Embracing Canadian Canoe Culture

Canoe Trail’s Ash and Rich embarked on their latest adventure to explore and embrace Canadian Canoe Culture in Ontario. Pioneer Steve Bruno of Ontario Tourism had coined the phrase Canadian Canoe Culture to showcase the history, heritage and paddling opportunities in Canada and specifically Ontario.

Richard Harpham, one half of Canoe Trail’s management is no stranger to Canada and adventure having sea kayaked from Vancouver, British Columbia to Alaska, canoeing and racing on the Yukon River and also hiking the Chilkoot Trail. The schedule for their trip included some of the most iconic elements of canoeing and paddling in Ontario such as:

  • Visiting Peterborough Canoe Museum
  • Exploring Algonquin Park’s Hailstorm Creek with Algonquin Outfitters
  • Racing the Muskoka River X wilderness Race with Hap Wilson
  • Exploring Temagami’s wilderness by float plane, and then canoeing 60km to Cabin Fall’s Ecolodge
  • Visiting Ojibwe people First Nation Elder Alex Mathias

Rich was writing articles for a number of magazines on the Canadian Canoe Culture with Ash helping edit the articles and also being the official photographer. 

Peterborough Canoe Museum

Peterborough Canoe Museum is the world’s largest collection of canoes and kayaks in the world. Rich and Ashley were given access to the archives with canoes dating back over 4,000 years.  Included in the collection were original birch bark designs, skin on frame kayaks and even a royal collection of cedar strip canoes.

Rich “The Peterborough Canoe Museum has been on my bucket list to visit for over a decade, the origins of Canoeing and Kayaking are held here in safe hands. I would recommend any paddlers to visit this magical place”

Paddling in Algonquin Park, Ontario
Paddling in Algonquin Park, Ontario

Algonquin Park

The first paddling stop for Rich and Ash was to visit Oxtongue lakes with Algonquin Outfitters and their lovely hosts Randy Mitzen. The team took a premium fast boat into Hailstorm Creek to capture incredible reflections and wildlife in this tranquil backwater. The team saw plenty of otters, beavers and cormorants during their paddle.

The following day the team paddled a large waterfall site at  Ragged Falls which was an enormous mass of bubbling water.  This hour long paddle was the necessary warm up for Rich and Hap Wilson for their 80 mile race a few days later.

Muskoka River X canoe race
Muskoka River X canoe race

Muskoka River X

The Muskoka River X is a an 80 mile unsupported wilderness canoe, kayak or SUP race covering lakes, river sections and 20 portages. It is a tough race with challenging lake sections, up and downstream sections and portages up to 1700 m where competitors must carry their canoe or kayak around a waterfall or dam.

Only in Canada would you consider it normal to race upstream within a race.  Rich was racing with legendary guide, author and environmentalist Hap Wilson.  The team managed to break a paddle on the rapid sections, get navigationally challenged (lost) and battle thick fog. Despite this they finished 24th overall in 22 hours racing hard as ‘Gentlemen racers’! This meant paddling fast and hard against other crews before stopping for tasty snacks and food stops.  It was akin to the Tortoise and Hare fable with them overtaking certain crews repeatedly.

The race was one of the friendliest ever with great humour and banter between the competitors.  The early morning start provided incredible scenes with the raw sunlight blending with the mist on the water. Paddlers were silhouetted in a scene resembling a post apocalyptic image.

Loading the Float Plane for the wilderness canoe trip
Loading the Float Plane for the wilderness canoe trip

Temagami Wilderness

Following the Muskoka River X Race Rich and Ash were treated to a down day before heading out to Temagami, a 60 square mile wilderness area. Hap and Andrea Wilson have incredible local knowledge of this area and own the Cabin Falls Eco Lodge within the park. It is the only cabin in this wilderness paradise and is only accessible by canoe or float plane.

The mission to fly into a remote lake in Temagami wilderness by float plane and then paddle 60 kilometres to Cabin Falls Eco Lodge. This involved paddling different lake systems linked by more portages, canoeing and camping along the way. There are lots of portages to navigate around waterfalls, rapids and obstacles to gain access to Lady Everlyn River. Hap, Rich, Andrea and Ash, and Oban, their Collie plotted a course down to the Cabin enjoying the incredible wilderness, giant pines and plenty of wild life.

Cabin Falls Ecolodge Temagami
Cabin Falls Ecolodge Temagami

The Cabin Falls site itself comprises 4 cabins and a true wilderness paradise perfect for retreating from the rgiours of modern life. The team enjoyed exploring the area with wild swimming every day, great food and lots of laughter. One of the things that makes Cabin Falls and Temagai so special is that Hap and Andrea were driving forces in saving this ancient forest from logging.  It is one of the most incredible places to stay on the planet.  Canoe Trail are planning to run wilderness retreat and canoe skills courses to Cabin Falls in future.

Wild Swimming at Cabin Falls, Temagami
Wild Swimming at Cabin Falls, Temagami

Ojibwa People

The final destination of the paddling trip was to visit Alex Mathias, First Nation Elder who is the last remaining person from his people fluent in his language. Canoe Trail are aware that the trip was made with the blessing of Alex whose ancient lands were being shared. The team spent an evening with story telling around the campfire before departing for Toronto and home.

A Million Thanks

There are many people to thank for making the Canadian Canoe Culture Trip possible including Ontario’s Steve Bruno and Trish. Equally Randy Mitzen, head of marketing for Algonquin Outfitters and Lyn his wife also shared stories and experiences. Hap and Andrea Wilson who were incredible providing Rich and Ash with kindred spirits, paddlers, environmentalists  and  outdoor folk. Alex Mathias, First Nation Elder,  the Muskoka River X team and lots of locals also provided a typical Canadian welcome.

Portaging on Lady Everlyn River to Cabin Falls Ecolodge
Portaging on Lady Everlyn River to Cabin Falls Ecolodge
Swifts Canoes on Florence Lake
Swifts Canoes on Florence Lake