My Early Days with Canoes

Nicks canoe with stickers

In my grade six social studies text I was spellbound by the fluid lines of canoes that appeared in the line drawings of C.W. Jeffries. The canoe travels of Champlain, the Jesuits and les Voyageurs enthralled me.

I heard that Boy Scouts were taught how to paddle a canoe.

“Canoeing! That’s for me!”

I thought. To become a scout, I had to give up three of the best years of my life in the purgatory of being just a cub. Finally, I became a scout. At summer camp, they promised to teach me how to paddle a canoe.

On the third morning of camp, canoeing instruction was on the menu. I ran to the waterfront area to see the canoes. There were twenty of us and ten of them, all tied bow to stern, in an orderly line, bobbing against the sandy shoreline. A paddle was thrust into my eager hands. This was it! I was going to paddle comme un homme du nord!

Not so! It did not happen. All we did was thrash about in a merry-go-round of canoes tied bow to stern, bow to stern…Round and round we went until we were all exhausted. Heartbroken at not being taught how to paddle, I quit being a scout as soon as the bus returned to Toronto.

Ten years later, on Sudbury’s Ramsey Lake, my next canoeing opportunity came to me. A very rare Noorduyn Norseman floatplane was tugging at its mooring buoy. I wanted to photograph it, but I didn’t have a telephoto lens. It was then I caught sight of a canoe resting on the Austin Airways dock.

“Can I borrow your canoe so I can photograph CF-GSR, the Norseman?” I asked.

 The pilot was impressed that I knew what kind of plane it was, so he believed me when I said, “Sure, of course I know how to canoe.”

The stiff wind took me and the borrowed canoe straight out to the plane – and beyond, far beyond. The canoeing lesson I was given for the next hour was administered by the School of Hard Knocks. Trial and Error were my demanding teachers. I had not forgotten what I had not learned at scout camp.

Did I get my picture? No. I was too busy wrestling with the canoe that was challenging me like an unbroken bronco. That said, for the first time I had paddled a canoe and eventually I managed to make it go where I wanted it to go!

By Nick Wolochatiuk

Photo Credit – Aiden Welsh

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