After a two-year hiatus, due to COVID, the Marsh Mash returns to Bradford on May 14
For the first time in decades, the annual Marsh Mash Marathon canoe and kayak races will complete a full circuit of the canals that surround the Holland Marsh polder – a distance of approximately 28km.
This was the course for the very first race, organized in July 1979 by paddlers Janice Matichuck and Peter Puddicombe.
Iain Craig was one of the paddlers who competed this inaugural year, in the canoe.
“At that time we had MC1, MC2 and MC3. The MC1 was what we now call a “professional” boat, or a racing canoe, says Craig.
He was in a recreational canoe. “It took us four hours and three minutes, the weeds were so bad on Highway 9,” he recalls. The South Channel had silted up in places, forcing paddlers to get out and drag their canoes, crushing rushes and weeds.
“That’s where Peter and Janice got the name, the Marsh Mash – and it stuck!”
In year two, the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority took over operation of the race, which not only provided an excellent marathon paddling experience on a safe course – no rapids, no of rocks, no strong currents – but a chance to see the wildlife and ecology of the marsh.
When the LSRCA was hit by budget cuts, under austerity from the Harris provincial government, they pulled out of running the races – and Craig stepped in. He and his family, friends, volunteers, and now the Town of Bradford West Gwillimbury, have continued to host the Marsh Mash year after year.
It is now the fourth oldest canoe marathon race in Ontario.
Sanctioned by the Ontario Marathon Canoe Kayak Racing Association (OMCKRA), the races provide canoeists, kayakers, stand-up paddleboarders and outrigger paddlers, whether competitive or recreational, an opportunity to compete.
The Mash is also a World Team qualifier for ICF Junior Kayakers seeking a spot on Team Canada at the Marathon Canoe Kayak World Championships.
For years, however, the longest distance offered was 24 km: the siltation of the southern canal made it too difficult to complete a complete circuit. Until this year.
The relocation and reconstruction of the canals, as well as the completion of the construction of Highway 9, made it possible to offer a 28 km marathon “for the first time in 38 years”.
Craig had hoped to offer the full course sooner, but COVID-19 forced the cancellation of races in 2020 and 2021. Now that the Marsh Mash is back, the 28km course will be available for Senior ICF Kayaker (Men and Women), Senior ICF C1 and C2 paddlers and stand-up paddlers.
Initially, the ICF junior kayakers were also going to paddle the full course, but the decision was made to stick to an 18km course, as well as the Open Kayak and Marathon Canoe classes.
For those who want a less strenuous challenge, the Mash offers 9km races for recreational canoeing (open), recreational kayaking (men’s/women’s), recreational stand-up surfers and outrigger canoes.
There is also a 6km race, for young kayakers (U13) and C2 Adult/Child canoe teams.
“We have courses for people who are very competitive. We have classes for people who just want to do it,” says Craig. “The new channel is simply ideal for paddlers. There are no rocks. There are no difficult water conditions. It’s deep, so you don’t hit bottom. And the wildlife – birds, muskrats – is amazing.
Since 2001, the races have started and ended at what was once the Springdale Christian Reformed Church on the 5and Sideroad from Bradford West Gwillimbury to Canal Road. Now Sovereign Grace Church, the facility continues to host Marsh Mashers, providing parking, restrooms and meeting rooms for the race.
There will be participant t-shirts, and maybe commemorative mugs, provided by the city, but Craig notes, “We didn’t do too many prizes. People come running.
Only a handful of paddlers who participated in the first Marsh Mash 42 years ago still paddle competitively, he says. Among them was Jim Preece, who came over the weekend with his son Tyler, to try out the waters of the rebuilt canal in his cedar 1930s Peterborough sailing canoe.
He was joined by Steve Quattrin, another longtime recreational kayaker, and Craig’s grandson, Evan Welburn.
Things have changed since the early days of the Mash, says Craig. The boats are much lighter, made of carbon – “In the 80s we were racing homemade cedar strip boats,” he says. “The paddles are carbon – lighter – and the technique has improved. And I think the paddlers practice more.
He expects the strongest competitors to be able to complete the 28km circuit in less than two and a half hours.
“We’ve had some really top Canadian paddlers here,” notes Craig, including Canadian sprint canoe gold medalist Larry Cain in 1988, and 2012 Olympic medalists Mark Oldershaw and Adam van Koeverden, who competed in the Marsh Mash 2013.
And there’s always the chance for future Olympic medalists to gain experience and a spot on the Canadian team, starting with their performance at the Mash.
The past few years have been challenging for Craig, who is also a competitive dragon boat racer and outrigger canoe paddler.
He lost his son and paddling partner Scott in 2016, and his beloved wife and partner Peggy in 2019, but continued to organize the Marsh Mash, with the help of his daughter Andrea Welburn, grandchildren and of the paddling community.
And Craig is already looking ahead, planning which of the notable paddlers he will invite back – for all 50and Annual Marsh Mash. It may be eight years away, but like any marathon canoeist, Craig just plans to “keep going!” »
For more information or to register for this year’s Marsh Mash, taking place on Saturday, May 14, visit the Marsh Mash website.