Breaking Ice

A Sunset Ice Canoe Experience in Québec

Photo: Francis Gagnon/Tourism Quebec

Photo: Francis Gagnon/Tourism Quebec

To understand what ice canoeing is all about, you first have to let go of any preconceived notions you might have of canoeing. This is not going to be a serene paddle along a forest-lined lake in cottage country.

Picture instead frosty winds blowing in your face, ice spikes on your shoes, and the unsettling feeling of pushing against broken ice covering a 35-foot-deep tidal river, the scent of its brackish waters filling your nose even in the depth of winter.

This is Canadian winter sport at its finest, a tradition that dates back to the early days of life along the shores of the St. Lawrence River — and a must-try for anyone looking for a unique Quebecois experience

Photo Laurene Bath

Photo Laurene Bath

My friend Alicia Blackwood and I were in Quebec City for a relaxing winter weekend of spa treatments and French cuisine. But being the fitness enthusiasts that we are, we couldn't resist an invitation from Destination Quebec Cité to take part in a sunset ice canoeing experience with Canot á Glace Expérience.

Aurelie and Alicia gearing up for the ice canoeing experience

Aurelie and Alicia gearing up for the ice canoeing experience

It is still light out when we arrive at the riverfront location where we will be launching our canoes. We find a heated trailer where we are given appropriate clothing, such as mitts, waterproof footwear with ice spikes, chin guards, and lifejackets, as well as instructions on how not to fall into the cold water or get hurt on the spiky oars.

Soon we are ready to push off.

Ice canoeing consists of switching from fast paddling on open water to pushing off with one foot (while the other one remains bent at the knee inside the canoe) when you encounter ice. It is a full-body workout with an element of excitement that comes from being on the wide St. Lawrence. As the setting sun casts a golden glow over the historic city, we learn the ins and outs of navigating ice.

It is exhilarating, immersive, and super fun.

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Today, ice canoeing is done for fun and sport.

During the annual Winter Carnival in Quebec City, teams race each other to much applause across the icy river every February. Visitors and locals alike can try their hand at ice canoeing throughout the winter months just like we did.

But the practice harkens back to the days before roads, trains, and bridges. It was used by First Nations to navigate the semi-frozen river and was once the only means of connection in the winter between the early settlers who lived in small riverside communities and islands like the Isle-aux-Coudres off the shores of Charlevoix or the Île d'Orléans by Quebec City.

Our three-hour venture into the frosty waters of the St. Lawrence ends with a celebration and a feeling of accomplishment. We feel well-deserving of what comes next: a delicious dinner and pampering at the Strøm Nordic Spa the following day.

More about that another time...

Aurélie Gilles

Aurélie Gilles is the Director of Canadian Travel at Landsby. An intrepid traveller, Aurélie has cycled through Antigua, backpacked through Thailand and explored much of Africa. She grew up in a small fishing village in Normandy and lived in Paris before making Toronto her home. She loves to explore Canada with her twins in tow and is always up for an adventure.

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