Father and son canoe bonding trip takes strange twist after police pursuit

Max and Isaac pose for a photograph at Westboro Beach on a sunny day.
Max Finkelstein (right) and his son Issac (left) were set to canoe from Montreal to Westboro on April 23. But plans fell through when the Westboro duo were caught in a car chase and crash just before reaching the water. Photo by Charlie Senack.

By Charlie Senack

What was supposed to be a bonding canoe trip between father and son turned to chaos after a car chase altered one Westboro student’s end of semester dream. 

Isaac Finkelstein, 24, recently completed his undergraduate political science program at Concordia University. When he moved to Montreal four years ago to pursue his post secondary education, the local high performance athlete canoed the three-day journey from Westboro Beach with his father Max.

To make it a full circle moment they wanted to do it again. Water levels were going to be high given spring flooding, leading to fast currents which would make the journey tough yet exciting. 

“It was going to be a nice closure to my time in Montreal,” said Issac. “Most of the time you would just be driving from Montreal to Ottawa on a boring highway. Paddling it four years ago, it was great to instead see it from the water. This time it would have been a fun challenge going against the current. It was going to be cold and rainy so it would have been an endeavor.”

But plans didn’t go as hoped. 

Isaac and Max set out to do the journey from Montreal to Ottawa on April 28. It was a day that started out busy but normal. 

“We had a big logistical issue because I had all my stuff in my apartment which I was leaving for good,” Issac said. “We packed my whole apartment into the car with all the stuff for the canoe trip. In the morning we woke up early and set the canoe up on wheels so we could wheel the canoe through Montreal.”

The Lachine Canal in Montreal was not yet open to boat traffic, meaning the Finkelsteins would have to transport the canoe 16 kilometers before getting into the water. Max big-rigged the canoe to a bike, and Issac was going to run beside him. His Mother Constance was going to drive their Subaru with his apartment belongings back to Ottawa. 

The sun was shining and the Finkelsteins were making good time as they peddled and ran with the canoe down a bike path which was parallel to the canal. Runners, rollerbladers, and cyclists were soaking in the sun, and parents with their children in strollers were enjoying the rare April heat. The paddlers were about two kilometers from their launch point when Isaac realized something was wrong. 

“We saw a car chase. There was squealing (tires); they were going really fast, and there were about four police cars behind them,” he said. 

Curious what was happening, Issac ran underneath a bridge to get a better view of what was unfolding. Max, bike and canoe in tow, followed. 

“After a few seconds I saw the car facing me on the bike path and I had an immediate flight response. I spun around, told my dad to run, and then I scooted out onto the grass,” said Issac.

“The car smashed into the canoe and got tangled into the canoe,” he recounted. “As the car went forward my dad got his feet trapped into the bike and was pulled along the bike path for quite a ways.”

Max predicts he was dragged about 25 meters away from the underpass. Issac was unsure if his father was about to die. 

“I thought the driver was trying to kill me, but then realized they were trying to untangle the canoe from the vehicle,” Max said. “I heard the tires squeal and the engine revving, and I was dragged backwards again. I was aware of the sounds of spinning tires, the engine revving, and then silence.”

He luckily escaped without any serious injuries. Max said he was bruised and battered, and his legs were seriously scraped up. “I have good bones,” he said. 

Max and Issac were hopeful the canoe was in good enough shape to continue their journey. But it had to be held by Montreal Police as evidence along with the bike. Issac said the canoe was fully destroyed by the car’s tires which punctured through the middle of it. The oak yoke was reduced to splinters scattered in the hull. The gunwales were bent, broken and some pieces were gone. There was no sign of the canoe trailer either. 

Police drove the Finkelsteins to the train station so they could safely return to Westboro. It was a sad ending to what was supposed to be a fitting closure to a chapter. 

“Not doing the trip was a huge loss. I’ll never get the chance to do it again,” said Max. “It’s not a really long canoe trip, but the logistics are complicated and we had it planned really well. It was a good challenge we could do together.” 

According to Max, police apprehended the driver and are still looking for a person of interest who is at large. Max expects they will need to return to Montreal for the trial. 

Both Max and Issac are professional canoeists. Max, who retraced the route of explorer Alexander Mackenzie and detailed it in his book, Canoeing a Continent, said Isaac’s first ride in a canoe was at three days old. Isaac was paddling on his own by the age of three, and started navigating heavy rapids a few years later. Issac has won national championships eight times, and said he grew up on the water at the Rideau Canoe Club near Mooney’s Bay.

Issac is about to spend the summer working up North before coming back to Ottawa to start his masters in biology at Carleton University this September. The Nepean High School graduate will be studying animal behaviors using dragon flies as a subject. 

“I’m extremely proud of him and his accomplishments so far,” said Max of his son. “He has a room full of medals. Being a high level athlete takes dedication. Then seeing him go on to do so well with his education, I’m a proud Dad.”

Max and Isaac pose for a photo in the kitchen with fresh challah bread out of the oven.
Issac (left) was in the middle of training for Ottawa Race weekend. He ran alongside his father who was pushing the canoe by bike through Montreal. Provided photo.

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