Nipigon: Ontario's Amazing Paddle to the Sea Park

Located in downtown Nipigon, Northern Ontario, this park inspired by the beloved children's story is the perfect spot for families to have some fun!

The Paddle to the Sea Park in downtown Nipigon, inspired by the Caldecott Award-winning children’s book, has been a beloved spot for families of both locals and visitors alike. Written in 1941 by author Holling C. Holling, this story is about a daring adventure through the terrain of the Great Lakes known to most as a bedtime story or one studied in school. (It was also an Oscar-nominated film from the National Film Board of Canada). However, to Nipigon, it has been known as the book that begins in the place the locals call home. 

Paddle to the Sea with a Rainbow

Being a local from Nipigon myself, I remember growing up reading the story of Paddle, and the excitement of knowing Paddle came from the same place I grew up. I have to admit, it is very cool to have my hometown mentioned in a book that is so widely known in both Canada and America. What’s the story about, though? Adventure, of course! 

Paddle

About Paddle: His Story 

A young Indigenous boy by the name of Kyle carves a canoe out of birchwood with an Indigenous man inside whom he calls Paddle. As Kyle continues to carve it, he thinks about his own dreams of making it to the sea, as he had recently come to learn that his home of Nipigon is far away from the golden coasts of the ocean. So, as he puts the finishing touches on Paddle, painting him with care and making sure he is always able to keep afloat, Kyle ventures out into the snow where he puts the finished Paddle on a snowbank on the top of a hill overlooking a frozen river.

paddle under snow

When Kyle learns about how far away he is from the ocean, he also learns that all of the lakes and rivers that surround him are running toward the ocean. So, he sets Paddle down on the snowbank, telling Paddle that when the snow melts, he will slide down the hill and into the river below where he will follow the rivers and lakes to the free waters of the sea.

While on Paddle's adventure, he encounters many obstacles on each river and lake including many types of wildlife, big ships, and even forest fires. Through his trials and tribulations, however, he never gives up, escaping his near-end encounters and continuing tenaciously on his way. There are also some points in the story where people grab him out of the water. But, even when they do pick him up, on the bottom of his canoe are the words carved “Put me back in the water, I am Paddle to the Sea,” and back into the water he goes.

Bottom of Paddle's Canoe
From the short film "Paddle to the Sea," directed by Bill Mason, distributed by ONF/NFB, 1966

Throughout the book, readers learn a lot about wildlife, the water systems that lead to the ocean from the tip of Lake Superior in Nipigon, and the many cities and jobs that lie in between on the coastlines of these great lakes towards the ocean. So, does paddle make it? I guess you’ll have to read it for yourself. Lucky for you, the township of Nipigon sells all things Paddle, including the book, and you can buy them in the local Nipigon Library and the Nipigon Museum both located right beside the park! But what is the park? 

The Paddle to the Sea Park

In honor of this beloved story, the township of Nipigon created a park that follows Paddle’s journey through the waterfalls, forest fires, and other obstacles he had encountered on his way to the sea. Starting in the center of downtown Nipigon, a massive replica of the wooden toy sits atop a man-made waterfall overlooking the town in which he started his incredible adventure. Beside him lies the nature, wildlife, and sights he would have seen as he floated down the Nipigon River, including giant weeds, driftwood logs, and many more! Not to mention, beside this park is a splash pad that is fun for any child during the summer months!

paddle to the sea park - Splash pad

Further down the road and headed to Nipigon’s marina you will find the second part of the park, or the next part of Paddle's journey. In a circle stands big spinning pictures that turn to mimic the changing seasons paddle would have experienced many times along his long journey, and even a forest fire! Have fun spinning through the forest and lake surface terrain created with these pictures and see if you can match them all up!

Finally, the last part of the park, and the last of Paddle’s journey, standing on the banks of the Nipigon River at the town’s Marina, balance on stepping stones and climb the structures as if it’s a mountain overlooking the “Atlantic Ocean” (aka, the banks of the Nipigon River!) as Paddle reaches his final destination, the sea! 

Paddle to the sea park - Marina location

Come Adventure with Paddle to the Sea!

The story of Paddle to the Sea is one that every child in Nipigon knows and loves. Not only is it a good story, but the park itself is the perfect place to stop, stretch your legs, and let your little ones run around in the incredible park and splash park inspired by the adventure tale and follow the real-life footsteps of Paddle himself as you both make your way to the deep blue waters of the sea, or, the Nipigon River, which is equally as beautiful in fun and views. Come and see for yourself!  

About Josie Cormier

Josie Cormier grew up in Nipigon, Northern Ontario, and is part of the Red Rock Indian Band. She is passionate about sharing the love she has for her home with everyone she meets. You can always find her looking for new adventures by kayaking, hiking, and exploring the beautiful area she's lucky to call home. Josie is currently a student at York University in Toronto and hopes to start a career as a writer. 

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