Reflections on the Canadian Canoe Pilgrimage – Part Two


“I am proud to call myself a pilgrim.”

by Quinn Mulligan

The canoe trip was quite the journey.  On the first Sunday, we arrived in North Bay, Ontario late  in the day, and settled into our campsite at the Sisters of Saint Joseph, Sault Saint Marie. The following morning, we attended the opening ceremonies for the pilgrimage.

During the ceremonies, there was traditional drumming and all of the attendees got to participate in a traditional ritual called smudging. The next day we also participated in a traditional water ceremony.

Quinn on the water.

We paddled the next couple of days, with 4,727 strokes during just our first day on water, until we were eventually shuttled back to North Bay for our flight back on Friday.

There were a couple of different reasons why I wanted to attend the pilgrimage. When I first signed up, I did not know what the purpose of this trip was.

I initially signed up because I have never been on a canoe trip like that and I was interested in the adventure and the    opportunity. When I found out the purpose of the canoe trip was a pilgrimage for reconciliation,  I became even more excited to go.  I was excited to be able to take part of something so impactful, and I wanted to learn more about the indigenous culture.

This pilgrimage was filled with lots of highs and lows. The highs were plentiful, and the lows were almost non-existent. Learning how to paddle was definitely a high for me, as it was a totally new experience for me, and surprisingly difficult.

The main high points of this pilgrimage were learning so much about indigenous culture, and the friendships and new bonds I got to develop with my fellow classmates as well as the other participants of the pilgrimage.

A portage.

The pilgrimage made me feel like I was an important part of a team, and it helped me appreciate nature more. The only low point was that there was not enough free time and rest time, and the sleeps were too short.

The pilgrimage itself was full of interesting experiences.  For example, I met a Jesuit named Curtis who had an interesting story.  He was a wealthy BMO banker with corporate clients and he gave up all of his money as well as a Ferrari to join the Society of Jesus.  Part of his training was to live homeless and broke for 2 months.

Being a pilgrim during this canoe trip meant a lot to me. I learned about the bigotry and racism against the First Nations in the past, as well as in the present, and I felt like I was part of a positive impact against such racism and bigotry.

Quinn plays a traditional Metis game.

I am very proud to have been a part of this canoe pilgrimage. This pilgrimage was a great experience for me. I learned a lot about myself, as well as the culture and traditions of the First Nations, as well as the hardships they faced. I am glad I signed up for this event and I am proud to call myself a pilgrim.


“The pilgrimage was a combination of positive realizations, and wonderful interactions.”

 by Seungwon (Kris) Seo

When I first heard of the canoe pilgrimage, I was unaware of how the trip would be since I had never been on a pilgrimage or even in a canoe. Yet, I had seen others canoe and was eager to apply as I imagined myself leisurely floating across the river.

All of my   classmates had similar expectations, but the pilgrimage proved to be quite a surprise. The   days consisted of physical exertion and I was unaware that this pilgrimage was launched with the goal of reconciliation in mind.

During the very first days of the pilgrimage, I remember myself being slightly disappointed that the trip was unlike my expectations. However, looking back at the whole trip, I could not have wished for a better experience.


I feel that I could not have gained all that I have from the pilgrimage if the amount of work I put in wasn’t required.

The very first lesson I learned in the pilgrimage was about creating better relationships between people of different nationalities. I quickly realized that reconciliation was a significant part of the trip since the day following our arrival was dedicated to celebrating it.

I learned much about the First Nations culture seeing several demonstrations of rituals and hearing explanations about the existence of their beliefs. I constantly gained more knowledge about Aboriginal beliefs throughout the trip, and attended mass every day.

The rituals of the Aboriginal beliefs were distinct from that of the church at first glance, but as the days progressed it was interesting to see the underlying similarities. It dawned upon me that the reasonings behind all the First Nation’s ceremonies were quite similar to those of the Catholic church.

This thought allowed me to make the conclusion that at the core of different cultures  and civilizations there is a profound similarity in all humankind. This was when I realized that racism’s existence solely depended on a lack of understanding.

Recalling what I learned on the first day, reconciliation can only be achieved when racism is eradicated through understanding.

The trip also allowed me to realize the hardships of the fur traders, the explorers, and  the missionaries that occupied Canada many years ago. Through the duration of the trip, I had only paddled for a few days, and merely carried out two portages, but it was more than enough to make me respect the paddlers in history.

Kris takes part in an Ojibwe moccasin game

I was exhausted at the end of every day  we were on the canoe, and was aghast at the fact that people used to canoe like this for weeks on end. We also had many advantages compared to the fur traders because we were able to  skip dangerous portages, we weren’t required to sleep in forested areas.

There was access to camping grounds, cooking utensils, trucks, and other supplies available for use. The experience of canoeing shed a little insight on the hardships that the people of the past had to endure.

The everyday appliances that provide me comfort were brought to my attention, and I was determined to become more diligent in my life.

Overall, the pilgrimage was a combination of positive realizations, and wonderful interactions. There were valuable lessons that I learned only because we had to participate in strenuous activity, and work together on the canoe.

Through it I gained a better understanding of how positive relationships can be more easily created, a greater appreciation of the  privileges I have in my life, and also an affection for canoeing. It was a short trip, but the influence and the memories will last for much longer.


All photos courtesy of St. Paul’s High School.

Quinn Mulligan and Seungwon (Kris) Seo are Grade 11 students at St.Paul's - a Jesuit High School.

  • Peter Bisson, SJ
    Posted at 20:14h, 20 October Reply

    Thank you Quinn and Seungwon!

Post A Comment

Subscribe to igNation

Subscribe to receive our latest articles delivered right to your inbox!