Paddling pioneer passes

PAUL TURENNE -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:06 AM ET

Bill Brigden, a man who some consider to be the greatest paddler Manitoba ever produced, died Sunday.

Brigden, 88, a former Olympian, member of the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame, master boat builder and father of three, recently suffered a fall from which he never recovered, said Don Starkell, his a longtime friend and former racing partner.

"In my opinion he's the best all-around paddler who's ever come out of Manitoba," said Starkell, who once paddled one of Brigden's canoes to the Amazon river. "I remember him having a fantastic physique. He was an amazing athlete."

A former member of the Winnipeg Canoe Club, Brigden represented Canada at the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki, where he finished ninth in the 10,000-metre tandem kayak event, said Starkell, who teamed up with Brigden for the same event at the 1954 Canadian championships.

Brigden was the last member of Canada's Olympic canoe/kayak team to hail from Manitoba, said Robin McClure, president of the Manitoba Paddling Association.

He was inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame in 1992.

Brigden was also a master boat builder, and built more than 1,000 canoes during his life, said Anne Macdonald, his daughter.

INNOVATOR

"He was kind of a pioneer in the sport. He was an innovator, an inventor," said McClure. "I remember being taken into his shop to hear his theory on why this design was going to make this boat go faster or why this paddle was better than that one."

Brigden built the canoe that Starkell and his son Dana paddled to the Amazon during their famous expedition in the 1980s.

"His canoes were like his little babies going out on the water. If he thought you weren't going to love it and care for it he didn't care if he never sold you one of his canoes," said Starkell.

Brigden also used his handiwork skills to build his St. Vital home, which, of course, backed onto the Red River where he used to go for long paddles, said Macdonald.

"He was a really excellent person, just a dear friend," said McClure, who added that Brigden remained supportive of and involved in the paddling community in the past few years, even though arthritis had prevented him from getting on the water himself in his later years.

Brigden is survived by his wife Marion and sons Rob and Paul, as well as Macdonald.

"He was a wonderful father," said Macdonald.

The family is hoping to hold the funeral on Friday, but a final decision has yet to be made, she said.


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