Mike Ranta’s project includes carving a paddle out of cedar in nine pieces. The paddle will house a steel shaft inside for a time capsule, which will be displayed outside Canada House Convention Centre at Killarney Mountain Lodge.
By Karen McKinley
Following one’s passion takes people on journeys. Journeys are Mike Ranta’s passion.
He holds the world record for longest solo canoe trip. Now making his home in Killarney, he’s on a mission to put the community on the map as a go-to destination for outdoor adventure-seekers and to break another record, by building the world’s largest canoe paddle and time capsule for the community’s bicentennial in 2020.
Born in Fort Frances and raised in Atikokan, Ranta spent most of his adult life focusing on money and career, working in the Alberta oil sands, among other places. His father advised him to do something he loved rather than spending his life chasing the dollar.
He took his father’s advice. Remembering the good times he had fishing and canoeing as a youth, in 2011 he set put on a 130-day canoe trip from Rocky Mountain House, Alta., to Montreal as a fundraiser for the Atikokan youth centre.
“That was the bug that bit me, along with a lot of other bugs as I remember,” he quipped.
In 2014 he paddled from Vancouver to Tatamagouche in Nova Scotia in 214 days to raise money for the youth centre.
That earned him a Guinness World Record for the longest solo canoe trip, around 7,500 kilometres.
“One hundred and seventy-six of those days were in rain, which I won’t let anyone, especially myself, forget,” he said.
The solo paddler is not actually alone on this travels.
“I’ve had my best friend with me, Spitzii, whom I’ve known since he was a pup.” he said.
The Finnish Spitz has been his constant companion on all his canoe trips. A few have been memorable including the one he almost lost the dog to a pack of wolves near Thunder Bay.
He was on the Kaministiquia River trying to negotiate rapids, when the canoe capsized. When he recovered himself and the canoe, he couldn’t find Spitzii.
Then he picked up a telltale scent.
“Wolves have a distinctive smell, and it was strong, so they were nearby,” he said. “I called, he wouldn’t come. I feared the wolves had taken him.”
Spitzii was missing for two days.
Another notable encounter happened while paddling on the Qu’Appelle River in Saskatchewan on another cross-Canada trip in 2016 to support veterans. Ranta and Spitzii came across a moose calf caught in brush in a river.
Ranta paddled up, grabbed the calf by the ear, pulled him out and put him in his lap, ferrying it to the other side.
He recorded it on his GoPro and it went viral on YouTube.
“It was exciting, and a very Canadian moment. Paddling a canoe with a moose calf in my lap,” he joked.
His adventures are fundraisers or to promote causes near and dear to him such as veterans.
“There is no reason for any of the men and women who served this country in the military to be homeless or going without services they need for their physical and mental health,” he said.
Now settled in Killarney, Ranta, who is in his mid-40s, is building an 80-foot paddle named The Big Dipper, which will likely be the world’s longest.
The project includes carving it out of cedar in nine pieces and will house a steel shaft inside for a time capsule, which will be displayed outside Canada House Convention Centre at Killarney Mountain Lodge. The time capsule will be opened in 2220.
“Everyone from Killarney will be invited to put something in there the size of their heart (fist) to show what the town was like at the time,” he said. “I’m certain Killarney will be here and the town will definitely be a different place by then.”
He’s documenting the build on social media.
The paddle isn’t the only project he is planning to do for the lodge. He hopes to give presentations, run workshops and give guided tours.
Ross Herbert, owner of Herbert Fisheries, said he met Ranta during his 2011 journey when he paddled past the town.
“Ranta fell in love with Killarney, and he loves what he is doing, as seen by the paddle he is working on, it’s no small chore.
“He isn’t afraid to work and we were in a position to hire, and we’ve become friends ever since.”
In addition to the giant paddle, Ranta has carved decorative paddles for residents, including a signpost for the Herbert’s family home across the street from the fishery and restaurant.