I’m not into canoeing. I prefer the kayak. But canoes are such a part of Canadian life that I am endlessly drawn to the often mystical imagery of paddling, especially in art.
So many iconic Canadian moments are tied to canoeing, including the wilderness trips of Group of Seven founder and painter Tom Thomson. He died mysteriously on (yes) Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park in 1917.
Canoeing is firmly entwined with our history. One of the most influential trippers was former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. He traveled to the ends of Canada by canoe and wrote:
What sets a canoeing expedition apart is that it purifies you more rapidly and inescapably than any other. Travel a thousand miles by train and you are a brute; pedal five hundred on a bicycle and you remain basically a bourgeois; paddle a hundred in a canoe and you are already a child of nature. Source: published in French in Jeunesse Etudiante Catholique, November 1944.
Thousands of Canadian artists have included the canoe in their portfolios, making the craft an integral image in our mythologized northern identity. A handful of examples:
Emily Carr, War Canoe, Alert Bay, 1912 – sold for a record $1.23 million in November.
From the Singing Wilderness, By Sigurd Olson: “The movement of a canoe is like a reed in the wind. Silence is part of it, and the sounds of lapping water, bird songs, and wind in the trees. It is part of the medium through which it floats, the sky, the water, the shores”.