Northern Ontario women paddling for residential school awareness

A pair of northern Ontario women are setting out on a journey by canoe to raise awareness about Canada's residential school history, and raise money to address water challenges in First Nations communities.

Paige Simon and Lue Mahaffey are paddling from the site of the Shingwauk Residential School in Sault Ste. Marie and along the shores of Lake Huron to the residential school site in Spanish.

That's roughly a 260-kilometre journey, expected to take them up to three weeks to complete. It's all part of their campaign called Canoe For Every Child.

"We're aiming to have an average of 18 kilometres per day, paddling at a speed of four kilometres per hour, so that would be roughly five hours of paddling a day," said Simon.

The pair are making sure they're ready for anything.

"Now it's the final stretch of prep of, like, OK, what real necessities do we need on this trip,'" said Mahaffey. "Having a ground crew, making sure we have all the safety precautions in place because Lake Huron can be a bit of a beast of a lake."

Simon and Mahaffey said it was the discovery of 215 unmarked graves at a residential school in British Columbia that prompted them to take to the water.

"We were really impacted by just another truth that had been covered up by the Government of Canada and we felt that there was something that we wanted to do," said Simon. "It's kind of symbolic that we're standing in solidarity with the residential school survivors and also the children that attended residential schools that did not come out."

"It wasn't just children's bodies that were being buried, we buried the history of this nation and it's caused a lot of heartache and a lot of pain," said Mahaffey.

"And we just want to raise awareness and hopefully enable people who just simply haven't been given the opportunity to learn more, to learn more."

Simon and Mahaffey are raising money for Water First, an organization that aims to resolve water challenges faced by Indigenous communities. Their goal is $75,000, or 50 cents for each of the estimated 150,000 children sent to residential schools across Canada.

If you wish to contribute to their fundraiser, you can find information on the Canoe For Every Child Facebook page.