The Founding Generation
Christa and Hermann Kerckhoff had the foresight to create two incredible white water businesses: the Madawaska Kanu Centre in Barry’s Bay in 1972, as well as OWL Rafting on the Ottawa River in 1981. Immigrating in the late ’50’s to Canada from Northern Germany they fell in love with the vast wilderness, and the rivers flowing throughout. I have been told stories of my father paddling with his sister down the entire length of the Rhine River in his teens, but it was in Canada that whitewater became their passion. My parents joined a Kayak Club organized by fellow Europeans called the Ontario Voyageurs Kayak Club (OVKC) that explored Rivers through out Ontario and Quebec. In those days, the same kayak, a ‘foldboot‘ was used for all aspects of paddling – lake, river and competition. Here is how our family business came to fruition ….
It was competing on the Rouge River, Quebec in 1969 that sparked the dream of starting a whitewater paddling school. Both Christa and Hermann had just won the Canadian Championship title, one they felt they wanted to do something with. Getting more people into the Sport was their goal. Creating a paddling school became their mission. Little did they know that the Madawaska Kanu Centre was soon to become the first white water paddling school in the World – three years later it came to be !
This was due to Hermann securing a spot on Canada’s first ever Olympic Slalom Team where he competed on the surging waters of an artificial course in Augsburg, Germany built for the 1972 Munich Olympic Games. He did not want to jeopardize his chances by loosing his Amateur status through charging $ for kayak instruction, that my parents waited until after the Olympics opening the doors of MKC in August of 1972. Twenty five students came from across North America that first summer. They learned from an ‘elite’ roster of instructors, all World Champions that my parents had befriended during their white water travels. These early classes set the stage for our programs; built on the ski school concept of their native Germany where students are divided into skill level classes, enjoy a wilderness resort with good food, great instruction and a special atmosphere.
The Madawaska River below Bark Lake Dam was the chosen location thanks to the partnership formed with Ontario Power Generation to provide water releases throughout the summer.
Why Kanu ? In Germany, Kanu actually is the word used for meaning kayak. (Germans call our open canoe a Canadian, as do the British and Aussies). Thus using the word Kanu in our country, it describes both: Kayak and Canoe!