New Canadians learning skills and belonging through Learn to Paddle program

CALGARY — Some nights there are as many as 20 people gingerly stepping into the canoes at Carburn Park, their first experience in a water craft that has connected this vast land for more than 1,000 years.

Participants are signed up through Immigrant Services Calgary, and qualified paddling instructors walk them through everything from putting on a life jacket and getting in and out safely, to draws, pries and j-strokes.

“When newcomers come to Canada, we are worried about housing, employment and the recreational doesn’t always come first,” said Erika Tam with Immigrant Services Calgary.

“They need to find a new identity of how they are in Canada, so canoeing is one of the ways of integrating,” Tan said.

Learning to paddle is also a way for some to connect with new friends. Eunice Olorunleke said she wants to go camping, but felt she needed to develop some comfort on the water and some basic skills.

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“I said: ‘Okay. Let me just try,” Olorunleke says. “I would love to travel with them to go camping, so I said let me just come and learn how to paddle so that I can go with them.”

The lessons are free, part of a federal grant program given to Canoe Kayak Canada. Local clubs Rocky Mountain Paddling Centre, Bow Waters Canoe Club and Waterwerks Kayak Club provide a mix of equipment and instructors.

The learn to paddle program has only one more session this year.

Canoes can be rented in Calgary for as little as $25 a day, making them a fun and affordable option for families.

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