The CanoeSki Team

Cliff Speer – Owner, director and lead guide

Cliff Speer

Paddling as a kid at summer camp got Cliff hooked on canoeing for life. He took up Nordic skiing when he moved from his home town of Winnipeg to teach high school in northern Manitoba. Cliff left the teaching profession a few years later to explore other career options. After several years working in the business world and a company transfer to Saskatoon, he moved from the work world into entrepreneurship with the launching of CanoeSki Discovery Company, an eco-adventure company specializing in wilderness canoeing and cross-country skiing instruction and tours. Prior to this, Cliff had spent a lot of his spare time volunteering as instructor and trip leader with the local canoeing and Nordic skiing clubs in Saskatoon. His experience teaching, working in business, and volunteering has all contributed to running a successful adventure training and travel company.

The discovery part of the company gives Cliff a chance to share his explorations of “roads less travelled” and an outlet to share his passion for wild, quiet places. His interests in human and natural history find their expression in the creative trip programs offered by CanoeSki. All these opportunities give him the illusion that wandering around in the wilderness can be a socially redeeming activity! In the fall, Cliff abandons his paddle for his mountain bike and camera. He puts in volunteer time exploring and mapping routes to lead the Nordic Ski Club’s fall hikes. He finds inspiration in photographing the sensational Saskatchewan backcountry in its autumn garb. Winter finds Cliff on the ski trails, instructing cross-country skiing courses and leading wilderness ski tours. In spring, before paddling gets going in earnest, Cliff conducts an annual wilderness navigation course in map and compass skills in one of Saskatoon’s outlying parks.

Cliff’s life-long interest in environmental issues lends an eco-bias to the CanoeSki programs and operations model. On the professional side, Cliff maintains instructor status with the national paddling and Nordic skiing certifying bodies. Further info on his business qualifications and professional affiliations can be found at About CanoeSki.

Rob Kelly – Woodworker and whitewater instructor/guide

Rob Kelly

Although Rob developed his passion for paddling and wilderness travel as a boy growing up in the boreal forest of northern Saskatchewan, he took his official training and certification in canoeing and guiding in the mountain environments of Alberta, B.C. and the Northwest Territories. He brings a wealth of skill and knowledge to CanoeSki river trips via his professional guiding experience on the Nahanni, Kootenay and Athabasca Rivers with Yukon and Alberta adventure companies. His leadership style is personable, low-key and overtly competent. In between summers spent guiding Rob managed to complete a degree in biology at the University of Saskatchewan. However, marriage and a young daughter intervened, curtailing his far-flung river guiding forays, but another passion came to the rescue. With a lot of entrepreneurial ambition he turned his woodworking hobby into a full-time vocation, specializing in custom built furniture. He remarks on how canoeing has slipped into second place: “My Souris River kevlar canoe hangs in the shop rafters more than I would like it to, as woodworking jobs keep me busy during the canoeing season, but I still find the chance to do freelance guiding for CanoeSki when our schedules mesh. I long to return to the northern mountain rivers in the future, but for now I’ll have to settle for trips closer to home…”

Lawrie Stewart – Recreation supervisor & canoeing instructor/guide

Lawrie returned from Whitehorse to his native Saskatoon when he retired from a career with Corrections Canada. He is one of those lucky guys, retired in theory, but continuing to “make hay while the sun shines” as a recreation supervisor with the City of Saskatoon. Lawrie joined the CanoeSki team with a highly qualified background in both canoeing and outdoor leadership. He has whitewater instructor training with canoeing associations in BC and Ontario and holds advanced lakewater instructor status with Paddle Canada. His canoe tripping experience has included leading multi-day canoe trips in Ontario and ocean canoeing excursions in B.C. Lawrie also possesses an honours degree in Outdoor Recreation from Lakehead University and has instructed at various outdoor schools and camps, including Madawaska Kanu Camp and Camp Kandalore in Ontario and Strathcona Park Lodge and Outdoor Education Centre in B.C. His leadership style is the ideal combination of patience and enthusiasm. Lawrie also has Nordic ski instructor training and has assisted Cliff with teaching cross-country ski courses. His strong outdoor skills are a welcome asset to the CanoeSki operation.

Wilma Poole – Registered massage therapist

Wilma Poole

Massage therapy is Wilma’s specialty and vocation, which comes in really handy on a canoe trip. Anyone who has experienced her skillful hands kneading tired muscles after a day of paddling can vouch for her talents. With over 25 years of practicing massage, Wilma is the ideal resource person for the CanoeSki Women & Waves program – a women’s wilderness canoe trip featuring massage and music. Waves of relaxation is the component that Wilma brings to the program! She started her own massage practice in 1986 when she was living in New Zealand. About the Women & Waves program, she admits, “The women’s canoe trips have meant more to me than physical challenge. The rewards of helping paddling companions find relaxation, working on them as they sit on a log, or a huge rock, or leaning against a tree overlooking the Churchill River, are incredible — spiritually, mentally and emotionally. At the same time we might be watching thunderclouds roll in, or listening to the sound of loons as they circle around our island campsite, keeping an eye on us. Also, the opportunity to meet like-minded women from all over North America has been a real pleasure.”

Elizabeth Bekolay – Environmental educator, naturalist and canoe guide

Elizabeth Bekolay

A lifelong love of nature, adventure and canoeing led Elizabeth to educational pursuits that enabled her to turn her passions into a career. Now with a BSc. degree in biology and a graduate of the University of Saskatchewan’s Certificate in Ecological Education, Elizabeth is well ‘qualified’ to help people connect to nature. She is employed as an environmental educator and recently she launched into the entrepreneurial world by starting her own environmental consulting business. Here’s her capsule description of the operation: “The business name is Lichen Nature. What we do is the ‘Sustainable yard’ through permaculture, ecological salvage and native plant gardening.” In addition to her fervent commitment to environmental sustainability, Elizabeth is a strong canoeist, Paddle Canada certified and a seasoned wilderness traveller. Her leadership style is best characterized as amiable and low-key. Adding to her canoeing abilities, her skills in teaching young people to appreciate the natural world have proved invaluable on CanoeSki family canoe trips. Having two young boys at home gives her a handy audience to practice on!

Edith MacHattie – teacher, artist, and canoe instructor/guide

Elizabeth Bekolay

Edith was born with a paddle in her hand! From her earliest years, canoeing was how her family travelled in the remote Saskatchewan wilderness where she grew up. Of her family’s “homesteading” life in a log cabin, she says, “There was no road access, no phones, and no running water. Our family car was a 16-foot cedar canvas canoe called Phoenix. In winter we cross-country skied everywhere.” As a result, Edith’s “bush skills”, like her paddling skills, are instinctive. After her family moved back to “civilization”, Edith pursued degrees in Biology and Fine Arts. She finished later with an Education degree and taught elementary school for a short time before becoming a full-time mom with two young boys. In the intervening time, she took advanced canoe instructor training with Paddle Canada. Her leadership is characterized by a quiet confidence, complimented by a genial and empathetic personal touch. About guiding with CanoeSki, she remarks, “I can think of no better way to cope with the stresses of life than to head into the backcountry with a group of wonderful people and a flotilla of canoes. There has been so much good feeling, laughter, reflection and awe at nature’s beauty that has come from these trips that I look forward to every one!”

 Anna Leighton – ethnobotanist, naturalist and author

Anna Leighton

If you want to know something about plants, Anna usually has the answer. She spent a couple of summers living with the Western Woods Cree people of northern Saskatchewan while working on her master’s thesis on ethnobotany, which incidentally, was published by the Canadian Museum of Civilization. About the outdoor life, she says, “Travelling on the small gem-like lakes in Nova Scotia was my first introduction to canoeing and when my husband and I lived in the woods, we used a canoe regularly (and skis in winter) to cross the lake to get to our cabin…I enjoy living outdoors, and also enjoy sharing what I have learned about ethnobotany, especially how the Cree, whose homeland the CanoeSki tours pass through, used plants in daily life on the land.” Anna is active in the local and provincial Nature Societies, leading tours and editing nature publications. More recently, she has been co-authoring a number of fine books published by Nature Saskatchewan. Prairie Phoenix – The Red Lily in Saskatchewan, is the flagship in a series of books on Saskatchewan plants and flowers. No doubt, she would prefer to be spending more time out in the field. Those who have been treated to her patient, knowledgeable presentations, leave feeling that their appreciation of nature has been greatly enhanced!

Tim Jones – archaeologist, rock art specialist and teacher

Tim Jones

Tim has acquired the well-deserved reputation of being Saskatchewan’s rock art guru. His introduction to rock paintings and canoeing happened coincidentally when he stumbled on several paintings while working on a summer geological survey. Then as an archaeology student, he secured grants to study and record rock art sites in northern Saskatchewan. He notes, “I was hooked on studying these curious and fascinating remnants of past cultures, and this fascination continues with me. My studies led to my M.A. thesis in 1974, entitled The Aboriginal Rock Paintings of the Churchill River, which is the only comprehensive study of the subject done to date.” When CanoeSki established the Rock Art Camp program in 1997, Tim was the natural shoe-in as expert resource person to direct the archaeological activities and interpret the rock art. His background in canoeing northern waterways is a definite plus as the painting sites are accessed by canoe. Tim retired several years ago from a 20-year career as executive director with the Saskatchewan Archaeological Society, but stays in the loop working on volunteer projects with the Society and teaching anthropology and ethnology at the First Nations University of Canada.

Peter Goode – geographer and environmental consultant

Peter Goode

Peter has one abiding passion in life – running. Although he has many interests and abilities in other areas, including wilderness canoeing and cross-country skiing, he claims to spend most of his spare time running or organizing others at running events. He is race director for the Saskatoon Road Runners Association and works as a senior environmental planner and principal at Stantec Consulting Ltd. He also teaches geography as a sessional lecturer at the University of Saskatchewan. Over the years, Peter has filled the role of geographer, ecologist, historian, and naturalist on CanoeSki trips. He says, “I help participants better understand the environment we are enjoying.  For example, on the Sturgeon River canoe trips I introduce participants to both the natural and human history of Prince Albert National Park. Our discussions are wide-ranging and include glacial and fluvial geomorphology, southern boreal forest ecology, historic timber harvesting, national park management, and regional history. I also help Cliff in his efforts to introduce wilderness camping ethics and respect for the land to tour participants.”

Wilderness Navigation Instructor Team

In addition to canoeing guides and resource experts, CanoeSki has a team of instructors who assist with the Wilderness Navigation Map & Compass courses. Short bios on the instructor team can be found at the Map & Compass page.