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The Best Little Kayak Festival You’ve Never Heard Of

• Credit: Martin Lortz
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The Best Little Kayak Festival You’ve Never Heard Of

The Great Canadian Kayak Challenge in Timmins

Timmins is an interesting place.

A quarter of all the gold in the entire world has come out of Timmins. You could easily say that gold, and it’s plentifulness, is what defines Timmins.

But the Timmins I saw one weekend in August during the Great Canadian Kayak Challenge changes that notion entirely. My home base for the weekend was Cedar Meadows Resort and Spa, a place I’ve stayed at often throughout my travels in Northeastern Ontario, but never for an entire weekend.

Cedar MeadowsThe Front Entrance of Cedar Meadows Resort, Spa and Wildlife Park

There are very few places in Ontario, let alone the North, that are as…magical as Cedar Meadows. Yes, it is a resort, but it’s more than that. Owner Richard LaFleur has poured his heart and soul into this place and it shows.

The rooms are well appointed and comfortable, with great views of the surrounding grounds especially in the rear of the buildings where you’re looking out on the gardens; a favourite wedding spot for the locals.

But it’s the rest of Cedar Meadows that really sells it at a truly unique destination unto itself, and emblematic of the depth that Timmins has as a city.

There’s the full-blown Scandinavian style spa, with both wet and dry saunas, hot tub and cold pool, swimming pool and two relaxation rooms. They also offer every conceivable service that a traditional spa offers.

Cedar Meadows Spa in Timmins OntarioThe Nordic Baths

And then of course there is the wildlife park. Scattered over a good half dozen acres are bison, moose, deer, elk, geese, ducks, and probably 20 other types of animals I can’t easily name. Tours run daily and on-demand, depending on the size of the group; my tour at sunset was probably as magical as it gets.

Cedar Meadows Bison

I could spend so much time writing about Cedar Meadows and how this weary travelled got totally rejuvenated there (after about 20 days on the road at that time) but Timmins is much more than this.

Over the course of the weekend I finally had a chance to explore the entire city; not just the Great Canadian Kayak Challenge. And that’s what this weekend is really all about - taking in the races and attractions at the events, but also exploring one of Northeastern Ontario’s truly great cities.

Kayak Challenge First Nations Dancing

Before, after and in between the official events like the kayak races, awards ceremonies, live entertainment (which included First Nations dancing and a performance by The Stampeders on Saturday night), I explored the city and took in local cuisine and some of their better known attractions.

After kicking off the festival with some races viewed first hand from the luxury of the press pontoon boat, I headed into town – first stop was the McIntyre headframe.

McIntyre Headframe

This is less a stop than a drive-by, but it’s probably the most recognizable icon in Timmins and a blazing symbol of how integral mining is to this town.

Next stop was the Timmins Museum, and more specifically the Hollinger House they have on display there. These homes were built throughout Timmins’ last mining boom (there’s another, less visible, one going on right now) to house the workers and their families are a marvel of efficiency. In many cases two families would share these small spaces. The museum has one setup exactly as it would have been, complete with milk bottles and period-correct furniture.

Hollinger House

A short jaunt across the street and I’m at Gillies Lake checking out the Timmins Wake Park, the only System 2.0 wakeboard park in Ontario, complementing the water-based nature of the Kayak Challenge event. I didn’t bring my bathing suit but the kids were having a total blast getting up their confidence as the cable pulled them across the lake.

Timmins Wakeboard ParkTimmins Wakeboard Park

And it finally struck home, that Timmins is an outdoors city. People love to get out and spend time in the wilderness. While this could be said of any northern community, it felt so much more integrated here. I didn’t meet a single person who didn’t say they were going fishing, or snowmobiling, or hiking or even just out to their camp every chance they got.

Back at the Kayak Festival on Sunday, I chatted with the OutdoorSmart guys about on-water safety, had some bannock and ribs, watched the kids frolic in their facepaint on the giant inflatable UFO, saw a bit of the Highlands Dance Competition, and watched the awards ceremonies for the Kayak races.


I saw some incredible determination from all the competitors, but by far my favourites were the celebrity races and the lower rungs of the amateur races – the pros were incredible to watch, far beyond any capability I could ever imagined myself having, but watching the amateurs fight just to stay in the race…it actually got my blood racing. The stand up paddleboard competitions were even more fierce, and I know firsthand how hard it is to stay standing!

Even though the event continued onto the Sunday, the big finale for me had to be watching The Stampeders play on Saturday night - and based on the attendance, it was for many other people. I should mention that there were some genuinely talented local bands playing before The Stampeders, but they clearly stole the show with plenty of wannabe groupies clutching records in the front row.

The Stampeders in Timmins

 Although I’d visited Timmins before, I really feel like I finally understood the city this time; by glimpsing into it’s past and getting to experience it’s present first hand, it all made sense. It’s a resource rich city that thrives on being outdoors, and with the wealth of things to do even when you’re not at the Kayak Festival, it won’t disappoint. Next year’s festival is slated for the last week of August; keep that weekend open!

A final note on the event:

You don’t spend a weekend in a town without sampling plenty of it’s local restos, so here are the best I checked out while on this trip.

  • Siva’s Family Restaurant, with probably one of the most comprehensive buffet’s I’ve come across in the north. Delicious food from every corner of the world, including Canada!
  • Hollinger House Bakery and Deli has baked goods and sandwiches, perfect for the rider on the go. If you’re heading north (or south) and don’t have your next meal planned, it’s easy to jam one of their sandwiches in your saddlebag.
  • The McIntyre Coffee Shop in the McIntyre arena is an incredibly storied place to grab traditional fare. Photos of hockey stars of years passed cover the walls and it’s no surprise. Northern Ontario produces a disproportionately large amount of professional hockey players – heck the Montreal Canadiens actually started as a New Liskeard team!
  • Chez Nous is a legendary poutine palace; although it’s looks deceive with a convenience store front, make no mistake; their poutine dominates.
  • Cedar Meadows Restaurant; by far one of my favourites for formal dining. I had the brunch on Sunday and was not left wanting for anything.

Check out updates on next years event at http://www.thegreatcanadiankayakchallenge.com/

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