Paddling into the mists of time

Latest stop for local guide, Shetland Islands, home of the Vikings

Latest stop of Spirit Dancer was Shetland Islands

Latest stop of Spirit Dancer was Shetland Islands

Step on to the wind-worn shores of the wild North Atlantic and it’s easy to imagine ships looming out of the mists and Vikings jumping on to Britain’s shores to plunder and pillage.

It’s a past that still lives a millennium afterwards, in the Shetland Islands, north of Scotland, Chris Cooper discovered this summer.

“They actually call themselves Shetlanders. There’s more of a connection to Norway than Scotland.”

Cooper, a Pitt Meadows adventurer, has led a four-year canoeing voyage around the British Isles. It started in May 2008 on England’s south coast, where the Canadian team, many from First Nations, brought their 42-foot Montreal voyageur canoe, Spirit Dancer, to the coast and charmed the locals.

Steadily, different crews, including the locals, worked their way around Land’s End and up the west coast to Scotland and as of last July, reached the Shetland Islands, 475 kilometres north of Scotland.

The crew likes to paddle as much as possible, but had to skip the stretch from the Orkney Islands to the Shetlands.

“You’re taking a chance doing that,” he said.

Based on the sound advice of the coast guard, they loaded their canoe on to a ship.

“We did not cross. We were warned by the coast guard.”

Their arrival in the Shetlands in the middle of a tall ships festival wasn’t a disappointment.

“Low and behold, I met about 25 Vikings, all dressed in full regalia, with armour and spears and shields. So they came out in the canoe with me. And that was my first day.”

Cooper spent July and August there and made some connections that will result in a youth cultural/educational exchange between Shetlanders and First Nations bands in B.C. The first will take place this coming July when members of the Kwantlen, Cowichan and Penticton First Nations spend the month there.

Some time this fall, a dozen Shetlanders will visit Penticton.

Asked what Shetlanders have in common with First Nations people and Cooper quickly responded. “Isolation – is the key word.

“Shetland Island is very isolated and so are many of our communities on the coast of B.C.

“They’ve very enthusiastic. I guess maybe part of that, is they are isolated and they look forward to doing things.

“You’ve just got to watch yourself in the streets of Lerwick because you never know when a Viking will step out in front of you.”

He doesn’t know if the Norwegians, just across the stretch of water, go to the same extent of extolling their past.

“All I know is these guys take it very seriously.”

Cooper agreed that he’d like to get bands in more remote B.C. places, such as Bella Bella or Hartley Bay involved in future exchanges.

While most in the U.K. didn’t recognize a  voyageur canoe (it carried furs from northern Ontario to Montreal) “it’s absolutely breathtaking to see the response from people.

“Shetland itself has been a marvellous experience.

“You’d love to take everybody. It does have a big impact – on anybody that goes.”

Cooper, who was born in the U.K., originally planned to circumnavigate Britain. But he’s been making his way around for four years now and only managed to reach Scotland and doubts he’ll continue down the east coast.

“That five seasons in Britain, is enough.”

After this summer, Cooper likely will pursue a more hospitable location, in Costa Rica where he’s already received an invitation to bring down the big Spirit Dancer.

• More pictures are at: spiritdancercanoejourneys.ca.

Just Posted

Maple Ridge’s Ivy Threatful defeated SIDES’ Zena Shew in the female 51kg division at the 2020 BC Secondary School Wrestling Association Championships at Langley Events Centre on Feb. 18. (Gary Ahuja/Langley Events Centre photo)
Maple Ridge wrestler heads to Mexico

Ivy Threatful will grapple for Team Canada at Junior Pan Am Championships in June

Chief Grace George said the Katzie have written Maple Ridge council expressing concerns about a subdivision along the South Alouette River. (The News files)
Katzie oppose controversial Maple Ridge riverfront subdivision

Approval of development on South Alouette River suddenly taken off Tuesday’s agenda

Sherlene Morley enjoyed every last minute with her mom, Gail Jurick. (Special to The News)
Maple Ridge woman celebrates last Mother’s Day with mom

Sharlene Morely had a final Mother’s Day celeration with Gail Jurisk on May 1

David and Julie Kaplan with their children Estelle and Justin. (Special to The News)
BC family whose move was stopped by COVID border closure back on the road

Maple Ridge’s Kaplan family will arrive at their new home in Nova Scotia on Wednesday

B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains in the B.C. legislature, May 13, 2019. (Hansard TV)
VIDEO: B.C. to provide 3 days of sick pay for COVID-19 absences

Province will support employers on cost, labour minister says

BC Housing minister David Eby. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito)
Eby jabs back against Penticton mayor’s ad urging BC Premier to intervene in shelter dispute

Eby writes that Penticton’s ‘serious’ social issues won’t improve under leadership of the mayor

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, April 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 rate creeps up again, 600 new cases Wednesday

One more death, 423 people in hospital with virus

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham takes questions in the B.C. legislature in 2017. (Hansard TV)
UPDATE: B.C. will fund another year of fresh fruit, vegetables, milk in schools

John Horgan government working on school meal program

Surrey RCMP is releasing sketches of a suspect in an “indecent act” at the Coyote Creek Elementary playground on April 30, 2021. Police said the suspect was clean-shaven “during some interactions” and on “other occasions had stubble outlining a goatee and mustache.” (Images: Surrey RCMP handout)
Vancouver mayor-elect Kennedy Stewart addresses supporters in Vancouver on Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver mayor says there’s no time to redo details of drug decriminalization plan

Kennedy Stewart says a federal election could see the small window of opportunity close on the city’s bid for an exemption from criminal provisions on simple possession of small amounts of drugs

Premier Mike Horgan received his first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. (Facebook/John Horgan)
More than 50% of people eligible in B.C. have received 1st vaccine dose

‘We’ve made extraordinary progress together over the past few weeks,’ says Premier Horgan

Most Read