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Explore the Grand
Explore Elora, the Gorge & Waters Beyond.

Ken Thompson

Founder, Elora Raft Rides

Our History

The events and motivation that led me to launch Elora Raft Rides go back to my childhood. Having immigrated with my family from Finland, I settled in Elora. Almost immediately, I launched our family’s 14-foot mahogany sailboat on the Grand River to celebrate the installation of the dock and boardwalk behind our new home on West Mill Street. This attempt to keep alive my memories of sailing in Finland, was quickly followed by learning to canoe Canadian-style, as I discovered the history of canoes among the Cree Nation at Moose-Factory in northern Ontario, where my father lived as a child. While attending pre-university studies abroad at Winchester College in England, I continued my affair with unusual water-craft by sailing around Portsmouth and by tubbing, sculling and punting in Hampshire for the first time.

I was initially inspired to start a canoe rental operation in Elora a few years later with locations in Fergus, the Elora Quarry, Bissell Park and the Boardwalk. This business operated for a number of summers but was limited in its potential by the skill-set required by its customers to paddle canoes. Customers could rent a canoe at any one of the four rental sites as well as travel downriver from Fergus to Elora. They were treated to a bus shuttle service between sites while I transported the canoes upriver using a hand dolly pulled behind a moped before acquiring a proper trailer and pick up truck. These were early days indeed. Despite the short duration of this enterprise, Grand Boat Rides, I look upon this operation with much fondness, and I am grateful for the invaluable lessons it taught me that I have since applied.

Elora Raft Rides grew from these experiences, coupled with my involvement in Outdoors clubs at the University of Guelph and University of Waterloo. As an executive member of the University of Guelph Outdoors Club in 1983, I test-marketed my own proposed white-water rafting company and started a shuttle service for white-water boaters in the Gorge Park. This was followed by a job offer from Equinox Adventures to manage their proposed Elora Gorge rafting venture, but Equinox later decided to offer kayaking instruction instead. As the President of the University of Waterloo’s Outdoor’s Club in 1993, I led numerous wilderness canoe trips and taught Flat-water Canoeing skills, yet continued to dream of my own white-water boating enterprise in the Elora Gorge.

Finally inspired to launch Elora Raft Rides, at first using inner-tube rentals in 2000, I approached the GRCA with a business proposal for the Gorge Park. Due to the rising liability costs and reduced funding they were experiencing at the time, they initially threatened to prohibit white-water boating activities entirely and close unattended public access points into the Conservation area permanently. Upon reviewing my business proposal, holding public information meetings and listening to the efforts of local lobby groups to dissuade them, however, they quickly adopted my river tubing initiative with its idea of wrist-bands, helmets and life-jackets, reversed their impending restrictive river-use strategy and are now benefiting from sales generating an excess of $500,000 a summer through tubing. There is even hope that the Back Gates to the park will remain open for public access through continued efforts.

These experiences have led me to a renewed vision and mission for Elora Raft Rides; that is, to offer custom designed watercraft better suited to and more inclusive of the popular kinds of boating activities in Elora and the Elora Gorge that will benefit both residents and visitors to our beautiful town.

Proud of our self-built, 20 foot classic punts, our customized hybrid watercraft, our Volunteer-Ship & Member-Ship programs, our socio-environmental Initiatives, our Vision and Mission, we invite you choose from all sorts of our engaging and fun adventure offerings and to “Discover the Past, Present and Future in a Raft Ride with Us”.

Copyright © 2015 Elora Raft Rides