The Ireland Family
Celeste Ireland and her family started kayaking together regularly during the lockdown year of 2020. After an overload of kayaking photos on her personal Instagram page, she decided to start a new public page devoted to their kayaking adventures.
Before long that developed into an idea for a website so she could keep a sort of online journal for she and her family that would have the photos along with trip reports. It would be something her kids could look back on as fun family memories.
That website became KayakFamily.ca, which now helps other people in the Toronto area find local places to kayak, canoe or paddleboard, too.
Lockdown was the Impetus for Family Kayak Trips
Celeste puts up photos and descriptions about what they saw and enjoyed about each kayak location, things they could pass on to others. She found that when she would do research for a new spot, there wasn’t always complete information—like where to park. So the more experiences they’ve had, the more helpful she can be to others.
The family lives close to Toronto, the southernmost and populous part of Ontario.
“What most people would tell you is there’s nowhere to kayak until you go up north—that you have to go to the Canadian Shield to do any kayaking. But we started exploring and found there are a lot of spots close to us. They’re not big, and we’re not running any dangerous rivers, but they’re perfect for family kayaking. There are lots of smaller rivers and lakes that we’ve had lots of fun exploring,” Celeste shared.
The Ireland family had their kayaks for several summers, but it wasn’t until Covid lockdown hit that they all started to use them regularly. Like everyone else, the family was looking for an escape from the house. They started to hike every weekend as a family during the winter of 20/21. Then as soon as it was “wet suit” weather, about April, the family began to kayak every weekend.
Exploring their local waters has created many family memories
Celeste and her husband have two boys, ages 7 and 12. The 12-year old is pretty independent now in his own kayak. They often go with another family with a boy his own age, so they like to paddle together.
Their younger boy was in a tandem with Celeste for the first year. They moved him into his own kayak this past spring when he assured them he was ready. Celeste laughed as she said, “He’s OK for the first 20 minutes, then he’ll say ‘Hook me up, I want to get towed’! He’s only got so much endurance, so sometimes he’ll still choose the tandem.”
The family will drive up to 90 minutes away to find a new paddle spot. They look for one that’ll give them 2-3 hours of paddling, in the neighborhood of 8-12 kilometers. They usually stop for a picnic lunch partway through, ensuring everyone stays rested and enjoying themselves.
At first the kids were ready to be done after the first kilometer, but as they’ve continued their regular kayak trips they’ve gotten more and more engaged.
Why Kayaking is Such a Great Family Activity
“For us, the purpose of [kayaking together] was to disconnect from technology. To get out and do something with each other and friends where there were no other distractions. Immersing our kids in the natural environments is really important, too. The kids were schooling in front of a screen all day, every day. That’s hard enough in grade 7, but for grade 1 that’s darn near impossible. So it was time to get them away from school on screens, TV on screens, family and friends on screens…and go and do something different.”
“During last summer it was a chance for us to get out of the house. We were in lockdown, so we weren’t doing a lot during the week. One day every weekend we decided to go spend time as a family.”
The Ireland boys kayaking on their own
Things have started opening up there more in Canada, but they enjoy kayaking together enough now that they want to continue. They’ve gotten a couple different sets of family friends involved, too, so it’s been a great social outlet for everyone.
The family goes on camping trips over some weekends now, too, but they still enjoy getting in those short, local escapes on the water when they can.
What Are the Family’s Favorite Local Kayak Destinations?
Celeste’s first response: “Our favorite destination is the place we haven’t been yet! We like that anticipation of finding new places.”
They do have some favorites of the places they’ve been to already, though. One of them is a small waterway just five minutes from their home. It takes them longer to load up and unload than they spend on the water! But it’s close enough they can go on a weekday after work and school. They have lots of family memories there.
Another favorite is Big Creek, known as the Amazon of Canada. It’s jungle-like the way it’s surrounded by trees, untouched and natural. It’s far enough from the city that it doesn’t get a lot of traffic.
The family also loves to visit Ontario’s provincial parks. “We haven’t been to a provincial park we don’t like,” said Celeste. “They’re all beautiful. There’s lots of lakes and trees. Towering white pines, boreal forest, lots of rock.”
One of Kayak Family's Instagram posts—a good word!
Celeste’s 9 Ways to Make Kayaking with Your Kids Easier
1. We go in the morning when everyone’s just gotten up and before it gets too hot. Everyone’s a little crankier at the end of the day!
2. Always take a picnic, lots of snacks and extra water. When we don’t take that we inevitably end up with someone grumpy.
3. Take a tow rope. We almost always end up towing at least one of the kids.
4. Always take a towel and change of clothes for every kid. As soon as you tell them not to get in the water, they do! We get everyone dry and warm before leaving for home.
5. As soon as the weather warms up we take water guns. We’ve had water gun fights a lot. Even 10 minutes gets everyone cheered up again.
6. It’s always on the parents to make everything’s organized and packed in the car before we leave. We keep all our gear in one spot. When we get home, we dry it all out and then put it back in that spot right away. So all we’re doing when we head out is gathering all the stuff and heading out.
7. Everyone has a dry bag for their own kayak. Celeste packs each dry bag the next day again, ready for the next trip.
8. One of the parents goes through a quick walk-through at the house and on the beach before heading out, either to the launch or back home.
9. We don’t have a ton of expectations on the kids. We want it to be a relaxing, enjoyable activity. We don’t give our boys a choice as to whether they go or not. We’re going! But when they’re tired, we’ll tow them. We don’t make a big deal out of it. Because of that it’s made it easier for them to enjoy it.
Sometimes it's nice to get towed!
What are Celeste’s goals for KayakFamily.ca? “It’s a place for us to look back on our memories, and a way to share it with others without including our whole personal life. It’s been a fun project. And it’s been a chance for me to connect with others in the local community I wouldn’t normally have reached any other way.”
You can connect with KayakFamily on Instagram and the website.
All photos courtesy of Celeste Ireland and Kayak Family.
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