Hamilton man lends free canoes to help others connect to nature in the city

Matt Thompson had a canoe and a desire to buy more two years ago amid the COVID-19 quarantine, so he decided to sell some of his Magic: The Gathering card collection he started in 8th grade.

“At the start of the pandemic, I had a friend who messaged me [me] and he’s like, ‘Hey, you should check the price on those. They’ve probably increased since you were in 8th grade. “”

And he did. Now he has three canoes and a reputation as the guy who lends out canoes for free.

LISTEN | Matt Thompson explains to Afternoon Drive why he wants others to use his canoes for free:

Afternoon drive6:21Hamilton man lends canoes for canoe-sharing program during pandemic

Staycations have made a comeback in the pandemic – but how about a canoe trip around your neighborhood? Afternoon Drive’s Michelle Both tells the story of Matt Thompson, a Hamilton man who lends his canoes to give others a taste of nature in the city.

“Our relationship with our water has always been one of, ‘Hey, that’s good, but don’t get too close to it,’ right?”

“So I thought with the canoe, ‘What does it mean to have people re-examine their relationship with [Hamilton waters]?'”

Thompson started by lending them to friends. Now his canoes are booked weeks in advance on his social media pages. You can contact him at his Instagram page.

His name is not new to residents of the Hamilton neighborhood of Beasley. He is known for bringing people together in the community.

From potlucks to coffee breaks to jam nights, Thompson regularly hosts events where everyone is welcome.

“I believe in our city and I believe people want to feel a sense of belonging. Yet it can be difficult to be a new person in a big city,” he told CBC Hamilton in 2019.

“For me, we always have to try new, different and better ways to bring people together.”

Members of the community are grateful to him for his generosity. For the loan of his canoes, he often receives a gift in return.

“You borrow the canoe and maybe you bring donuts. You bring pastries. It’s great. I think it’s so cool that people take care of each other.

“We take the motivation away from profit, but we still make it sustainable because it’s not a lot of work. The infrastructure is there. Everyone wants us to see it succeed.”

A canoe is a ‘good icebreaker’, says teacher

Catherine McLean, a Hamilton teacher who borrowed one of Thompson’s canoes, says it brought her closer to curious Hamilton residents.

“You’re definitely hard to miss when you’re canoeing a few blocks,” McLean said.

“It was such a great icebreaker. Other than babies and dogs – take your canoe down the street – everyone will tell you about it.”

McLean said she was happy to have access to a canoe in Hamilton rather than having to drive two hours to places like Muskoka.

“[It] made it even more special.”

Hamilton teacher Katherine McLean says ferrying a canoe around Hamilton was “such a good icebreaker”. (Submitted by Katherine McLean)

Thompson agreed.

He said “this idea that we can all drive five or six hours to go to the Canadian Shield and that’s where we can experience nature has a lot of limitations.”

In the city, “we have these spaces…where you feel a sense of transcendence, that there’s something absolutely bigger than you going on in these spaces, and you’re actually a part of it.”