Twenty aboriginal students from Hamilton and 20 Hamilton cops milled about on a narrow muddy shoreline in Paris, trying hard not to step on toes or accidentally clunk each other in the head with canoe paddles.
Ahead lay a 15-kilometre excursion down the Grand River to Brantford in a unique bridge-building experiment called The Journey.
Some of the teenagers were from Cathedral and Sir John A. Macdonald high schools in town, others from alternative educational programs. And for some -- cops and kids alike -- it was a journey into the unknown.
Sherri Nelson, a Hamilton police constable with an irrepressible smile, was paired up with Albert Sears, 18, from Six Nations who now lives in Hamilton's inner city.
One cop, one teen in each canoe -- the idea was that they'd leisurely canoe and chat and get to know each other.
It became immediately obvious that the Nelson-Sears partnership was not a good idea. In the excitement of all the bridge-building, no one bothered to check if either knew how to canoe.
Gripping their paddles as if they were poling a raft, both instantly lost their smiles as the current snatched them up.
"Steer left," Albert said urgently, "We've gotta go left."
"What do you mean, steer, aren't you steering?" Sherri cried. "Oh god we're twisting, how do you steer, Albert?"
Around them, cops and kids were bobbing on the waves, some guiding their canoes with expert strokes, some flailing away like waterwheels, but eventually all got under way.
By some miracle, Sherri and Albert managed to point the craft downstream and chatted about themselves. How Albert ran with a crowd that didn't like cops, how they told each other they were tough enough to take care of things themselves, how he wanted to be an electrician.
They didn't notice the growing ripples ahead of them. Without warning, the rapids turned them broadside and crashed them into a rock.
"Ahhhhhhhh," screamed Sherri as the canoe flipped, catapulting both into the rushing waters.
But as the current snatched her away, Sherri suddenly felt a hand dart down into the water and grab her hand as Albert pulled her to her feet in the chest-high stream.
"My sunglasses," moaned Sherri, "my $350 prescription, antiglare, scratch-proof polarized designer Ray-Bans. Let's go find them."
Together, in the ankle deep mud, they started laughing, now friends.
"This has been a really good experience," said Tara Williams, advocacy program co-ordinator with the Aboriginal Health Centre in Hamilton.
"It's good for our youth, especially those in the cities who don't often get a chance to get to do outdoor activities and develop relationships with others."
The Journey builds upon other Hamilton police initiatives in the aboriginal communities.
When he first heard about the chance to take a canoe ride with police, Brodie Staats, 15, was not impressed. "I thought, oh great, cops. Here we go again. Another fake event. But you know what, this was fun."
As they beached their canoes, Brodie's muscular cop partner challenged him to a Grand River throwdown. The cop was swimming before he knew what happened.
So Deputy Chief Ken Leendertse decided he had to defend the force's honour.
"Brodie, Brodie, Brodie," screamed the teens -- and a few of the cops -- as the two locked arms. Leendertse, too, found himself in the drink.