January 6, 2017 — This
summer an intrepid group of about 30 pilgrims — made of Jesuits, First Nations
and others — will be replicating a 500-mile canoe journey taken by missionary
St. Jean de Brebeuf, SJ, in the 1640s from Midland, Ontario, to Montreal.
In 1967, to mark Canada’s 100th birthday, a group of Jesuits
followed the same route to Montreal. Now 50 years later, as Canada celebrates
its 150th anniversary, the route will be the same, but the motivation is much
Andrew Starblanket, left, Krista Bowman and Erik Sorensen, SJ, will be part of
the canoe pilgrimage.
The group will begin paddling July 21 from Midland along the
shores of Georgian Bay. The route will see them head north to take the French
River to Lake Nipissing, then following the Mattawa River to the Ottawa River
to the St. Lawrence. They hope to arrive in Montreal Aug. 15.
After about eight hours a day in a canoe, the group will
spend the majority of nights camping in the wilderness, joining together in
prayer each evening and making a number of stops in cities to refresh.
“It will be physically demanding,” said Erik Sorensen, SJ, project manager of
the 2017 Canadian Canoe Pilgrimage. “These large, six- or eight-person canoes
are challenging to paddle and even more challenging to portage. To pick them up
and carry them a couple kilometers across dry land requires a fair bit of
For Sorensen, who professed his first vows with the Jesuits
in 2014, the extended exposure to First Nations people during the trip is what
can spark true reconciliation.
“That prolonged encounter is what this trip is all about,”
said Sorensen. “With this prolonged experience it steers the group into the
opportunity for the people participating to really encounter each other in more
than a superficial way — more than an afternoon meeting would. It is in that
encountering that relationships will be formed and there will be the
opportunity for mutual healing.”
Andrew Starblanket, who intends to make the pilgrimage,
agrees that there is much healing possible by bringing people together in this
“It is more than just a canoe trip,” he said. “This trip
will bring nations together to help support not only the First Nations but all
people. [It] will bring together many different creative minds from many
different nations so we can heal what was so devastating to many.”
Starblanket, who lives on a reserve in Saskatchewan with
fellow members of the Cree tribe, said, “It’s hard to tell a story that is
history and that is bad, especially for certain churches and religious that had
a negative influence on many. [So] the church needs healing too, and this is a
good way for them to heal and for all of us to heal.”
Sorensen said there will be a number of public events along
“We’re also inviting people to come and paddle with us for
two or three days at a time if they want to come and experience the pilgrimage
aspect of it,” he said.