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

·3 min read
Matt Thompson has been bringing people together in the Beasley neighbourhood of Hamilton for some time. He was known for potlucks, coffee drop-ins and jam nights. Now he's known as the guy who lends canoes. (Michelle Both/CBC - image credit)
Matt Thompson has been bringing people together in the Beasley neighbourhood of Hamilton for some time. He was known for potlucks, coffee drop-ins and jam nights. Now he's known as the guy who lends canoes. (Michelle Both/CBC - image credit)

Matt Thompson had one canoe and a desire to buy more two years ago amid COVID-19 quarantine, so he decided to sell a few of his Magic: The Gathering cards collection he started in Grade 8.

"At the beginning of the pandemic, I had a friend who messaged [me] and he's like, 'Hey, you should check out the price on those. They've probably gone up since you were in Grade 8.'"

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

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

"Our relationship with our water has always been one of like, 'Hey, it's neat, but don't get too close to it,' right?"

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

Thompson began 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 people in the Hamilton neighbourhood of Beasley. He's known for bringing people in the community together.

Whether it be potlucks, coffee drop-ins or 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. Still, it can be tough to be a new person in a big city," he told CBC Hamilton in 2019.

"To me, we must be always trying out new, different and better ways to bring people together."

Community members are grateful for his generosity. For lending out his canoes, he often gets a gift in return.

"You borrow the canoe and you maybe bring some doughnuts. You bring some baked goods. That's great. I think that's so cool that people are looking out for each other.

"We're taking away the profit motive, but we're still making it sustainable because it's not a whole lot of work. The infrastructure is there. Everyone wants us to see it succeed."

A canoe is a 'good ice-breaker,' teacher says

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

"You're definitely hard to miss when you're walking a canoe a few blocks down the way," said McLean.

"It was such a good icebreaker. Aside from babies and dogs — walking your canoe down the street — anyone will talk to you about it."

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

"[It] just made it all the more special."

Submitted by Katherine McLean
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 to it."

Within the city, "we have these spaces … where you feel a sense of transcendence, that there is something absolutely bigger than you happening in these spaces, and that you are actually part of that."

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