at Trent. There’s no paddling club (yet) but Peterborough, home of the Canadian Canoe Museum and more than a few boating-related doctoral theses, has a river flowing through its heart and paddling in its blood. Excellent whitewater and slalom facilities are only an hour away at the Gull River in Minden. A small school with small classes in a small town. Only two hours away from Ontario’s whitewater soul, the Madawaska Valley.
Park‘n play: Otonabee River: Lock 19 in winter and early spring (experts-only wave, 10 km and accessible by bus), Quaker Wave in fall and spring (beginner- friendly, 8 km), Gull (100 km).
River trips: Eel’s Creek (50 km), Crowe (75 km), Beaver (100 km), Black River (150 km).
Male to female ratio: 33:67
Student pub:
The Pig’s Ear Tavern
Price of a pitcher:
Club: None
On-campus pool sessions: None
Selling points:
Wild Rock Outfitters’ Monday-night paddling sessions at the Gull.
School uniform: Carhartts and Birkenstocks
Notable paddlers: Professor emeritus Bruce Hodgins, co author of Canoeing North into the Unknown.
The word:
“The Indian River is probably one of the greatest untapped resources in Southern Ontario. If my plans to develop follow through, this site could rival the Gull River in Minden.” —Shelley Hubble, Trent paddler and visionary.
Maclean’s national reputation rank: Didn’t make the top 25. Second behind Lakehead in “Value Added.”
Verdict: Best phenomenally low ratio of sensitive new-age guys to hippie chics. 

Queen’s in Kingston ON

The windy lakeshore town of Kingston, Ont., is also home to Queen’s rival Royal Military College and the (non-rival) Kingston Penitentiary. With the second highest average entrance grades in the country behind UBC, Queen’s students are a bright bunch who may be too busy studying during the school year to worry about a lack of near-campus whitewater. Besides, Queen’s has a great kayak club with its own boats and casual pool time every Saturday night, and the Ottawa River is only two hours away.
Park‘n play: Hole Brothers on the Black River, Watertown, NY (perfect learning spot, class II, 45 mins). River trips: Salmon (30 mins), Moira (35 mins), Ottawa (2 hrs).
Related program:
Outdoor and Experiential Education
Courses: Civil 455 River Engineering
Male to female ratio: 43:57
Student pubs: Alfie’s, Queen’s Pub, Clark Hall Club and Grad Club.
Price of a pitcher: $9.00
Club: Queen’s Wildwater Club ($5/session, $25/semester, $45/yr).
On-campus pool sessions: 3 hrs Saturday nights
Selling points: Queen’s Outdoor Club, Concrete Canoe Team, foosball, nice waves on Lake Ontario.
Claim to fame: Drinking the most Keith’s in the country west of Halifax.
Notable grads: Ruth Gordon, The Tragically Hip, CBC star and canoeist Shelagh Rogers
The word: “Kingston has some great rivers close by for the average paddler, and some great playspots across the border in New York.” Mary Ellen Conway, Queen’s paddler 
Maclean’s national reputation rank:
4 out of 47
Verdict: Best place to hang out in the pub and wait for summer. 

Carleton U in Ottawa ON

Dubbed “Last Chance U” in pre–double cohort days, Ottawa’s Carleton is “First Choice U” for any prospective student who craves whitewater. Carleton boasts two solid paddling spots only 10 minutes from campus and accessible by bus— Champlain Rapids and the Pumphouse. “Carleton is great because it allows me to train and go to school full time”— national slalom paddler John Hastings.
Park‘n play: The Wall on Champlain Rapids (springtime freestyle spot, 10 mins), the Pumphouse (national slalom training centre, 200 metres of artificially enhanced class II–III, 10 mins).
River trips:
Hwy 7 rivers near Marmora, rivers of the Gatineau Hills, the Rouge, the Petite Nation, the Ottawa, the Madawaska (all within 2 hrs).
Male to female ratio: 52:48
Student pub: Oliver’s 
Price of a pitcher: $9.75 ($8.50 Thursdays)
On-campus pool sessions: Paddling school Down to Earth (D2E) runs campus pool sessions.
Selling points:
Free Trailhead demo nights at Champlain Rapids. Ottawa River Runners club. Snow sports and biking in the Gatineau Hills. Ice skating on the Rideau Canal. 3000-member ultimate Frisbee league.
The word: “Carleton is the best. Let me think—was it because I could paddle on an Olympic-sized pool with permanent wires for gates, because I could paddle from where I lived to school, the fact that a national training site was on the same street as my university or that I could surf at the wave on cam- pus in the spring?”—Sheryl Boyle, 1996 Olympian
Maclean’s national reputation rank: Didn’t make the top 25
Verdict: Best slalom school. 

McGill in Montreal QC

McGill is the east’s answer to UBC—a top-ranked university in a world-class city surrounded by whitewater. What more could you ask for but a campus paddling club? There is park’n play paddling within the city limits at the famous Lachine Rapids. Some of the best springtime runs in eastern Canada are within a three-hour drive. Plus Montreal is Canada’s self-proclaimed cultural capital, with summertime jazz, blues and comedy festivals. All the good stuff starts after dusk, leaving plenty of time for an aprés-class paddle.
Park‘n play:
Big Joe, Lachine Rapids, St. Lawrence River (big waves, class III–IV, 15 mins). Chambly (20 mins).
River trips:
Habitat 67 (15 mins), Valleyfield (runs year- round), Rouge River, Simon, Doncaster, aux Mullets, Ouarreau and more spring runs (all within 1 hr).
Male to female ratio:
Student pub: Gert’s Pub
Price of a pitcher:
$10.00 ($9.00 after 4 pm)
Club: McGill Outdoors Club.
On-campus pool sessions: No free pool time. Organized pool courses from H2O Adventures.
Random celebrity graduate: William Shatner (Star Trek).
Selling points: Winter in the Laurentian and Adirondack mountains. Summer cultural festivals.
The word: “Pick your type of paddling—play, river-running, freeboating, creeking, it’s all within an hour’s drive.”—Dave Scott, PhD student
Maclean’s national reputation rank: 3 out of 47
Verdict: Best downtown playboating in a cosmopolitan city. 

UQAC in Chicoutimi QC

The University of Quebec at Chicoutimi has all types of paddling nearby, even sea kayaking on spectacular Saguenay Fjord. UQAC is the alma mater of Jacques Blackburn, Neil Gagne and Gilles Fortin, Quebec paddling pioneers who claimed first descents of most of the region’s rivers. This place is francophone to the core: even the school’s public relations office responds to English emails in French. It’s the Franco-Canadian answer to Lakehead—a small, laid-back school with a great outdoor program, surrounded by limitless water and wilderness.
Park‘n play: Rouleau Barrette (Barrette Hole) (Easy to enter but not always easy to leave. As quoted in Rapid some time ago, “it’s like a traditional Quebec sugar pie, sweet and sticky and leaves you wanting more.” Class III–IV, 5 km).
River trips: Riviere aux Sable (25 km), Shipshaw (25km), Pikauba (35km), Cyriac (35km), Bras Louis (40km), Metabetchwan (70km), Riviere aux Ecorse (75km), Ashapmushwan River (100km), Misstasibi (100km).
Bachelor’s degree in outdoors and adventure tourism
River Rescue, Aquatic Activities, Expeditioning
Male to female ratio: 39:61
Student pubs: Pub Avenue, Pottin
Price of a pitcher:
Club: None
On-campus pool sessions: None
Selling points: Chic to dude ratio, poutine, ice climbing, dogsledding, skiing, snowshoeing, shinny hockey at the local outdoor rink, red wine in front of the fireplace.
The word: “Tons of rivers, tons of beer, tons of fun.”— Dominique Lavall
Students most likely to…: Dress warmly, speak French, be female.
Maclean’s national reputation rank: Didn’t make the top 25.
Verdict: En plus vous pouvez demander? 

Screen_Shot_2016-04-19_at_2.23.46_PM.pngThis article first appeared in the Spring 2003 issue of Rapid Magazine.



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