If you have an interest in paddling as a hobby then Saskatchewan, in particular the northern part of the province, is a place to visit.
And now there is a handy guide to some of the best places with the release of ‘Paddling Northern Saskatchewan: A Guide to 80 Canoe Routes’ by Ric Driediger.
The book is a natural for Driediger given his career.
“I have been a canoe guide since 1973,” he told Yorkton This Week. “I started a non-profit business called Wilderness Trails in 1976. In 1978 I started a for-profit business called Horizons Unlimited. That business purchased Churchill River Canoe Outfitters in the fall of 1987. I have owned and operated that business ever since. At present we have more than 7000 people come through CRCO every summer.”
Of course Driediger didn’t start out sitting in a canoe.
“I grew up on a farm near Drake, SK. I grew up watching Shamrock TV out of Yorkton,” he said. “As a kid I knew more about Yorkton than any other city in Saskatchewan.
“I looked after 16,000 chicken and 1000 pigs. It was assumed by everyone around, except my father and I, that I would be a farmer when I grew up. My father assumed I would be a doctor or professor, but not a farmer.
“Instead, I became a canoe guide. Everyone around until I was well into my 40s kept asking me what I was going to do when I grew up, I guess now that I’m almost 70, I still haven’t grown up.”
As for the book it wasn’t exactly a planned thing in a sense, said Driediger, who didn’t go in with any experience as a writer, but with a knack for telling stories.
“I have no formal training in writing. I started telling stories to audiences about 25 years ago,” he said. “I’ve been hired as an entertainer at banquets and other events. I love telling stories. Of course in order to tell stories, I would first have to write them. So I’ve been writing stories for more than 30 years.”
The book sort of evolved out of that.
“I have done hundreds of canoe routes,” said Driediger. “For the past 35 years I have heard the stories of many groups coming off canoe trips. There is likely no one anywhere who knows more about canoe routes in northern Saskatchewan than I do. This information needed to be written down. It was all there in my head. So I wrote about 80 canoe routes in northern Saskatchewan.”
But, it was a book that wasn’t exactly what the author wanted to pen, but he knew he had too.
“This isn’t the book I wanted to write,” said Driediger. “The book I wanted to write was a collection of stories of my own experiences and stories I’ve been told from groups coming off canoe trips. That book will likely be available in the next year.
“This is the book I needed to write. I had to write this book of canoe routes first because I felt this information should not be lost.”
The result is a somewhat basic guide to the 80 routes, offered Driediger.
“There is so much more that could be written on this topic,” he said.
“Certainly what I wrote is not exhaustive information on these routes. It is an overview of these routes. On many of these 80 canoe routes, I could write a whole book of information and stories from the various times I and others have paddled.
“I could talk about the portages and the camping spots along the way.
“I could tell about the time we caught trout off the point of a certain camping spot.
“Or, I could tell the story the time we met a group from Quebec on their way to the Arctic Ocean on this portage.
But that wasn’t the point of the book. The point was to give a feeling of what it is like to paddle the Wathaman River or the Snare River or what it is like to paddle in the McLennan Lake Canoe Area.”
Driediger said he knew it was important to share what he has learned.
“This information would not necessarily die with me, but with me the information is all in one place,” he explained. “For someone else to write this they would have to do tons of research. I have done that for the past almost 50 years of my life.”
Asked about the writing process, Driediger had an interesting view on the topic.
“I did 48-years of preparation to write this book,” he noted.
“Then in September of 2019, I sat down and wrote it.
“It took about five weeks of non-concentrated writing to do this book.
“I did very little research at the time. This information was in my head. I just needed to write it down. I also have the information about the length of the trip and the number of portages. I have to measure each trip on a map and recount the portages to make sure I got that information correct.”
So, what was the most challenging aspect of the project?
“The maps are what took most of the time,” said Driediger. “There are more than 100 maps in this book. I redid those maps several times because I was not happy with them.
“In the end – I am now mostly happy with those maps.
“That was the biggest challenge. They needed to show the complexity of the 100,000-plus lakes in our north and the river systems that connect those lakes. But they could not be in the detail one would need to paddle the route – that would take too many pages of maps.
“So to find a balance between those two opposites was a challenge.
“Also, I wanted to show by the maps how all these routes interconnected. So I not only needed to show the route I was talking about but all the other routes that connected.
“I think in the end I accomplished all those things I wanted to accomplish.”
The photographs add another element to the book.
“The photos are good,” said Driediger. “I don’t know if they are the best aspect of the book.
“Certainly those who are not really interested in canoe trips only look at the photos. I think that’s great.
“One of the big reasons I felt I needed to write this book is because I have the ‘unbiased’ opinion that northern Saskatchewan is the best place in the world to go canoeing. I think the book shows that quite well.
“Most people who pick-up the book have no idea of what we have in our north. Even if one doesn’t read the book, the photos show it.”
Ultimately Driediger is happy with what he created in the book.
“Yes, I am pleased with the book,” he said. “The publisher I used – Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing out of Regina was amazing. She along with her editor gave numerous suggestions on how to make the book better than it first was. The format of the book, the paper stock, the cover stock, the look of the book, are all Heather Nickel. She is amazing! I think because of her, the book is far better than it would have been.
“I am also very pleased to get a grant from Creative Saskatchewan to publish and print the book. That grant covered roughly 30 per cent of the cost of getting the book from my hands to being printed.”
As for an audience Driediger said it could be “anyone who is interested in our north.”
“Certainly the primary audience are paddlers. But the book does give a very clear picture of what we have in our north. We are sitting on a treasure of far more value than the uranium and gold that is being mined. We have the best canoe country in the world. Those who are interested in what we have in this province will be interested in this book.”
Paddling Northern Saskatchewan is available at most book stores in the province and most of the outdoor stores, said Driediger. It is available through Churchill River Canoe Outfitters. It is available through Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing, McNally Robinsons, Chapters and Amazon.
“Of course it is best to buy it directly through Churchill River Canoe Outfitters. Then you get a signed copy,” he added.