Paddling Revillon Coupé

Paddling Revillon Coupé

Dispatch by Delano Lavigne
Photos by Jimmy Martinello

The Athabasca Delta consists of a myriad of rivers, ponds, lakes, creeks, tributaries and distributaries, all of which create an incredible spectacle of waterways that intersect and bifurcate the land into a navigational puzzle of epic proportions.

The first piece of the puzzle that we dealt with in earnest was the Revillon Coupé, the meaning of which I assume refers to the French feast that follows Christmas Eve, and is known by the locals simply as the Coupé (you pronounce it “coopy”). We had our sights set on the Coupé because we knew it connected to the Peace River and eventually the Slave River.

And although paddling the Coupé would only give us a brief moment on the Peace River, we felt drawn to its waters if only to pay homage to its presence and, for me, to satisfy a childhood dream.

More than that, it would give us a chance to paddle along a narrower river and engage more intimately with the landscape and animals of the area.

Arriving at the Coupé was not difficult per se, but we were told, if not warned, on multiple occasions to be sure to enter the third waterway on the left bank of the Rochers which was marked by a 10-foot snag in the river—all of which was true and spoke volumes to the knowledge and expertise of the Aboriginals who have been navigating these waters for generations. Had we mistakenly taken an early leftward waterway—which, by the way, also had tree snags at their mouths—we would have paddled for a full day before realizing we had come to a dead-end.

Once we were on the Coupé it was as if the entire world slowed down yet also came alive.

The wind calmed to a near breeze, the air settled to a perfect 23 degrees Celsius, and the sun hung far above the horizon, giving us all the reasons in the world to relax and enjoy our experience.

We watch countless bank beavers slap their tales as we crossed in front of their dens, bald eagles fly toward their perches high above the river, muskrats drop quietly into the river and fleets of ducks protect their eggs by baiting us downriver and away from their eggs.

At times we paddle separately from each other, enjoying in our own private ways the beauty of the river. Sometimes we would make a flotilla and let the current take us slowly but surely toward the Peace River. We carried no stress; there was only one place this river could take us, and knowing that brought us peace.  

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