Justin Trudeau says recreating his father Pierre's canoe trip on one of the world's most magnificent rivers made the former prime minister's spirit seem even closer.Justin Trudeau climbed into a canoe last summer for the first time in a couple of years to retrace Pierre Trudeau's journey along the Nahanni River in the Northwest Territories, a trip more than 30 years ago that led to the creation of the Nahanni National Park Reserve.
"It had been a river my father talked about all the time when I was growing up," Justin Trudeau recalled in a telephone interview.
"Every time we went on a canoe trip, at one point the Nahanni would come up and it was always something that I knew I'd do eventually.
"It was emotional in all the right senses," he said of the trip. "I had a real sense of pride in that this was something my father had done and I was able to see it and touch it and appreciate it to a very, very deep degree."
The canoe trip will be featured in Canada's Amazon: A Boreal Forest Journey, which airs as an episode of CBC-TV's The Nature of Things tonight at 7 p.m.
The film tracks two canoe trips through the boreal forest, which stretches from Newfoundland and Labrador to British Columbia and Yukon and covers more than 50 per cent of Canada's land mass.
The other voyage, covering the Athabasca River in northern Alberta, is carried out by Nature of Things host David Suzuki, world-renowned ecologist David Schindler and National Hockey League great Ken Dryden.
Both rivers reflect different visions of the boreal: the Nahanni became protected after Pierre Trudeau paddled it and then pushed to have it included as part of Canada's national park system -- a feat accomplished by Jean Chrétien when he was northern affairs minister in 1972.
Only a small part of the Athabasca is protected and it has been subjected to a large amount of industrialization, including oil and gas exploration.
Justin Trudeau recalled his father describing the Nahanni as "being probably the greatest river in Canada."
"The landscape, the cliffs, the mountains, the river, the gorge, the falls -- everything about it is just superlative. It's a river that is steeped in beauty and history and magic and you really feel it. You cannot go through it without being deeply affected."
There are plans to enlarge the park around the Nahanni -- which was declared a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1978 -- in the hopes that industrial development on the park's fringes will be stopped.
"You can't protect a river without making sure you're protecting all the tributaries and that's exactly what's happening here," Trudeau said.
"We've got mines within the watershed that are cause for some serious concern and, basically, protected wildlife areas need to be created for the grizzlies that don't stick to the park boundaries we set for them."
Trudeau said he was told by natives in the area they are more interested in promoting ecotourism than being lured by non-sustainable jobs often offered by resource exploitation companies.
Trudeau said he didn't have to prepare much for the trip. He's already active and fit, and has been kayaking for the last few years. He went out in a canoe a few times to ensure he remembered what to do.
He laughed when it was noted he wasn't wearing his dad's trademark buckskin jacket when he took to the often-churning waters.
"Even he didn't wear the buckskin jacket on the Nahanni," he said. "There's times for a nice quiet paddle in the evening where it would be perfect, but when you're going out on an eight-day canoe trip, you tend not to wear something like that."
But his father was as close to him as the jacket would have been.
"You know, on canoe trips was really where it was most him, the man, him, the father, that was with us," Trudeau recalled.
"We were away from all the baggage that surrounded him being prime minister, so being in the woods with him was something that was very, very strong in terms of my perception and memories of him.
"Any time I get out in the wilderness, I feel very close to him and even more so that it be in a place that he felt such a connection with as the Nahanni."