Slave River Paddlefest cancelled due to COVID-19

A photo from the Paddlefest page on Facebook. (Photo courtesy of John Blyth)

The annual Slave River Paddlefest is cancelled this year because of COVID-19.

Paddlefest’s website describes it as a celebration of the Slave River, one of the world’s best lesser-known whitewater paddling destinations.

John Blyth, president of the Fort Smith Paddling Club, said the event would’ve been difficult to host while following social distancing.

“The way our festival works, is it’s very introductory in nature,” Blyth said. “You’re still in a situation where you’re helping people out when they tip over and swim.”

The event also involves sharing equipment, which would’ve required constant disinfection.

“It just makes it unworkable,” Blyth said.

The festival, which has been running for approximately 12 years, was scheduled to be held from July 31 to August 3.


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Posted by Slave River Paddlefest on Thursday, May 21, 2020


Blyth said he doesn’t expect the loss of Paddlefest to hurt the club financially.

“The club is going to do fine, we’re a pretty low dollar operation,” he said with a laugh. “It largely runs off volunteers.”

The Fort Smith Paddle Club will still host activities this summer while following the GNWT Emerging Wisely document.

Blyth said these will include stand up paddle boards (SUP) and canoes for less experienced paddlers.

“It’s just going to be low-risk stuff,” he said. “If you fall off a SUP, you can just pick it back up and keep going, no one needs to go help you unless it’s really an emergency.”

Kayaking will still be available, but for those more experienced.

Blyth said he has many happy memories from Paddlefest and is hopeful for its return in 2021.

“It was just a fun time to have people show up in Fort Smith,” he said.

About the Author

Luke Carroll
Luke Carroll is a journalist originally from Brockville, Ont. He has previously worked as a reporter and editor in Ottawa, Halifax and New Brunswick. Luke is a graduate of Carleton University's bachelor of journalism program. If you have a story idea, feel free to send him an email at