Claudia Van Wijk grew up paddling a kayak in the front of her fathers ‘double-seater’ fold boot, before paddling her own kayak at the age of seven. Growing up at Madawaska Kanu Centre (MKC), which her parents started in 1972, she had the good fortune of learning from the many world champions instructing at MKC, and quickly reached the international level in both Slalom and Wildwater racing. Ten time Canadian Champion, and bronze medalist in the World, it was a natural transition to continue the family business, especially after completing her BC in Business from Carleton U in the mid-80’s. Claudia’s Whitewater Kayak Slalom background has taken her to the past 4 Olympics as an announcer for Canoe Slalom.


Madawaska River
The Madawaska River is known throughout central Canada and beyond as a whitewater rafting, kayaking and recreational canoeing destination. Some of her rapids have a dangerous reputation among thrill-seekers while calmer stretches support more leisurely pastimes. The Madawaska River is (a relatively short) 230 km long, but as it flows east out of Source Lake in Algonquin Provincial Park, and before it joins the Ottawa River at Arnprior, it drops 380 metres (1,247 ft), making for some very dramatic descents through some of the most beautiful and rustic geography anywhere in Canada.

How do the experiences you offer at Madawaska Kanu Centre give guests a unique perspective on the history, people or culture of Ontario, Canada?

Canada would not be a country were it not for the canoe or kayak. Our roads were our waterways. Canada is a Nation of Rivers or a River of Nations. This is especially true in Eastern Ontario, at the heart of the Canadian Shield where there is equal water to land. Thus a true Canadian experience is on the water.

At Madawaska Kanu Centre we bring people into this wild and inspiring River World. You choose either a CANOE or KAYAK. Paddlers are divided into skill level groups; beginners are introduced first on flatwater, and then eased into Class I and II currents, and experienced paddlers are coached through more technical skills so as to attain greater whitewater challenges.

Madawaska means ‘fast travel route’ in the Algonquin language.

How have the experiences that you offer evolved since their inception back in 1972?

We still follow the same model that my parents started with, that of the European ski school: top notch instruction, diverse terrain, stunning location, good food and great atmosphere. What has changed is technology. Boats of today are more comfortable and more maneuverable, which makes for a steeper learning curve.

What is one detail of an experience you provide that may go unnoticed by guests, but which you feel is important?

There is a class for every skill level every week. Thus couples or friends can vacation together, but are challenged at their own levels.

What do you wish every guest knew as they consider participating in the experiences you offer at Madawaska Kanu Centre?

Attention to detail is very important to us. We are a three generation family business, so happy we can make a living doing what we love.

Claudia van Wijk with her husband Dirk and their daughters Katrina and Stefani.
Claudia van Wijk with her husband Dirk and their daughters Katrina and Stefani.

What is one unexpected piece of clothing or equipment guests should have to maximize their enjoyment of the experiences you offer?

Footwear that stays on your feet … especially when swimming rapids. The current favorite is the Astral shoe.

What is one travel trend that really excites you?

Learning a life skill, not just looking for entertainment.

What is one insider’s tip to getting the most out of an experiential travel vacation?

Try something you never thought of doing. Something the environment you are visiting offers. It’s these experiences that make memories.

The Madawaska Kanu Centre provides highly personal instruction in Whitewater Kayaking & Canoeing. Located just outside of Algonquin Park on the Madawaska River, MKC offers all the comforts of a European-style vacation resort.
The Madawaska Kanu Centre provides highly personal instruction in Whitewater Kayaking & Canoeing. Located just outside of Algonquin Park on the Madawaska River, MKC offers all the comforts of a European-style vacation resort.

What is one strategy that has helped your business to grow?

  1. Creating a working environment where staff feels this is their business.
    If staff is happy, they take initiatives, and go out of their way to help our guests
  2. Listening to our guests.

One thing we hear a lot: Don’t change. Please stay small. We feel we are part of your MKC family.

What is one personal habit that has helped you to be successful?

Remembering every guests name during their stay.

Sitting with guests at meal times.

Please share one instance where a guest had a moving or emotional reaction to the experience you provided to them.

I hear it every day: “this has been the best day of my life, thank you!”

Connect:

www.mkc.ca
MKC on Facebook: facebook.com/madawaskakanucentre
MKC on Twitter: twitter.com/MADRiverLevel  

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TravelDew is a community based platform for leaders in experiential travel from around the world. Through our interviews we honor the variety of this industry while simultaneously creating the opportunity to learn from one anther.