50 Years, 50 People: Cathy Allooloo

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Cathy’s name being on this list of 50 people was suggested to us by a few people, and as we learned more about her, and her contributions and accomplishments, there is no doubt that Paddle Canada is honoured to count her among our numbers!

This instalment in this series is a little different, in that Cathy took some time to share her jounrney with us, and well there was no way we could paraphrase her words! Enjoy 🙂

cathy

Thank you for inviting me to share with the paddling community a few of many memories spent navigating my river over the past 64 years, 45 of those in floating craft of various descriptions.

I am comfortable riding the big waves, but find it challenging to talk about myself. Where to start? I am a mother of three wonderfully talented children, and four amazing grandchildren. I, along with two of my children, own a company called, NARWAL: Northern and Remote Wilderness Adventures Ltd. We are a small and friendly majority Indigenous-owned and operated family business based in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. Our array of services includes canoe and kayak instruction and tours as well as survival, first aid and Inuit Culture Programs. Our signature event is, “Floating Dinner Theatre” where we combine paddling in 29-foot voyageur canoes with traditional soup and bannock, and lively northern entertainment – music, dancing, painting, and the like.

We have serviced over 40,000 clients through our various programs and services over the past 4 decades. We are committed to the North and its diverse Peoples, and have a passion for safety.

I am a Paddle Canada Master Instructor, holding Advanced Instructor Trainer certifications in Lake, Moving Water and Canoe Camping. I am a Sea Kayak Instructor Trainer, a River Kayak Instructor, and a Big Canoe Intermediate Instructor. 

I have instructed or directed 266 Paddle Canada registered courses since 2000, when Paddle Canada started its amazing data base. I am going to guess at an additional 130 courses in the 22 years between 1977 and 1999.

I came by my interest in water sports honestly. Both my mom and dad were competitive rowers. My Mom, Betty Christopher, was on the first Canadian Women’s rowing team. If you are ever in Rennie Park in St. Catharines, check out the plaque commemorating these women who certainly made a wave back in the forties, competing against the men.

My parents’ competitive spirit wore off on me. I was a member of the Canadian National Whitewater Kayak team and competed at the World Whitewater Championships in Bala, Wales, in 1981. I competed at 6 Arctic Winter Games, winning several medals in cross country skiing and biathlon, and was chosen in 1994 as NWT Outstanding Female Athlete of the Year.

While attending the University of Alberta’s Outdoor Education Program from 1976 to 1979, I was privileged to learn from outstanding canoe and kayak instructors such as Mark Lund, Henri Burreau and the O’Brien Brothers, who shaped my skills with technical precision – something I have in turn passed on to my students. My first experience in a canoe was in the spring of 1976, attending “Warm Weather Outdoor Education 208”.  The course was a canoe trip on the North Saskatchewan River from Nordegg to Rocky Mountain House. Leading the trip was paddling legend Mark Lund and outdoor survival guru Mors Kochanski. We lived under a parachute. We built sweat lodges. We learned what plants you could eat, drink, or smoke. I had never sat in a canoe before but was instantly hooked on canoeing and the outdoors. We trembled with fear as Mark talked for days about “Devil’s Elbow”, a particularly nasty bend in the river where there certainly would be death defying tips and swims. I am proud to say I received a DF in the course. (That stands for Damn Fine in the Mark Lund grading system.)

Since then, I have paddled numerous rivers across Canada, including the Burnside, Clearwater, Slave, Nahanni, and Coppermine, to name a few. I am one of a select few, however, who has paddled down Main Street in Yellowknife during the flash flood of 1984.

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Paddling down Main Street in Yellowknife 1984

My first memory of connecting with CRCA was in the Spring of 1982, when I was invited to a CRCA meeting, I think it was in Toronto. I remember being very pregnant at the time, with my first daughter. The focus of the meeting was to discuss a nationally recognized and accepted canoe certification program – a project that took a couple of decades to complete, followed by another decade to finally have national buy-in. 

At the time, I was the first President of the fledgling NWT Canoeing Association. I later became President of the NWT Kayak Association. I served off and on, on the CRCA Leadership Development Committee between 1982 and 2008. My main interest was to ensure that the voice of paddlers living in rural and remote areas was heard and their unique needs understood. I was also interested in infusing into the program the rich variety of skills that measure an accomplished paddler, instead of simply striving for straighter lines and tighter circles. 

The road to establishing a high quality national program was long and arduous. The skills had to be objectively measurable, while allowing for interpretations based on regional conditions. Once the Committee had what we thought was a decent program, the real work began – convincing the national paddling community of its value and enticing buy-in. This was no easy feat. There were already existing programs in a number of jurisdictions. One province in particular would only agree to buy in to the concept if ‘their’ program was adopted as the national standard. I am sad to say there was much squabbling and posturing, and at times it was very discouraging for committee members who had worked so hard and volunteered so much time to the process. This was followed a few years later by a confrontation of sorts between the ‘funded’ canoe schools and the entrepreneurs who tried to eke out a living by running commercial paddling schools. In the end, we all kissed and made up, and moved forward. The program has continued to steadily improve over the years. I have been around long enough to be able to say, “Hey, we tried that back in the eighties, and it didn’t work.” Man I feel old!
One of my favourite memories of these meetings is a frequent expression from Lyle Dickieson, Committee Representative from BC. When we would get tangled up in which skill should be at what level, he would pipe up and say, “Come on, guys. Can we at least agree that we put the fat end in the water?!”

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In closing, I would like to express my deep appreciation for my mentors, and all those in the paddling community who have invested time and energy in the Paddle Canada’s Mission to promote, educate and support the recreational paddling community across our nation and across the decades. Here’s to the next 50 years!
Life is like a river: Sometimes placid, sometimes turbulent; gaining strength from the journey of different streams; flowing ever on with the promise of discovery around every corner…So paddle on and may you encounter sweetly flowing waters on your journey.

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