Few outdoor activities are more quintessentially Canadian than canoeing. Canoes, in their many shapes and forms, are older than Canada itself.
There are three very different kinds of craft that are associated with canoeing in Canada. There is the bark covered canoe of the First Nations peoples, later shared with early explorers, fur traders, lumbermen and settlers. Then there is the skin covered kayak of Canada’s Inuit peoples, its covered hull much more protective of the paddler while plying the frigid waters of the Arctic Ocean. Last there are the massive dugout canoes almost exclusively used by the First Nations peoples of Canada west coast that were capable of long distance ocean travel.
For residents of CKL the canoe that we are most familiar with is the traditional birch bark canoe that has gone through many different prototypes and models since its introduction in time memoriam. The birch bark canoe provided the foundation for travel that allowed the nation to be explored, investigated and exploited by so many different groups of people. At the height of the fur trade in the late 18th Century, canoes that left Montreal travelled as far north as Hudson Bay and as far west as the Rocky Mountains.
With canoes expected with each passing generation to carry heavier and heavier loads, birch bark was replaced in the 1850s with plank canoes featuring wooden boards over a strong set of internal ribs. This “classic Canadian canoe” was five metres long, 81 centimetres at the beam and 30 centimetres deep. Designed by craftsmen on the Otonabee River outside modern day Peterborough, this canoe met the needs of cottagers, vacationers, hunters and fishermen around the world, and the model was exported in its thousands to almost every nation known to man.
This basic design has been tweaked over the last two hundred years with different materials like fibreglass or aluminium, but the size and shape remain relatively consistent.
Former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was a committed canoeist, and saw much of Canada with a paddle in his hand. Trudeau commented that for him, the attraction of canoeing was to, “experience the tranquility in nature.”
In 2007, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation asked its listeners to list the “Seven Wonders of the Canadian World.” The canoe was proudly nominated seventh on that list, truly reflecting the important role it had played in the history of this continent both before and after the Europeans.
A group of committed canoeists have suggested in a series of interviews and online posts that the maple leaf should be replaced on the national flag with a canoe, if we truly want to recognize something that made Canada the nation it is today. My guess is that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who spent a lot of time in those canoes with his father, might not be adverse to the idea.
In CKL water is always close by and rentals of canoes are available at many marinas and trailer parks. Experienced canoeists have told me that first thing in the morning or after supper are the best times to be on the lake, and nothing quite rivals communing with nature one stroke at a time.