Giant paddle gives homage to veterans

Artist/carver Mike Ranta and his faithful companion Spitzii stride proudly in front of the Big Dipper— a paddle fit for Big Joe Mufferaw and a Guinness World Book of Records winner.

KILLARNEY—The small but mighty community of Killarney (Shebahononing in the original Anishinabemowin) has a new claim to fame, literally. With the installation of The Big Dipper the community is now a strong contender for the world’s largest canoe paddle.

The new paddle was created by artist/adventurer Mike Ranta, an avid canoeist who has crisscrossed the continent twice paddling from coast to coast. Mr. Ranta said he hopes the apply named Big Dipper will help establish Killarney as the paddle capital of Canada as well as set the paddle in the Guinness Book of World Records—but the real impetus is to honour Canada’s veterans.

The concept first began to germinate more than 15 years ago, but it was over a beer with Killarney Mountain Lodge and Conference Centre owner Holden Rhodes at Killarney’s Sportsman’s Inn that the dream began to cement into reality. “I asked him if he would be interested,” recalled Mr. Ranta. “Well, it looked like a lightbulb lit up in him. He asked ‘could you put it here?’” A few moments later, and a bit of cajoling, the project was paddling off to the races.

The paddle currently measures in at 107-feet in length, but its construction keeps an eye to the future with a design that can easily be extended should any would-be competitor dare to paddle into view. The ‘handle’ of the paddle is constructed out of 4’ by 8’ pine posts laminated together, while the blade of the paddle is constructed of laminated 3’ by 6’ cedar planks. The sculpture will receive a coat of burnished copper to put on a special finishing shine.

“It’s a keystone and cog style construction,” said Mr. Ranta. “By constructing it in this way I can defend my paddle,” he laughed.

Mr. Ranta describes himself as being of Finnish descent and that being on the water is “in my blood.”

He has crossed the continent a number of times, tackling the longest solo journey across North America in 2014. He first came to Killarney in 2017 “and immediately fell in love with the place.” Over the past couple of years one of Mr. Ranta’s paddling companions has been none other than retired justice Stephen O’Neil, himself a familiar canoeist in the region’s waters.

On July 1, Mr. Ranta received a Canadian Meritorious Service Medal from a nation grateful for his contributions on behalf his advocacy work on behalf of youth, veterans and first responders.

The giant paddle will be officially inaugurated following the July 3, 2021 Canoefest canoe race, part of the belated bicentennial celebrations of Killarney’s incorporation as a town. The paddle will stand sentinel outside Killarney Mountain Lodge and Conference Centre’s Canada House, the world’s largest log building.

“Everyone travelling across the Great Lakes until very recently would have passed through this area,” said Mr. Ranta. “They would climb to the bluffs above to look out over the water to see what the weather was doing and that would help determine the route they would take.”

Mr. Ranta said that aside from the natural beauty of the region, it is the people who make Killarney special. He gave a particular acknowledgement to the owners of Herbert’s Fisheries, who he said had taken him under their wing, providing a location in which to work on his sculpture and hole up during the winter months.

“I don’t need much,” said Mr. Ranta. “I have spent so much time in the bush that I don’t even like sleeping in a bed now.”