Expo 67 participant dips his paddle for War of 1812

The Sault Star

Flotilla is last hurrah for Bill Stadnyk

By Brian Kelly, The Sault Star

Bill Stadnyky, 82, of Sault Ste. Marie, is one of more than 40 paddlers who joined a War of 1812 flotilla. The group left the Sault on Sunday, July 15, 2012 and will arrive at Fort St. Joseph on St. Joseph Island on Tuesday, July 17, 2012. (BRIAN KELLY/THE SAULT STAR/QMI AGENCY)

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Bill Stadnyk helped make history in 1967.

On Sunday, he stepped back into history.

The Anglican priest was one of more than 40 paddlers who slipped into four canoes, two Montreal and two North, and three kayaks at Algoma Sailing Club.

The flotilla is making its way east to Fort St. Joseph on St. Joseph Island. There, they’ll help mark the 200th anniversary of the capture of Fort Michilimackinac. The early military victory for the British was made possible by the help of a coalition of several different groups including First Nations, Metis and francophones.

Stadnyk, 82, was part of a church group that canoed from Georgian Bay to Montreal for Expo 67 during Canada’s centennial.

He was one of six adult leaders paddling alongside 33 teenagers from Camp Manitou near Whitefish Falls. Their goal over the 17-day experience was to travel as voyageurs would have during the fur trade era.

“It wasn’t a pleasure trip,” said Stadnyk on Sunday morning.

“It was a drive from beginning to end. You pushed it real hard.”

The group left shortly after daylight and paddled until dark daily. On their best days, the Camp Manitou group covered 80 kilometres in what would now be known as North canoes.

Interest in that trip far exceeded initial expectations. Two canoes were initially put aside for the journey. Three more had to be added.

Similar stronger-than-anticipated interest welcomed the War of 1812 flotilla.

“It was an event that was a complement to the larger event (at Fort St. Joseph),” Cindy Ellen Crawford, regional project manager for Algoma 1812, told paddlers.

“It’s taken legs, or paddles, of its own. It’s become a huge event.”

Comments about the flotilla from people who visited her office at Roberta Bondar Pavilion have “been overwhelming at times.” They were enthusiastic about the event and the chance to remember a key historical military victory involving Sault Ste. Marie and area and the War of 1812.

“(It) has really moved a lot of people to come forward and get involved,” said Crawford.

“You’re the new alliance that we’re looking at in pulling people together to celebrate and commemorate this bicentennial.”

For Stadnyk, father of six with 18 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, the three-day trek to Fort St. Joseph is a last hurrah. A canoeing enthusiast, he estimates he and his wife, Doreen, have covered thousands of miles in Northern Ontario. He has paddled seriously for 55 years.

“I guess this is my last kick at the can, I figure, as far as canoe tripping goes,” said Stadnyk.

“I thought this is a good chance to take advantage of it. I’ve always been interested in the (War of) 1812. I’ll be delighted to take part of the remembrance of the War of 1812.”

The flotilla travelled to Richards Landing on Sunday. Paddlers stopped for lunch at Squirrel Island in Garden River First Nation. Lake George, the likeliest spot where problems could happen, followed.

“That’s our biggest traverse of open water that we’ll have in the three days,” said Mark Crofts, flotilla chair, told participants.

“(It’s) not deep water, but it’s wide.”

A day earlier at Sault Ste. Marie Museum, Crofts paid tribute to the coalition forces who joined a small number of British regulars to capture Fort Michilimackinac.

“I’m personally deeply moved by the contribution that especially the First Nations people made for that effort,” he told a crowd in the Durham Gallery.

“Without that contribution this place would be very different. There’s absolutely no doubt about that.”

A Sault Search and Rescue vessel accompanied the paddlers. A van, with trailer, also followed the group on land.

“We’ve gone through a number of contingency plans for hopefully any scenario that we’ll never experience ideally,” said Crawford.

The flotilla prepared to leave the Sault under partly cloudy skies. The temperature was 21 C.

The paddlers are from several different communities including Elliot Lake and Batchawana Bay. Each participant was given a sash by the Metis Nation of Ontario.

Stadnyk still has his sash from his Expo 67 trip, but he left it at home and accepted a new one for his latest trip. He did bring a paddle he used in 1967.

“We’re going to have fun,” said Crofts on Saturday.

“We’re going to learn a little bit of history by trying in our humble way to repeat what those 700 or so folks did back in time. I’m awestruck by what they accomplished.”

This year’s major event marking the War of 1812 bicentennial is Tuesday at Fort St. Joseph. It runs from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Parking is limited at the fort. A free shuttle service will ferry the public from event parking at Richards Landing centennial grounds at Highway 548 and D Line and Jocelyn Mountain View grounds at P Line and Highway 548.

A bus will leave Ermatinger-Clergue National Historic Site in the Sault at 9 a.m. Cost is $5 per person or $10 per family. To reserve, call 705-949-1812.

The bus returns in the early and late afternoon.

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