Can you frozen river canoe?

Canoe race raises awareness and funds for charity

Inclusion Winnipeg, a charity for individuals with intellectual disabilities, is on their mark and getting set for its second annual Wild Winter Canoe Race as a part of Festival du Voyageur. 

“I thought this would be a fun thing to do ... and a great way to talk about inclusion in a fun way,” Karen Menkis, chair of the organizing committee for the canoe race, says. “Inclusion is about empowerment and belonging and making it a part of our everyday life.”

On Louis Riel Day (Feb. 20), competitors and volunteers alike take to the frozen water of the Assiniboine River by The Forks to raise funds and awareness for the charity, which focuses on enhancing the lives of children, youth and adults living with intellectual disabilities.

“People with intellectual disabilities (are) working the event as volunteers, both at the registration desk and on the course itself,” Menkis says. “There are teams with people who have intellectual disabilities. Every aspect of running the race, they're involved in, so it’s fully integrated.”

Last year, the event focused on demonstrating what the canoe race was and more on “friend-raising” than fundraising, Menkis says. Even in its first year, the event had quite the turnout.

“There were 18,000 people at the race. Those numbers rival Canada Day numbers,” Menkis says. “It’s great fun (and) truly is insanity. It is such a happy time. People are open to experiences they haven’t had, so again it facilitates inclusion.”

This year, however, the goal is to raise awareness and funds. 

“We’ve set a target. I’d love to see $40,000 come out of this, but … it's entirely dependant on how successful each one of the team members is ... raising funds,” Menkis says.

Inclusion Winnipeg has existed for 60 years as a smaller charity that’s been working on serving vulnerable members of the community, but Menkis says that they want to raise awareness and grow to be a better known resource. 

“We haven’t been loud (and) we’re trying to get louder,” Menkis says. 

Menkis and Inclusion Winnipeg focus on the abilities that these individuals have to offer instead of on the disorder, which she says people tend to do. This event is one way of doing that.

“It’s doing what we hope it would do, which is bringing people together in a really happy environment,” Menkis says.

Jamie Felsch was last year’s first-place winner. Felsch and his four teammates won 10 round-trip tickets to Churchill on VIA Rail. This year’s first prize is all-inclusive trip to Churchill, second is two nights at the Alt hotel, Thermea spa experience and dinner for 10 at Carne Italian Cophouse, and more. 

“(Last year), it was a new event you kind of didn’t know what to expect. But once you got there, you could tell that not many people were there to win. They were there to have fun,” Felsch says.

This year’s canoe race will be held on Feb. 20 from 12 to 4 p.m. For more information, see inclusionwinnipeg.org/event/wild-winter-canoe-race/.

Published in Volume 71, Number 18 of The Uniter (February 2, 2017)

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