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NNSL Photo
Boaters head out to Pillow Island in a freighter canoe Saturday. Shown from left are Andy Swiderski, Margaret Ferguson, Cameron Seddon and Ray Bethke. - photo courtesy of Laura Seddon

Break out the freighters

Annual barbecue held at Pillow Island

Tara Kearsey
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Aug 21/02) - It's not exactly a regatta, but you can count on food and fun for everyone.

After a short delay in departure a group of Yellowknife boaters piled into two freighter canoes and headed out to Pillow Island for a grand feast Saturday.

The annual Freighter Canoe Barbecue has been held every summer now for about 10 years.

The gigantic wooden and canvas canoes were used throughout the North years ago, on the Hudson Bay coastline especially, to carry boaters and their heavy freight. The standard size of a freighter canoe is 5.4 metres long, nearly two metres wide and can carry up to 1,140 kilograms. Ray Bethke and his wife, Laura Seddon, never thought the barbecue would become an annual event when they asked other freighter canoe owners to join them for a barbecue many summers ago.

"I guess we came across one or two other freighter owners and realized that there were actually a few of these old boats in town.

"So my wife said, 'Why don't we try and see if we can get some of these people together and maybe have a bit of an informal barbecue to interact with these folks and swap parts, if nothing else,' " said Bethke.

The rest is history. Every year since then 12 or 13 of the old boats would depart for the annual event on Pillow Island.

Unfortunately, many of the freighter owners have left town since then and only two canoes headed out this year, but nothing could dampen the spirits of the boaters this weekend -- not even motor trouble.

"I think there was some water in one of the motors from all the rain that we've had ... but everything went well," said Seddon. Bob Bromley owns several freighter canoes, the most notable is a 22-footer he shares with Bethke which was originally owned by the NWT Pipe Band.

"Sometimes they would put the whole band in there apparently and go up the Yellowknife River for a good time," he said.

Upon arrival at their destination, the group feasted on caribou sausage, salads, fish and various types of meats cooked the old-fashioned way over a campfire.

"It becomes a pot luck out there.

"It's sort of a chance to touch base, see who did what to their boat this year and actually find out if there are other boats in town that have shown up," said Bethke.

Thankfully the unpredictable Yellowknife weather worked in their favour this year -- the sun was shining all day and winds were slight.

"We had a great time," said Seddon.