Finlay MacNeill is hoping to get a “broader perspective” on his province over the next nine days.

Yesterday morning, the fourth-year ecotourism and outdoor leadership student “put in” his canoe at Calling Lake along with nine other students anxious to paddle the Athabasca River and take in the tar sands along the way.

Leading the expedition are Prof. Joe Pavelka and assistant instructor Jeff Couilliard. Pavelka selected the route partly because the Athabasca is beautiful, large, historic, and challenging — but also because it will enable his students to see, first-hand, Alberta’s greatest controversy.

“I’ve been told the best place to see the oilsands is from the river,” said Pavelka. “We’ll be right next to the projects.”

As for MacNeill, he jumped on the opportunity to see Alberta’s north and the area “powering our entire country.”

“So much of our life is run by petroleum and we take it for granted,” he said. “I recognize the environmental impact the tar sands have caused, but I also drive a truck and paddle a canoe made of plastic.”