Stories of Young Canoeists

Highland Jigs and Anthill Watching.
“I’m well versed in northern Ontario canoe tripping, but northern Scotland? Not so much. I was in Inverpolly, in the northwest Highlands, with my wife and daughter. It was really nasty weather, cold and miserable, and no trees in sight. Before the outfitter left he said, ‘The portage is over that mountain there.’ I said to my wife, ‘What are we doing? We’ve got a six-year-old!’ Right then my daughter, Kyla, threw her pack in the canoe and said, ‘C’mon, dad, we’re not made out of sugar.’

It was a six-day trip and by the third day, we got used to the surroundings. We were on a two-kilometre portage through this mountainous area and my wife and I had to go back for the second load and I said to my daughter, ‘You don’t have to come back with us – there’s nothing here in Scotland that can kill you! No bears.’ So we headed back and then I thought, ‘This is a bad idea.’ We thought we heard crying, so we rushed back. But Kyla wasn’t crying, she was singing and dancing – doing a Highland jig in the heather. Parents are so paranoid at times about taking their kids out in the wilderness, but we introduce the phobias to them. If I hadn’t listened to my daughter at the beginning, we would have turned around and not done that canoe trip, and it was one of the best we’ve ever had.

With a child, it’s a totally different trip.

You’re not in a rush – you can’t be. When my daughter was two, she was on a portage, and she looked at an anthill for about an hour. And I was getting impatient until I remembered – that’s what I used to do. Just look at anthills. So I sat down to look at the anthill with her. And I thought, ‘What was I getting all stressed about? Well, because I have to get to the next lake. But why do you have to get to the next lake? There’s an anthill here to watch.'”
– Kevin Callan

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Frog’s Legs and Duane’s Bagpipes.
“I took my first overnight trip in about 1948 when I was 11, with a group of boys and counselors from Camp Pawating. It rained. We paddled to Lake Chubandjoe, north of Sault Ste. Marie. We hauled heavy sleeping bags filled with kapok made leaden by rain. No tents, only a rough spruce branch shelter. We whacked bullfrogs (there were hundreds of them) with our paddles, cut off the legs of the poor things, then skinned them by pulling the skin from the top down and finally fried them in bacon grease. (Please note that I had an epiphany re: the clubbing of frogs in order to eat their skinny but delicious legs. I have not eaten frog’s legs for 64 years.)

The rest of the victuals were canned peaches, sardines, bacon, bread (sometimes fried in the aforementioned bacon grease), and of course beans. On the way out, the portages were mud-filled lowlands and the canoes heavy cotton canvas on spruce ribs planked with cedar – so heavy we staggered, fell and crawled much of the way.

Canvas and cedar canoe.

We lined our gunwales with water lilies as we returned, singing camp songs, paddles raised overhead, feeling like conquering heroes.

My first trip on my own (with one other friend, Duane) was when I was about 14. In mid-summer we packed our gear into my father’s car and he drove us out to a lake (again north of the Soo) and dropped us off for about two weeks. We felt quite safe because we had my friend’s dog along with us. He was a lovely black lab and would not have hurt a flea, let alone a bear.

Our real protection from wild beasts was Duane’s bagpipes. He was just learning how to play and he practiced every evening before bedtime. Any dangerous animals still lurking nearby in the forest would undoubtedly be held at bay by Duane’s rendition of ‘The 10th Battalion Crossing the Rhine’ or ‘All the Blue Bonnets over the Border.’ I suspect he frightened the fish as well, because we did not catch any.”
– Scott Cameron

Survival Under a Canoe.
“In my final year at summer camp, when I was 15, I went on a solo canoe trip. You could only go in your final year as a camper, and if you had a certain accumulation of badges, so there might’ve been six of us.

We were camping in a bay with the counselors in the centre and the campers spread out. You wouldn’t be able to see the other campers or counselors.

You weren’t allowed a tent, you weren’t allowed a watch or a flashlight, all you had was a tarp, and length of rope and a stuff-sack with your clothes and sleeping bag, a few matches, iodine tablets, enough food for a few basic meals, a pot and a few utensils, a paddle, a lifejacket, and a canoe. When they dropped me off at my campsite, I was the farthest away from everyone. It was toward the end of August when it gets dark at around 7:30 or 8:00. So I thought I’d go to bed early and I wrapped myself up in my sleeping bag and tarp, got underneath the canoe, and I slept. I remember waking up and hearing high winds and the waves crashing on the shore.

So in the morning I was preparing to light a fire with wood I had collected the night before, but I couldn’t light it. All the wood was soaking wet. I was supposed to have cooked bannock for breakfast but all I ate was an apple. I was feeling quite defeated, thinking, ‘You’re such a loser – you can’t even build a fire.’

Then the counselors came to pick me up and said, ‘Are you okay?!’ I said I was fine. They said, ‘Are you sure you’re okay?’ And I said, ‘Am I okay? What are you talking about?’ They told me there had been such a terrible storm and huge downpour the night before they’d had to rescue all the other campers and take them back to sleep in tents – but couldn’t get to my site because it was the farthest away and the storm was so bad. So they’d had to leave me out there. They thought I would have been crying and terrified.

So I was the hero after all. I was the only one who’d done it. Everyone else had slept with the counselors. I felt like a bit of a false hero because it wasn’t like I was sitting up facing the storm. I slept through the whole thing.

They don’t do these solo overnights at the camp anymore. A couple of years later, they dropped one of the kids off and paddled away and then a bear walked out of the woods right behind her.”
– Jane Potter


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