When he stops to think about the fact he paddled 5,600 kilometers in a kayak to attend Expo 67, Gene Tetreault shakes his head.
“Sometimes I don’t know how we did it,” the 82 year old said of the journey he made with his friends Art Morris and Joe Meany.
This summer Tetreault will travel to the Atikokan, Ont. where the kayak they travelled in is on permanent display.
He will be celebrating the kayak’s 60th birthday and encourages anyone traveling through the area to stop in and see the display at the Atikonan Centennial Museum.
The 120-pound, 24-foot-long boat was made for the team in Cooksville, Ont. to fit the three of them for a paddle from Rocky Mountain House, Alberta to Montreal, Quebec.
“We paddled 40 days and 40 nights, sleeping in the kayak, and completed it in the fastest time ever,” Tetreault said, noting their record has never been broken.
Their trip was filled with adventures.
Often the three had to portage, with one of the longest distances being 174 miles along the highway.
“We had blisters coming out of our ears,” Tereault recalled.
Another time while he was sleeping he woke up with a goose resting on his chest while they were paddling down the Northern Saskatchewan River.
“They’d rescued it from the water because it had a broken neck, but I woke up and thought I’d died,” he said.
Money to have the kayak made came from an $18,000 federal government grant earmarked for Canadians finding ways to celebrate Expo 67.
Along the entire way, people followed their journey and every 100 miles brought them supplies.
When they arrived in Montreal, there were 100,000 people there to greet them.
Jean Drapeau, who was mayor at the time, gave them the keys to the city and welcomed them at his office with a shot of cognac.
The idea for the trek emerged in his basement over a bottle of whiskey. Tetreault and Meany had started competing in canoe races in 1963, eventually winning the Canadian Championship in 1964 that saw them race on a 27-mile course from Jellicoe, Ontario to Beardmore.
Tetreault was born in Pinewood, Ont. near Rainy River and grew up loving the water.
“As a kid I loved exploring and was intrigued by the stories of the voyageurs,” he said.
Meany died a year ago in Atikokan, while Morris lives in Pembrooke, Ontario.
Tetreault arrived in Williams Lake with his family in 1979 to work at Gibraltar Mine as a millwright. His wife Myrna worked as a nurse at the hospital, and died five years ago at the age of 74.
These days Tetreault still hits the water, but as a swimmer, doing 22 laps.
“I’m not a very good swimmer,” he said, chuckling. “It takes me about two hours.”