Forget hotcakes—I guarantee nothing sells as fast as a used canoe in Yellowknife. Every summer, new ‘knifers and old lifers enter the quasi-lottery of buy-and-sell groups on social media hoping to land a cheap canoe. Or, at least, cheap when compared
to buying one new.
My partner and I were no different. The summer after moving up, we failed to find one. Luckily, we had a friend with an extra canoe that we could borrow whenever we wanted. However, we came to understand why it was rarely used, following a summer of weekend portages with the 75-pound behemoth over our heads.
When summer 2020 rolled around, getting out on the water became a matter of public health. But still no luck.
Then, in mid-August and late in the North’s canoeing season, we messaged a seller in Hay River on a whim. He’d put an ad up only seven minutes earlier. He responded immediately: Someone had beaten us. We were next in line.
Pfft. Next in line. We’d heard that already and nothing ever panned out.
The next morning, we drove out to Yellowknife’s sand pits for an Ultimate tournament. It was a grey, gloomy day.
Suddenly, a ray of light, via text message: “The canoe is still available if you are still interested... Should have asked more for it, have had 10 people contact me about it... lol.”
What exactly were we (and apparently 10 other people) interested in? A 16-foot Mad River Explorer LT in great shape for $1,300. To us, it was a diamond among the rusty aluminium boats and weather-ravaged beaters we’d seen all summer. But it was almost 500 kilometres away in Hay River.
Instantly, we agreed to drive down the next day. However, doubt crept in between our games. Was it really worth making the five-hour drive there, and the five hours back, in one day to check out a canoe? We did love the beautiful indigo colour, though. And why wait until tomorrow? If we left after the tournament, we might be exhausted but we could camp overnight to break up the drive. Plus, we should probably act fast if we wanted to beat the other next-in-liners.
Just before dinnertime, we loaded our aching legs into the car and began the commute to the other side of Great Slave Lake, getting to Hay River shortly after 10 p.m. We stopped at the beachside campground, hoping to snag a last-minute spot, but there was no one to let us in.
Well, we might as well check out the canoe. We pulled into a dim driveway, idling for an uncomfortable length of time before realizing we were in the wrong spot. (Did I mention this was our first time in Hay River?) It took another half-hour of wrong turns and backtracking in the dark before arriving at a beautiful home on the shores of the big lake.
We spotted the silhouette of the canoe. The seller met us outside and told us the boat had served him well but wasn’t being used anymore. We pulled our headlamps on and inspected it for blemishes like jewel appraisers. There were a few dings and scratches. One deeper gash. Character, y’know?
As we ran our hands along the hull, the oldest dog I’ve ever seen ambled towards us blindly. The seller’s white husky treated us like an elderly greeter at a big box store, kindly but dutifully monitoring us as we assessed the goods.
And we liked what we saw: aluminium gunnels, a Royalex hull, and an upgraded yoke. The yoke had a little cut-out to sit more comfortably on the shoulders, alleviating pressure on the neck when portaging. Quick science lesson: the bone that juts out at the base of your neck is the C7 vertebrae—the vertebra prominens.
Now I’m not sure if mine is especially prominens, but any weight on it brings me to my knees in seconds. That yoke was a game-changer.
No haggling would be necessary. We sent an e-transfer. The canoe was ours.
Under normal circumstances, we would be on our merry way, but it was pushing midnight and we had to figure out where to sleep. We’d scoped out the beach, but mounds of driftwood hogged most of it. The seller pointed to his backyard: “You can just stay here if you want.” We thanked him profusely, before pegging our tent behind his home.
Finally, snug in our sleeping bags, we began to laugh. The day had started gloomy and canoeless in Yellowknife and now, here we were, five hours away, in a stranger’s backyard, and a canoe strapped to our car.