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Canoeing: what's new? (8 photos)

This week Back Roads Bill gets us ready for canoeing

It is Easter almost, recently there seems to be some sort of spring pattern in the reader offerings, first, it was the emergence of the bears, then the waterfall watching now the advent of open water and paddling along.

The canoe was identified as one of the seven wonders of Canada; an icon and a symbol of a diverse heritage. It represents a connection to nature, reverence for history, a tool for exploration and discovery of self and a real link to a vast and magnificent land.

Canoe Crazy

It was Roy MacGregor who helped identify the canoe as this national symbol in 2007.

It is a privilege to know Roy while respecting and admiring his writing. For this story, he was asked to comment on “why go canoeing this spring?” What he sent back is a bit of foreshadowing or in essence a newsworthy “scoop,” an older newspaper term for something other media doesn’t yet have.

Like Margaret Atwood, we should know Roy for his fifty-plus books. He is the acclaimed and bestselling author of The Home Team: Fathers, Sons and Hockey (shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award); A Life in the Bush (winner of the US Rutstrum Award for Best Wilderness Book and the CAA Award for Biography); Canadians: A Portrait of a Country and Its People; Original Highways: Travelling the Great Rivers of Canada, Canoe Country: The making of Canada; and Northern Light: The Enduring Mystery of Tom Thomson and the Woman Who Loved Him; as well as two novels, Canoe Lake and The Last Season, and the popular Screech Owls mystery series for young readers.

MacGregor has been a regular columnist at The Globe and Mail since 2002; his journalism has garnered four National Magazine Awards and two National Newspaper Awards. He is an Officer of the Order of Canada, and was described in the citation as one of Canada’s “most gifted storytellers.”

The following is a snippet from his upcoming memoir. It's called Paper Trails and will recall his 50 years in journalism.

“But also things like canoes. It should be published by Random House Canada in 2023.”

So fortunate to share this offering with VillageMedia, read on.

In the annoying pandemic winter of 2020-2021, there was much talk about the high value of therapy pets – dogs and cats that would be taken to long-term-care homes to provide a little emotional support and comfort.

I found mine in my garage. I would go out, periodically, and let the stress and anxiety ooze out by patting and petting and stroking my…canoe.

It hangs upside down from the ceiling, a cedar-and-canvas Northland canoe built by Albert Maw of Huntsville and painted firetruck red by his summer assistant, my younger brother Tom. It is still, more than four decades on, in magnificent shape, with but one small patch from a foolish run down a swollen spring creek a few years back with our daughter Christine and her young children, Fisher and Sadie. The canoe cost $750 in 1978, money that came from a gold medal entry for politics in this country’s very first National Magazine Awards. Thank you, Otto Lang.

Up until a couple of years back, another canoe was strapped to that ceiling. This one was made of such lightweight material that it seemed you could pick it up and stuff it in a back pocket for the portage. It cost three times what we paid for the Northland. We discovered it was a marvel when stabilized with a tent and packs and food buckets, but treacherous when grandchildren or little-experienced visitors took it out on their own. After one son-in-law “nearly drowned!” (words of our daughter), we let him sell it on Kijiji for $2000.

Both canoes, of course, were bright red. The canoes used by the Lands & Forests rangers in Algonquin Park were red, with a white stripe; the grandparents’ canoe at Lake of Two Rivers, a Chestnut 'Ranger,' of course, was red; the fibreglas canoe son Gordon has hidden under a spruce by a little speckled trout lake on the edge of the Algonquin Park border is red.

If I told you where, of course, I would, unfortunately, have to kill you.

On a shelf behind where I type this day is a framed photograph, taken by daughter Jocelyn, of the Northland Canoe sitting empty by a campsite on Burnt Island Lake, the water so calm at dawn it looks as if the canoe has been pulled up onto a mirror. On the wall in front of me is a copy of a brilliant magazine illustration by Peter Swan. It was done for the first magazine article I ever wrote, “The Great Canoe Lake Mystery," for the September 1973 issue of Maclean’s magazine. Peter did a perfect copy of Tom Thomson’s famous West Wind, but then deftly added in a ghostly addition: Tom kneeling in his canoe, paddling hard against the churning whitecaps.

It seems I can’t escape canoes. But I also use canoes for escape… 

(Thanks for this Roy!)

Here is one of my stories with Roy and another.

Swift Canoe

If you are going to become part of the Canadian canoe culture you have to think about what is the best canoe or kayak to have, it is one of those lifetime investments.

Over time canoes have morphed through use, cost, design, functionality, material and 'paddability' if that’s a word and it’s not.

It is not a woodshop smell when you enter the Swift canoe factory in South River, with about 50 employees, it is the strong scent of aerospace materials. You are inhaling the fragrance of the future.

We can like Swift because it’s entirely made in Canada, a success story and an industry leader in canoe and kayak design and manufacture. Without question they are respected as innovators in composite canoe and kayak technology and the demand is there, there is another expansion of the factory that I saw during the tour.

Bill Swift is at both the bow and stern of the 'Swift Team' which conceptualized, developed and started to build canoes in 1984 and kayaks in 1995.

What they have done is this he says, “We set out to build the ultimate recreational, light touring and tripping boats to suit paddler’s needs. We started by focusing on the need for functional, technically advanced canoes and kayaks that provide true performance benefits to the consumer.”

The Swift family has been serving paddlers for 50 years through our affiliate outfitting and rental business, Algonquin Outfitters headed up through brother” Rich.” They have found no better trial for durability, longevity and performance than their rental fleet of over 1000 boats where every new Swift canoe and kayak is tested.

And post-pandemic canoe and kayak repairs have meant more designated staff and resources for this service.

“People want to get outside even more now than ever before!”

To achieve these goals, Swift sought out the most knowledgeable people in the industry. Each Swift canoe and kayak begins as a conceptual design and develops and grows with input from the lead designer David Yost known far and wide in paddling circles.

This is how it happens, said Bill, “Our research and development team meets to formulate the new design features and determine the performance characteristics the boat will need."

"Next, our boat designers produce a prototype for trial use based on the insight of the R&D Team. The prototype then gets paddled by our staff, and more importantly, the intended end consumer," he said. "Once we have determined the final boat shape, the project is then turned over to manufacturing. The engineers fine-tune the integral parts and boat ergonomics and produce the necessary tooling to put the boat into production.”

What they learned from the pandemic and supply chain challenges is that now they create all of their own component parts such as having their own wood milling shop.

That smell of the operation is related to the Kevlar and carbon fusion boats built with a urethane resin system for durability and longevity, and a thin exterior gel coat that truly creates a range of beautiful colours and finishes that incorporates UV protection.

This is achieved through layers of carbon, Kevlar, and Innegra cloth sandwich a durable foam core and rib system. The laminate is fused together with a high-impact, flexible urethane acrylate resin injected during high-pressure infusion, producing optimal dispersion and laminate consistency.

The ultra-lightweight boats consist of an outer layer of Carbon fibre coupled with layers of Kevlar and high modulus polypropylene Innegra cloth to generate a hull optimized for lightness and strength.

It is this infusion that is so neat to see as it is pumped into the mould. All of which is a Swift secret so there are no photos, please. You have to trust that the traditional and new designs built with these space shuttle materials are stronger than in the past even though they don’t look or feel that way. Even the traditionalists will start to embrace change.

When you go on to the Swift website you are in essence building your own boat. Here is my new boat for spring paddling. it is about 30 pounds and a joy to pick up. In the future Swift says the weight will continue to drop the and strength of the boat will increase according to the costs and the continued evolution of these space-age innovations.

The canoe of the future is now beyond the The Red Canoe that the poet Dr. Henry Drummond penned, and the little red canoe I also have. Bill Swift says paddling is truly “your time away to be with nature and your boat.”

Spring Delight

I entered the water for the first time the other day and this is my reflection on Instagram and Facebook.

Dear Diary…It was 1:37 p.m. on Sunday, April 3, just above zero degrees Celsius with bouts of rain and sleet; I took my first stroke of the year. It has been 98 days since I put away the boat on Boxing Day, 2021, you can see that on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Don’t tell mom about standing up in the canoe and taking photos, and this one was a wonderful canoe season capture. The sun peeked out and highlighted those rain clouds. Last year I was in the water on March 28.

The NW wind of last eve opened up the narrow crack on Moore Lake with an opening between the waning ice leading upstream to the Amable du Fond River. I was able to paddle as far as the upper rapids where the spring water was speaking a language I know. The ice on the edges is slush, just like the summer drink.

There were mergansers, all kinds of puddle ducks, a golden eye, buffleheads and a solitary great blue heron which surprised me. The only traffic was the many pairs of Canada geese - their honking was welcomed.

It was an exuberant time to be grateful for the sound of the paddle breaking the water and then the silence of the glide making a ripple; there was only mindfulness…naturally.

Not sure what to call my new boat and the look is so much different than wood but it feels like I am floating or gliding along in the water maybe like some of the lyrics from The Kings song – This Beat Goes On/Switchin' to Glide . National Canoe Day is Sunday, June 26 this year; mark it on your calendar for a paddle somewhere on the back roads.


Bill Steer

About the Author: Bill Steer

Back Roads Bill Steer is an avid outdoorsman and is founder of the Canadian Ecology Centre
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