Ontario’s Algonquin Provincial Park was established in 1893 to protect the headwaters of the five major rivers which flow from it. In its early years it was largely a fishing destination, as it had been for thousands of years; later, Tom Thomson and The Group of Seven sketched and painted the park indelibly into the national imagination. For the previous and the present century, the Park has remained a nexus for natural-beauty seekers and paddlers from all over the world.
As one of Canada’s largest provincial parks, Algonquin is biologically diverse with more than 1,000 vascular plant species and more than 200 vertebrates that breed within its boundaries. The Park contains numerous historical and archaeological resources and has inspired more than 40 books, thousands of scientific papers, a dozen films, a symphony, and more. Accessible from large urban centres and convenient to most tourism travel routes, Algonquin attracts over half a million visitors yearly. It occupies 7,630 square kilometres of land and water, with water making up approximately 12% of the area and contributing an extensive network of canoe routes.
With National Paddling Week approaching (June 5-14) the Ontario regional tourism organization known as Explorers’ Edge has started promoting what it hopes will be “the summer of the paddle” in this wilderness not so far north of Toronto. Home to Algonquin Park, Muskoka, and Parry Sound on Georgian Bay – and more than a dozen provincial and national parks – the region boasts an embarrassment of aquatic riches.
“In spring and summer, everywhere you turn in our region you’ll spot a canoe or kayak or stand-up board,” says James Murphy, executive director of Explorers’ Edge. “There are tons of outfitters throughout the region who can hook people up with the equipment they need and provide some instruction. Visitors can also take one of many guided paddling adventures with an outfitter or tourism operator,” he says. “Area accommodations often have canoes, kayaks and paddle boards on site to offer their guests as well.”
The region is also home to popular paddling events including Big East River X, Muskoka River X, the Great Muskoka Paddling Experience, Paddlepalooza, Women on the Water Festival, and the annual Kearney Regatta.
More at explorersedge.ca