Photo: A David Suzuki Foundation moment in history: Raising awareness about the boreal forest

Boreal Rendezvous paddlers on the Athabasca River, July 2003.

By Glauce Fleury

Too few Canadians know about the boreal forest's rich wildlife and the threats posed by activities such as logging and mining. That's why 10 years ago, teams formed by environmentalists and celebrities canoed through Canada's most scenic rivers in the boreal to raise awareness about the forest's significance. The journey was part of the Boreal Rendezvous, a project created by the David Suzuki Foundation, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) and Canadian Boreal Initiative (CBI).

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The boreal forest is the largest territorial ecosystem on Earth, crowning Canada, Alaska, Scandinavia and Russia, and covering about 11 per cent of the planet's surface. It contains more wetlands, rivers and lakes than any place in the world, filtering and storing freshwater. It also provides habitat for wildlife, and removes and stores carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, protecting us against global warming.

In Canada, the boreal stretches from Yukon to Newfoundland and is home to many different plant and animal species: you can see a moose that weighs more than a car and a hummingbird that weighs less than a dime.

Legendary hockey player Ken Dryden, current federal Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau and comedian Rick Mercer are some of the busy people who took breaks from their busy schedules to join David Suzuki and his wife, Foundation president Tara Cullis, as well as many artists, writers and musicians, on the 2003 summer expedition.

Accompanied by experienced guides, scientists and conservationists, the participants paddled down 10 rivers: the Athabasca in Alberta; Nahanni in the Northwest Territories; Coal, flowing from southern Yukon into northern British Columbia; Dease in British Columbia; Churchill in Saskatchewan; Berens, flowing from Ontario to Manitoba; Moisie in Quebec, and Three Rivers (Wind, Snake and Bonnet Plume) in Yukon.

Through a website, thousands of supporters followed the Boreal Rendezvous. As virtual paddlers, they shared the fun without the mosquitoes. They could also read trip reports and quotes from participants, who were celebrating the ecological treasure.

The boreal region unites people physically and emotionally. Many Canadians have memories of times spent hiking, camping, rafting or canoeing down rivers in the vast boreal wilderness.

Did you know?

  • More than 30 per cent of North America's bird population relies on the boreal forest for breeding
  • More than 26-million ducks and waterfowl nest and breed there each year
  • More than 80 per cent of the world's liquid freshwater is found in the boreal
  • More than 208-billion tonnes of carbon are stored in the Canadian boreal's trees, soil, water and peat, which means 26 years' worth of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions

Some of the boreal wildlife:

  • Bald eagles
  • Beavers
  • Grizzly bears
  • Gyrfalcons
  • Harlequin ducks
  • Hummingbirds
  • Mergansers
  • Moose
  • Mountain sheep
  • Peregrine falcons
  • Ptarmigan
  • Wolves
  • Woodland caribou
June 5, 2013

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