Young children dream about many things and for me it was to paddle a canoe into the wilderness of Canada. I read John Rowlands ‘Cache Lake Country – Portage to Contentment’ as a boy and I was hooked. There was something very Canadian about canoeing. Several years ago, I bought a wood and canvas Chestnut canoe. The classic canoe still has the original decal on its bow. All that I needed was an excuse to get to Algonquin.

Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario is the heart of canoe country. The park has many lakes connected by marked portages and campsites where canoeists can set off for a day or for weeks.

The opportunity arose when my cousin – who had canoed much of his adult life – invited me to join him on a trip to Algonquin in October. To get in the right mood, my wife bought me a copy of Roy MacGregor’s ‘Canoe Country’ that speaks to the Canadian connection to the canoe. I read much of it on the flight to Ontario.

I arrived in Ottawa where I spent a few hours looking over Tom Thomson’s paintings from Algonquin. The centenary of his death is coming up in 2017. I wanted to visit a few places where he canoed and painted iconic images to see how it had changed and to get a sense of the land.

Our visit was planned to coincide with sunny weather and I had hoped, the changing autumn leaves. The former prevailed but the leaves were only beginning to change. My cousin taught me to paddle properly and how to portage.

I brought along a few post cards of Thomson’s paintings to match up with a location shown on a map of the park. I think it is an open question if the location is correct, at least to my eye.

What struck me was how nature has infused the Canadian culture through the thousands of children and adults who have fond memories thanks to the canoe and artists who have been drawn to the wilderness. There is much to be gained from nature if we can find a way to let it become part of the culture for everyone.


About rob butler

I am a scientist, author and naturalist with over four decades of field study of wild animals. You can read more at my web site at
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