Canadian Canoe Culture

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Why do we paddle?

The canoe is one of the Seven Wonders of Canada, and a mainstay of the Temagami experience.

Ten years ago, Canadians proclaimed that the canoe is as much as part of Canadian identity as Niagara Falls or the Prairie Skies . The rationale, mainly, was that the canoe had played a major part in shaping early Canada, and by extension, modern Canada. Canoes opened Canada up to the world and made it what it is today, for better or worse. Once upon a time, they were instrumental in bringing “civilization” to the backcountry, carrying agricultural and manufactured goods where there had been none before. Now, we use canoes to escape the trappings of modern life. A canoe is indispensable for the wild-at-heart, allowing us passage through water too shallow for motorboats, and over trails too narrow and rugged for cars.

Nowhere is this more true than in Temagami, which as early as the 1890s was prized as a refuge from modern life. Characterized as "a noble lake that lies forest-hidden in the northern wilds of Canada...unapproachable save by canoe," it was, "in its island-dowered lovliness, a divinity well worthy of the paddler's worship." Recreational canoe tripping became part of Temagami's identity as canoe tripping camps and lodges sprung up, often turning their campers into lifelong visitors or seasonal residents. But why? What is it about paddling in Temagami that brings people back year after year?

Yes, the stunning beauty of the area plays a part, as does the great variety of canoe routes available. Attractive, too, is Temagami's unique balance of accessibility and remoteness. But it's more than that. In a canoe, we can be our true selves - quiet or singing, silly or serious. In the peacefulness of a canoe, we can listen to thoughts that struggle to be heard through the noise of our day-to-day lives. The buoyant, forward-moving environment of a canoe is the perfect place to reflect on the past and plan confidently for the future. Or, we can simply empty our minds of everything except the sound of the water swirling off our paddle into little whirlpools behind us. Paddling is a great way to disconnect from everything non-essential and stress-inducing, and to connect with the important things in life.

We may paddle in different ways and for different reasons, but the common goal of all paddlers is connection.

Connection to others: to family, friends, and strangers-no-longer.

Connection to cultural heritage: ancient, indigenous, or adopted.

Connection to the land: rugged, beautiful, and bountiful, providing everything we need to survive as long as we know how to interact with it.

And finally, connection with ourselves: to our physical strength and our raw emotions, unfiltered by technology or the expectations of others.

Goh Iromoto’s beautiful film “The Canoe” explores these connections by showcasing the experiences of five individuals, couples and families who love to paddle. Their stories are uplifting, and the cinematography is both stunning and familiar. Incredibly, Goh has distilled the experiences of hundreds of thousands of Canadians into 27 minutes.

We’re grateful to be able to paddle so freely and easily in our part of the world, through landscapes that are both gorgeous ecologically important. We’re proud to connect people to Temagami in a meaningful way, through our outfitting services and our lodge-based programs. There’s no better life, and we hope you'll join us in exploring Temagami by canoe.

Deeper insight into Temagami canoe culture can be found in the following resources:

The Temagami Experience: Recreation, Resources, and Aboriginal Rights in the Northern Ontario Wilderness, by Bruce Hodgins and Jamie Benidickson.

Temagami Lakes Association: The Life and Times of a Cottage Community, by Pamela Glenn Sinclair (quoted above).

Temagami's Tangled Wild: Race, Gender, and the Making of Canadian Nature, by Jocelyn Thorpe.

For more information about Canadian canoe culture, has created a comprehensive list of relevant books and magazines (up to 2013):