Canoeing entrepreneurs find bliss on Sahtu rivers

Canoeing entrepreneurs find bliss on Sahtu rivers
From left, Taylor Pace, Al Pace and Lin Ward spend every summer leading canoe tours for Canoe North Adventures.Photo: Ken Powell.

Lin Ward spends her winters hard at work in Ontario, but come summer when she and her husband once again travel up to Norman Wells to launch their canoes and dip their paddles into one of the Sahtu’s pristine rivers, life’s good again.

“That’s what’s amazing about canoe trips, is how simple things are once you’re on the river. It’s more like what we think life should be than what life is,” Ward shared with The Journal. “All the responsibilities fall off your shoulders and there you are just out there having a great time.”

It’s that sense of outdoor serenity that Ward, co-owner and operator of Canoe North Adventures, wants all her clients to find during their 10-15 day trips on one of the seven NWT rivers the tour company guides.

Ward and her business partner and husband Al Pace run their canoe adventure company out of a lodge near Norman Wells and have been operating for more than 20 years.

The history behind the company dates back to the 1970s when Pace first got a taste of Arctic canoeing on a trip down the Coppermine River in northern NWT and what is now Nunavut.

“He was an Ontario paddler, but that just launched him into paddling in the North and that kind of dragged me into it too,” Ward explained.

Traveling and paddling in various Arctic communities eventually brought the couple to Norman Wells where they decided the landscape and canoeing opportunities were unmatched.

“Norman Wells is unique in the world for what it offers in wilderness canoe tripping: the variety of rivers, the number of rivers, the beauty of them and the remote, but accessible wilderness,” Ward said.

The canoeing couple could only ward off friends demanding attendance on their Arctic adventure trips for so long, she said. Canoe North Adventures was inevitably born with a home base in Norman Wells.

Ward said its remote location means the company can easily offer 10-15 day trips covering hundreds of miles down the river in complete, breathtaking wilderness.

While it started off small and struggling, the company has grown significantly over the last several years, due in part to the burgeoning appeal of adventure tourism. Convincing southerners to adventure to the North is becoming less and less difficult, Ward said.

“There are a lot of people now really trying to market the North and the Northwest Territories,” she said. “There’s huge adventure up here and people are starting to come.”

Since 2009, the company has tripled its business and added the expertise of Ward and Pace’s son, Taylor Pace. Between the three of them, the company ran 10 trips for approximately 120 clients last year.

In 2012, Canoe North Adventures’ Keele River tour was named a Canadian Signature Experience by the Canadian Tourism Commission, joining the ranks of the Calgary Stampede, Whistler Blackcomb and the CN Tower.

Company wins Frozen Globe

Ward strayed from her usual winter-summer travel routine and made the trip to the NWT last week to receive not one, but two giant balls of glass, also known as the Frozen Globe awards.

The awards are given out annually by Up Here Business Magazine to the NWT’s top businesses. Standing out amidst a plethora of contenders, Canoe North Adventures took home two titles: Top NWT Entrepreneur and Overall Top Northern Entrepreneur.

“I came back with two eight-pound glass globes in my suitcase!” Ward exclaimed with a laugh.

With so many amazing companies in the nominations, including Yellowknife’s My Backyard Tours, Polar Eggs in Hay River and Aurora Village in Yellowknife, Ward said she was shocked by the nomination, never mind actually receiving the award.

“It’s a huge honour to win it,” she said.

Ward credited the business comradery in the Sahtu with the company’s success.

“People are so welcoming and so helpful. We went to Norman Wells because the rivers are so beautiful, but also because of the support that we got when we went there,” she said.

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  • […] Lin Ward spends her winters hard at work in Ontario, but come summer when she and her husband once again travel up to Norman Wells to launch their canoes and dip their paddles into one of the Sahtu’s pristine rivers, life’s good again.  […]


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