Matthew James (MJ) Swan has made a life travelling the world, working aboard the expedition ships of his family-owned and operated company, Adventure Canada, since the fresh age of 15. Today, MJ is the Director of Business Development and shares his passion for the wilderness with travellers from around the globe on expeditions to some of the world’s most geographically and culturally remote destinations.
Kate Powell meets with MJ to learn about the exhilarating, exciting – and exhausting – life of an Arctic voyager.
Raised on the road – and beyond
At the time of MJ’s first subarctic expedition, he was just two years old. Although he grew up just outside the city of Toronto, adventure is written in MJ’s blood. Adventure Canada was founded by his father, Matthew Swan (Senior), who had the vision of sharing the transformative power of nature with the world; this is still a cornerstone value of the company, now in its second generation of management.
It comes as no surprise, then, to learn that MJ was raised on kayaks, canoes and camping under the stars with his family. “I’ve always been in love with nature,” he says. “Not only enjoying nature for myself, but helping others to see what surrounds them from a different perspective has always been very fulfilling for me. So those moments are really what make me feel successful in my job, and in my life.”
Redefining luxury: A state of peace
Adventure travel has long been famed as a life-changing experience; a renaissance of the pure, inner self, perhaps clouded or trampled over by the rush and pressure of life. As a lifelong explorer, MJ believes in the true, holistic luxury of inner peace, and understands this as being inextricably linked with the natural world of which we are a part.
The true enemy of peace, I come to realise, is the need to control; an innate human desire with which you are forcibly parted as an Arctic explorer, working alongside the unstoppable will of the elements.
“You always have to be ready to go with the flow,” MJ shares, ever poised in his seat as if to prove his own contention. “You have to read and react, to be flexible and take it as it comes.”
His calm – and yet alive – energy exudes the true gratitude he feels for a life out of the ordinary. He laughs when I ask if he has ever wished for a different, more stable life.
“No. Not at all.” He doesn’t miss a beat. “I have a career where I get to travel all over the world and discover all these places, away from the everyday hustle. To reconnect with nature. It’s an amazing lifestyle.”
Rather than taking from a destination, giving
Visiting a range of cultures around the world, Adventure Canada hosts expeditions to more than just the Arctic region in which it specialises. Scotland, Greenland, Iceland – MJ has seen it all. However, the transformative journey offered by Adventure Canada is not only for the individual, but also for the local communities, wildlife and wilderness it shares with guests.
“A portion of our tour fare goes to a number of different initiatives,” MJ explains. “We work with a huge number of environmental organisations, we’ve helped implement guidelines and set precedent for appropriate use in certain areas. We’ve helped to develop marine wildlife sanctuaries, and even helped local initiatives like rebuilding churches or community centres.”
MJ believes this adds a meaningful layer to the experience of Adventure Canada guests; to interact in a purposeful way with the natural environment reconnects people with a life outside of the ever-buzzing and bustling everyday, to come face-to-face with something greater than themselves.
“It’s really inspiring,” he smiles. “They get to see first-hand what their tour fare is going towards. Even after they’ve learned that some of their money goes there already, many take initiative to continue to sponsor and donate to these organisations.”
Leading industry expertise
In its unique combination of the curiosity for culture with a passion for exploring, Adventure Canada has established itself as one of the leading operators in the industry with a highly specialised team and a vast accumulation of expert experience.
MJ himself is an expert Zodiac driver, able to drive both with his left and right hand (a necessity after once breaking his preferred wrist two days before an expedition) and expertly read and react to the ice and waves through fjords, icebergs and glaciers.
Also present in an Adventure Canada expedition are a range of experts from various fields: geologists, archaeologists, historians, and biologists. Guests aboard learn in depth about all the hidden secrets of their destination: not only seeing it, but learning to truly understand it.
True cultural immersion with Adventure Canada
Even beyond its expert crew, Adventure Canada goes above and beyond to deliver a truly unique experience of its various destinations. From the moment you step aboard the vessel, the cultural journey has begun; you will find that the majority of its staff are from the destination to which you are travelling.
“It really adds that extra layer to the programming and gives that real genuine experience,” says MJ.
The strong destination focus means that even when you are cruising, you are experiencing the destination. You are having breakfast with the locals in the morning; in the evening, you sing their songs and hear their stories.
Upcoming adventures for 2018 with Adventure Canada will include Iceland Circumnavigation (30 June – 10 July) and Out of the Northwest Passage in September.