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Take me to the river
Paddle time with members of the East Three Canoe Club

Shawn Giilck
Northern News Services
Thursday, May 21, 2015

If you want to meet some people who are up the river with a paddle, check out the East Three Canoe Club.

NNSL photo/graphic

Brandon Johnston and Shona Barbour of the East Three Canoe Club are among the members preparing for a busy season for the organization, which is focused on racing. - photo courtesy of Shona Barbour

The organization is comprised of a relatively small number of competitive-minded paddlers motivated by experiences with the Yukon Quest marathon paddling race and a general love of paddling races.

The 23 full members and 11 associate members feature some of the most outstanding multi-talented athletes in Inuvik.

Almost all of the core members have paddled in the famous Yukon Quest race, which is one of the common factors that have brought them together.

Tim Gordon is likely one of the most experienced paddlers. He said there have been various incarnations of a paddling club over the years, but the East Three club (which has no relationship with the school) is by far the most organized version.

It's now entering its second season as an incorporated entity, but its history stretches back to around 2010 or 2011 when people started to form an informal group, he said.

Kelcy McDonald, another veteran paddler, agreed with that, but pointed to a team led by Gordon in the 2012 Yukon Quest as the real catalyst for the current organization.

Gordon said loose organizations of paddlers in Inuvik can be traced back to at least the late 1980s and early '90s, and likely before.

For whatever reason, Inuvik and the Beaufort-Delta region has always seemed to be host to a hotbed of competitive and marathon paddling enthusiasts, he added. And it's no different now.

The club, which still has a relatively low public profile, will kick off its latest season at the end of the month with youth paddling clinics, said board member Shona Barbour, who was nominated as president at the club's annual general meeting May 14.

"We're really a racing club," she said. "We tried some recreational programming last year, but didn't have a lot of success with people coming out."

So for the immediate future, Barbour said the club would concentrate on its true passion, which is providing training and coaching for racing events.

That's been a very successful approach for the club thus far, particularly last year.

Barbour and paddling partner Brandon Johnston took first place in the mixed tandem division at the Yukon Quest race in 2014, and finished 10th overall in what was a very successful season for the club.

Nichole McDonald competed in the Quest in the Voyageur category.

Six of the club's youth members with two coaches competed in the Northern American Indigenous Games in the summer of 2014, collecting four gold medals. Mackenzie McDonald and Darius Andre dominated the paddling competitions, collecting all of the medals, plus an additional two for McDonald.

That earned both paddlers youth nominations for outstanding junior athletes of the year awards by the Aboriginal Sport Circle, although the results have not been officially announced as yet.

Gordon's efforts didn't go unrecognized either, as he was selected as the 2014 NWT Aboriginal Coach of the Year by the Aboriginal Sport Circle.

The club has announced at least one exciting new venture for this summer.

It's planning on introducing a marathon race paddling race down the Mackenzie River and East Channel to Inuvik from Tsiigehtchic in August.

That's approximately 140 km, and will likely be open to both canoes and kayaks.

The plans are still very much in the preliminary stages. It's going to be a massive organizational undertaking for the club, which will be seeking a considerable number of volunteers to help operate the race.

"Many of us want to be in the race, so we'll need the extra help," said Barbour.

A youth program will also kick off at the end of the month, she said.

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