By Celina Ip
One northern Ontario resident completed the ultimate Canadian adventure in honour of the country’s war veterans.
45-year-old Mike Ranta, native of Atikokan, ON – the canoeing capital of Canada, took the road less travelled by engaging in a solo canoe trip from coast to coast across the Canadian waterways.
The staggering 200-day paddle began off the coast of Richmond, B.C. on April 1st and ended in Cape Breton, N.S. this past Oct. 18th.
The ambitious trip follows up on Ranta’s first cross-Canada paddle from Vancouver, B.C. to Tatamagouch, N.S. in 2014.
The 2014 paddle was a 214-day journey that earned Ranta the recognition as being the first person to cross Canada solo in a canoe in one season.
Now, along with being the first and only person to complete the impossible watery adventure across Canada solo and in one season, Ranta’s 2016 trip made him the first person to complete the journey twice.
“It’s something that’s always been in my heart and I’ve really taken to it in the last 10 years or so,” said Ranta. “I’ve really been starting to do some endurance paddles and some charity paddles and it’s very addicting.”
But while being recognized for doing the trip solo, Ranta said that he was never truly paddling solo as he had his beloved dog Spitzii right by his side from start to finish through both the 2014 and 2016 trip.
Ranta lovingly expressed how eight-year-old Finnish Spitz is his best friend and companion who kept him motivated and in good spirits throughout his lengthy paddling trips.
“As for being alone, I’ve always got my pup with me and he’s my best friend. I’ve had him since he was just a wee little fella and I’ve got a really unique bond with him,” said Ranta.
For the 2016 journey, Ranta and Spitzii paddled an impressive 7,500 kilometres from the watery coasts of British Columbia all the way to Nova Scotia.
The adventure across the waterways truly was a watery experience as he endured 170 bouts of rain throughout the 200 days.
“It was a really wet year,” laughed Ranta.
Paddling along some of the old voyageur routes, Ranta had the chance to traverse through the Kootenay Lake, Lake Diefenbaker, Lake Winnipeg, Lake of the Woods, Georgian Bay, the French River, Lake Nipissing, Trout Lake, the Ottawa River, the St. Lawrence River and a number of lakes and rivers from west to east until reaching his final destination off the coast of Cape Breton.
The modern-day voyageur said that the recent journey was dedicated to Canadian veterans as a way to raise awareness about the sacrifices they made and to show his appreciation.
“I just wanted to say thanks especially to our WWII men and women,” said Ranta. “It’s a generation we’re losing fast and I really wanted to say thanks to them. They’re an amazing group of people.”
He expressed how he had always dreamed of doing something exceptional to honour those thousands of brave men and women and to show his gratitude for the ultimate gift of peace and security that they achieved for Canadians all over.
In particular, he said that he chose to honour veterans during this last trek after hearing heartbreaking news that some of them were living on the streets and the government is continuing to turn a blind eye over them.
“We’re taking a half million refugees in a year in this country and yet we’ve got about 200,000 veterans living in our streets. We cant change that? Of course we can. I think we can help all of these people,” said Ranta. “10 per cent of our homeless people are veterans and many of them have mental health issues and the suicide rates are off the charts. It’s not going to take money – it’s going to take love, compassion, going up there to them and building a relationship. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out when you see somebody in the street to help them. And it embarrasses the hell out of me that we’ve got WWII men and women on our streets and here we are taking in other people from other countries – while I think we have the money to help both.”
In every town and city he stopped in, Ranta visited the local Legions to meet with veterans and have them sign his 18-foot canoe.
Over the 200 days, he visited around 50 Legions and collected more than 1,000 signatures from Canada’s veterans.
Ranta expressed his honour at having had the opportunity to meet those veterans, shake their hands and hear their inspirational tales of courage and sacrifice for their beloved country.
One of Ranta’s most touching moments from his journey involved a serendipitous meeting with a 98-year-old veteran while they were both traversing through Keremeos, B.C.
“I was walking down towards Keremeos and little blue truck pulled up and this old guy came out and introduced himself. He had a bit of a limp and said he was 80 years old and that he really appreciated what I was doing,” said Ranta. “So we started talking and I said ‘where did you serve?’ and he said ‘actually, I couldn’t due to a medical reason with my feet. But my dad is in the truck, would you mind saying hello to him?’”
Ranta went on to describe the eye-opening conversation he engaged in with the man’s father and war veteran.
Despite being 98 years old, the man was still very sharp and spry and gave a poignant account of his experiences while serving during the Battle of Normandy and how he lost 83 men in one day.
“As you he told me the story, you could still see that fear in his eyes as if he was reliving the experience right then and there,” said Ranta. “He was telling me how he and five other guys tried to make a run for it but only three of them made it. Two were killed by shrapnel and one by a sniper. Then he started naming names and I was crying as he was telling me this and so was his son. It was a pretty emotional moment and pretty amazing that I drew that out of him.”
Before saying goodbye to the father and son, Ranta had the veteran sign a panel on his canoe and before parting ways the son told Ranta something that he would remember forever.
“As the son walked me back to my canoe, I was just awed by these two men. There was 178 years of experience right in front of me and it’s pretty humbling when you get a war veteran saying ‘thank you’ to you,” said Ranta. “And before leaving, his son told me that that was the first time he had heard his father tell that whole story sober. So I think that even after 80 years of being together, when he got back into that truck with his dad they made a new connection and had a newfound respect for one another.”
According to Ranta, that was just one of many memorable encounters he had along his 200-day voyage.
Along with meeting a number of veterans and other Canadians from east to west, Ranta also had the pleasure of encountering a variety of wildlife and traversing through a diverse array of watersheds, river-systems, eco-systems.
The canoeist detailed some of those wondrous moments he experienced during his impossible watery adventure across the Canadian landscape.
“While travelling across the Qu’Appelle River in South Saskatchewan I saved a baby moose, a baby duck and a turtle,” said Ranta. “And throughout my entire journey I ended up seeing 18 bears and two mountain lions.”
Upon completing his journey on Oct. 18, Ranta began sharing his unique story and inspirational message at schools and various community organizations around his home province of Ontario.
On Nov. 15, Ranta made a special stop in Pembroke to share his experiences and photos from his journey with students at Highview Public School and local friends who live in the area.
“It felt like i was going through a life cycle throughout my journey and as if I was reborn again,” said Ranta. “I got such a beautiful energy and I can’t say enough about the people – veterans and Canadians from all over – there was no negativity at all. I extended that old branch to everyone I met and got a smile from all of them.”
Next year, Ranta plans to embark on a third cross-Canada tour across the country’s wondrous waterways in hopes of making greater waves and inspiring Canadians all over.
“I think i was unsuccessful on this trip because I never even got a wave from a moving car window from our government – that hurt, it really did. But I’m doing it again because I’m a very positive person and I have grit,” said Ranta. “I know how to move forward and I don’t take no for an answer. When I’ve got something hard I’m going to go for it and i get that from my dog – he’s as stubborn as he gets. So I feel we can do it again and inspire hundreds if not thousands more.”
The 2017 voyage will kick-off in April off the coast of Bella Bella, B.C. and will finish off in Cape Breton, N.S. with a tentative date of Oct. 31.