The Founding Generation

Hermann and Christa Kerckhoff had the incredible foresight to start both the Madawaska Kanu Centre in Barry’s Bay, Canada’s first whitewater school for kayaks and canoes in 1972, as well as OWL Rafting on the Ottawa River in 1981. They immigrated to Canada in the late ’50’s from Northern Germany. Despite stories of Hermann and his sister paddling the whole length of the Rhine River in their teens, it wasn’t until arriving in Canada that they joined a kayaking river trip with the Ontario Voyageurs Kayak Club (OVKC).

Competing on the Rouge River in Quebec in 1969 sparked the dream of starting a whitewater paddling school. Both Christa and Hermann had just won the Canadian Championships, and they felt they should do something with this title. The idea of getting more people into the sport through creating a paddling school emerged. Little did they know that three years later, the Madawaska Kanu Centre would become the first whitewater paddling school in the world.

They chose the middle section of the Madawaska River to build their dream, as the water would be guaranteed with daily releases from Bark Lake Dam. Forty years later, the same programs started in 1972 continue to draw paddlers from around the world for high quality, personal instruction – making MKC the first commercial paddling school in the world.

The Current Generation

OWL Rafting is located on the Ottawa River, which has some of the best rapids for commercial rafting in the world. Hermann Kerckhoff and his daughter Claudia had the honour to be the first kayakers to paddle the Ottawa River, after they heard about the rapids from local farmers. The series of dams that were installed in the Ottawa River through the mid 1900s served to change the path of the water and reveal the gem of a whitewater playground that we enjoy today.

OWL Rafting ran its first rafts down the Ottawa River in 1981, with Dirk Van Wijk bringing his guiding experience into the family. The rapids on the Main and Middle Channels provide a summer of amazing rafting in warm water, making trips fun for everyone from children to the biggest adrenaline seeker. The OWL experience is unique on the River as it finishes all of its trips with a delicious grilled lunch or dinner served aboard our Pontoon Boats.

Dirk and Claudia were married in 1985 and took over the reins of both OWL and MKC in 1988. Both are very active in day to day operations year round.

During the off season both Dirk and Claudia pursue their passions of whitewater and cross country skiing. Together they have explored rivers on most continents, most recently in Bhutan. Claudia’s Whitewater Kayak Slalom background (10 x Canadian Champion and Bronze medalist at the World Championships) has taken her to four Olympics as an announcer at the Whitewater venue. At the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Dirk was in charge of Grooming and Course Preparation for all the Cross Country Skiing events.

OWL and MKC recently celebrated their 30th and 40th anniversaries in true river fashion with a reunion of hundreds of former staff.

The Next Generation

Claudia and Dirk’s daughters, Katrina and Stefani, were born and raised in this business and it has also become their passion.

Katrina has three Canadian Whitewater Slalom Kayak medals to her name, and is the third generation of women in our family to achieve this. She is an accomplished paddler, having competed in Slalom events and kayaked rivers throughout the world. Katrina founded the Whitewater Riders program at MKC in 2013, teaching technical skills, outdoor education, team dynamics, and safety to teenage paddlers. Through this program, she has inspired youth from around the world to take their paddling skills to the next level.

Stefani chose the more traditional craft, the ‘Canadian’, or as we know it, the Open Canoe. She has been guiding canoe trips with Blackfeather Wilderness Adventures in Canada’s north for four summers. Recently, Stefani has also worked for Alive Outdoors, instructing youth in Outdoor Education skills. Stefani is now Head Instructor at MKC, bringing her fantastic paddling skills to our students.