Wilderness canoeing is the ultimate rite-of-passage for Canadian kids. A true wilderness canoeing experience should include at least one portage, where you have to carry the canoe and all your stuff overland for a while because there is something in the way like a waterfall.
There is usually some discomfort, like too many mosquitoes. And because you’re tenting in the wilderness then you’ll probably want to hang your food packs between two trees at night so those pesky bears and raccoons can’t get at them.
After doing a wilderness canoe trip, kids will have stories they can repeat well into adulthood. Like how they had to wade through muck to pull the canoe over the beaver dam that blocked the way. Or how they left the tent poles at the first portage and had to tie the tent up to a tree. Or how they ran out of kid-friendly food and had to eat disgusting army rations.
Canada’s native people were the first to use canoes, which were often made out of birch trees because it is light and strong. A great canoeing song—one you paddle to—is based on a poem by Pauline Johnson of the Mohawk Nation:
Land of the silver birch
Home of the beaver
Where still the mighty moose
Wanders at will
Blue lake and rocky shore
I will return once more
Boom diddy-ah da, boom diddy-ah da, boom diddy-ah da, eaa-aaa-aaa.
Algonquin Park in Ontario was where we did our wilderness canoeing. More than 2000 km of canoe routes run through it and there are 29 different access points. There’s a Portage Store too so you can rent a canoe and buy supplies. We usually did the loop, starting at Canoe Lake, then on to the Joes (Joe Lake, Little Joe Lake, Baby Joe Lake), Burnt Island Lake, Sunbeam Lake, Tom Thomson Lake, Little Doe Lake, and back to Canoe Lake. We took three days to do it. Once we arranged for the Portage Store to drop us off at Kioshkokwi Lake and canoed through the park from north to south. That was a longer trip.
Wilderness canoeing takes lots of preparation. You’ll need to learn how to get into and out of a canoe without it tipping over, and how to paddle. There’s a long list of gear you’ll need to bring and whatever you take in you have to pack out. After you decide on your route you need to make arrangements with the park. You’ll probably be a little awkward at first but soon you’ll find your rhythm.
There are other places to experience wilderness canoeing in Canada, such as the Bloodvein River in Manitoba that flows 300 km east from Lake Winnipeg. It’s more remote than Algonquin Park and probably requires greater expertise and preparation because there are many rapids, falls and portages. You can’t get all the way there by road either so it is quite an expedition.
Another suggestion is canoeing to Grey Owl’s cabin in Prince Albert National Park in Saskatchewan. Grey Owl was once a trapper who spoke out about the need to protect Canada’s natural resources. Some say he was Canada’s first conservationist. His cabin is on the shores of Ajawaan Lake and is a very popular backcountry destination for paddlers. Parks Canada has a webpage that tells you all about it and you can also rent a canoe and equipment nearby.
By Sylvia Fanjoy
Photo credits Riding the buses™
© Riding the buses™ 2015