Blackwater Paddlers president Ron Watteyne raises a new Canadian flag on the flagpole near Voyageur Rock near Ceal Tingley Park Wednesday, Dec. 11. The Blackwater Paddlers replace the flag about every two years, and this year, Ted Martindale donated the new flag. (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)

Blackwater Paddlers maintain Voyageur Rock along Quesnel’s riverfront

Ted Martindale has donated a new flag for the club to fly

There’s a very large, very significant rock on the riverbank, not far from Ceal Tingley Park. It’s currently covered in snow, but even under a blanket of white, it would be hard to miss.

This is Voyageur Rock. Beside it is an interpretive sign and a very tall flagpole flying a Canadian flag, atop which sits a weather vane featuring the silhouette of a voyageur canoe filled with paddlers.

This rock was present in this spot when Alexander Mackenzie, a Northwest Company fur trader and explorer who became the first European to cross North America north of Mexico, stopped here in 1793 in his search for a safe route to the Pacific Ocean.

It’s a significant spot for people who are interested in history, and it’s particularly significant to the Blackwater Paddlers, Quesnel’s canoe and kayak paddling club. The club’s focus is multi-faceted, with activities that involve flat water and white water paddling instruction, paddling safety, canoe tripping and camping, advocating for maintaining the health of all waterways, and paddling history, with a special focus on voyageur canoeing.

The Blackwater Paddlers Club was established in 1993, and that year, club members constructed a 26-foot cedar strip voyageur canoe, the Blackwater Dancer, which has been used ever since to introduce club members and others to voyageur canoeing. Construction of this canoe marked the 200th anniversary of the date that Mackenzie described the junction of the Fraser and Mackenzie rivers in his journal.

To mark this special place and a significant event in Canadian history, the Blackwater Paddlers arranged for the establishment of what has become known as Voyageur Rock, explained club member Jeff Dinsdale.

With City of Quesnel assistance, the club erected a significant flagpole adjacent to a large rock on the riverbank near Ceal Tingley Park. To complement this location, the City constructed a short trail leading to this spot from the Riverfront Trail. This quiet trail crosses a short bridge, and at the base of the flagpole, an interpretive sign quotes from Mackenzie’s journal entry of July 23, 1793.

According to the Blackwater Paddlers, Mackenzie first passed by this place June 21, 1973, and his journal notes passing “where a large river [the Quesnel River] flowed in from the left, and a smaller one [Baker Creek] from the right.”

Mackenzie mistakenly thought he was on the Columbia River, and he continued south for 45 kilometres to an area now known as Alexandria. Convinced by local aboriginal guides that this river did not offer a safe route to the ocean, Mackenzie turned back upstream and once again reached this particular spot. His journal notes for July 23, 1793, describe the location of present-day Quesnel, the home territory of the Lhtako Dené Nation, and mention finding the tracks of people in the mud at the mouth of what is now known as Baker Creek and a deserted lodge at the entrance of what is now called the Quesnel River.

Continuing his upstream journey, Mackenzie left this river at the mouth of the West Road River, a tributary 55 kilometres north of the Fraser/Quesnel confluence that is today known as the Blackwater River. With the help of local First Nations guides, Mackenzie’s crew made their way westward on foot, following the Nuxalk-Dakelh Great Trail, a link between Fraser River and Pacific tidewater First Nations. The route led to the Bella Coola River and eventually to the Pacific coast.

“It is significant that it is Mackenzie’s journey that established a western coastline, which gave physical shape to the future country of Canada,” noted Dinsdale.

As part of the agreement with the City of Quesnel when the Voyageur Rock site was created, the Blackwater Paddlers agreed to provide new Canadian flags as needed, usually every 24 months, according to Dinsdale.

Dinsdale and club president Ron Watteyne replaced the flag Wednesday, Dec. 11, and this year, they are grateful to have received a donated flag to fly on their flagpole.

“It is time to replace the existing flag, and the club was very pleased when local resident Ted Martindale approached them, offering to purchase the replacement flag for the club,” said Dinsdale. “It is appropriate that the Canadian maple leaf is flying proudly at this spot.”

Martindale, who owns Granville’s Coffee, has also put up large Canadian flags on his Granville’s highway signs, and he says the flag on Two Mile Flat is the same size as the flag that flies at the Peace Tower in Ottawa.

READ MORE: Special presentation to be offered at Quesnel’s Blackwater Paddlers Wrap-Up

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The weathervane at the top of the Voyageur Rock flagpole features the silhouette of a voyageur canoe filled with paddlers. (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)

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