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Idleness, Water, and a Canoe

Idleness, Water, and a Canoe: Reflections on Paddling for Pleasure

Copyright Date: 1997
Pages: 300
  • Book Info
    Idleness, Water, and a Canoe
    Book Description:

    This book describes the cultural significance of two centuries of recreational paddling in Canada, illustrating through contemporary interviews and published sources what the experience of canoeing has meant to the sport's participants.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7597-1
    Subjects: Biological Sciences, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. 1 Idleness, Water, and a Canoe: Popular Images and Personal Experiences
    (pp. 3-16)

    Even in the modern world, where effective mobility seemingly depends on high-performance automobiles, supersonic jets, or generously powered speedboats, people paddle for pleasure and images of the canoe abound. The images are readily found in advertising, in art, on public buildings, on coinage, and on the highly denominated postage of the late twentieth century. Such visual reminders and symbolic echoes invite consideration of what the canoe continues to represent. Does it linger in our consciousness merely as a nostalgic relic, and only because the moulders of contemporary sensibilities have not yet succeeded in transferring popular perceptual allegiances to some modern...

  6. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  7. 2 A Useful Vessel: A Trout, a Moose, and a Canoe
    (pp. 17-31)

    Well known to Indian fur trappers, professional woodsmen, and others whose lives or livelihoods depended on the land, the utilitarian canoe has also served the recreational interests of anglers and hunters for a very long time. Much of the early North American sportsman’s outdoor activity involved – and often required – the canoe, and a well handled one at that. For this reason the watercraft itself and the arts associated with its use were closely observed by people better known to us for their accomplishments in business, the professions, trades, military affairs, or the arts. Officers of the major fur trading companies,...

  8. 3 The Healing Pines
    (pp. 32-47)

    James Dickson, a land surveyor, encouraged late nineteenth-century readers ofCamping in the Muskoka Region, his account of a canoe trip, to visit the wilderness with the thought that ‘at the close of our holiday we return to our labours among our fellow-men, invigorated and strengthened, both in mind and body.’¹ Among Dickson’s contemporaries, a certain number of women also regarded outdoor camping as a highly beneficial experience. ‘If a man can do this,’ Ella Walton reflected at the close of the century, ‘why, under modified conditions, cannot a woman?’ She concluded that camping, ‘properly undertaken,’ offered ideal conditions for...

  9. 4 God’s Country
    (pp. 48-64)

    In periods of general intellectual uncertainty or in moments of personal anxiety, many people have turned to the natural environment, hoping to renew spiritual values or to reaffirm some lost or threatened sense of order. For others, wilderness and the outdoors may actually have initiated feelings of awe and wonder that later culminated in reverence for the being, force, or power that called these spaces into existence. Such feelings might arise from several forms of experience in the outdoors. Alpine climbers, for example, have always claimed a special connection between their pastime and a spiritual appreciation of nature. Thus, speaking...

  10. 5 The Canadian Summer Boy
    (pp. 65-77)

    If exposure to the healing pines afforded restorative possibilities to the ‘brain-fagged, weary denizens’ of crowded cities, and the majestic wilderness of God’s country promised spiritual inspiration or renewal, then a wilderness experience might provide younger canoeists, boys certainly, with practical opportunities for self-development and for testing themselves. A summer experience outdoors, and the canoe trip in particular, often furnished the setting for a formative encounter between youthful campers and a challenging environment. Such experiences were expected to stand them in good stead through the years ahead, for the challenges to be faced and overcome in the rugged outdoors were...

  11. 6 Women and Wilderness
    (pp. 78-93)

    The potential for character-building encounters with rugged terrain and challenging Whitewater, while widely regarded as enhancing the attraction of recreational canoe travel for young men, appeared to be of more limited utility for earlier generations of women paddlers. Indeed, to the extent that the canoe trip was regarded as a contest with nature, women were actively discouraged from participating at all, for to tempt fate in the wilderness – to compete or struggle against elemental forces – was variously perceived as too dangerous and as unfeminine, not to speak of the effect that meeting adventurous women in the wilderness might have on...

  12. 7 Rock Dodging and Other Perils
    (pp. 94-109)

    The idea that ‘rapids are to canoers what fences are to fox hunters’¹ has been expressed on more than one occasion to suggest that a thrilling encounter with Whitewater was for many – as it remains for some – the central appeal of canoeing. Indeed, Whitewater rivers have frequently proved irresistible to paddlers in their vicinity. In New England, for example, residents have long enjoyed a wide range of choice among many regional streams. These comparatively accessible waterways have offered excitement for the novice and continuing challenges for more experienced paddlers. The early European settlers of northwestern Ontario’s Thunder Bay district could...

  13. 8 Getting Organized: Clubs and Competitions
    (pp. 110-128)

    The most evocative images of the canoe feature the open or Canadian craft in a wilderness setting. Whether a classic artefact of traditional aboriginal life, a commercial vehicle used by adventurous fur traders and explorers, or, more recently, a recreational vessel in the hands of summer vacationers, the canoe seems most at home in the rugged granite landscape of the Northern Shield country, in fast and open water, or resting quietly at some remote campsite. But to ignore the extensive history of canoeing as an urban pastime, as an intensely social activity, and as a competitive sport would be to...

  14. 9 What Kinda Boat Ya Got?
    (pp. 129-141)

    The vessel that some have regarded as ‘the little savage princess of boats’¹ or endearingly labelled a ‘magic little craft’² has not always been the object of admiration. Fundamental attitudes towards the canoe, both favourable and unfavourable, have shaped commentators’ perceptions and their views as to whether mastery of this small watercraft was an art held in high esteem or an activity to be disdained. In the 1880s, Charles Ledyard Norton captured the spectrum of opinion when he considered the impressions of the readership ofHourmagazine: ‘DoHourreaders know what a canoe is? Most of them will reply:...

  15. 10 The Craft and the Craftsman in Transition
    (pp. 142-156)

    For a century and a half, successive generations of wilderness travellers and recreational canoeists have watched the canoe emerge from the craftsman’s shop or the builder’s factory in a variety of new materials. Birch-bark vessels acquired from aboriginal craftsmen, building for themselves or for sale, were superseded by handsome wooden vessels. These in turn gave way to less costly and somewhat more utilitarian canvas-covered watercraft, which effectively symbolized the idea of canoeing for over half a century. Following the Second World War, new materials appeared with astonishing frequency, beginning with aluminum and fibreglass. Each of these transitions corresponded with changes...

  16. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  17. 11 Native Impressions
    (pp. 157-171)

    If aboriginal people had had no further involvement in the evolution of recreational canoeing than to provide a designer’s guide for the original watercraft, that contribution alone would be of inestimable importance. But to focus exclusively on the material prototypes would be to ignore other vital and continuing dimensions of the Native relationship to recreational canoe use. Aboriginal people not only built many of the craft actually used by early holiday paddlers, but also served as guides, as teachers, and indeed in some respects as models. Native and non-Native canoeists formed sometimes curious and even jarring impressions of each other....

  18. 12 Destinations
    (pp. 172-187)

    On first impression, P.G. Downes’s autobiographical confession – ‘I was not particularly sure where I was going’ – hardly seems to provide an adequate foundation for the legendary status enjoyed by this ardent northern traveller of the 1930s. ‘Even as I went west on the train,’ the Boston schoolteacher disclosed, ‘I postponed my final decision until my arrival in Winnipeg, where I might hear something of peculiar interest which would determine my course.’ Notwithstanding this uncertainty, Downes clearly intended to reach the Barrens, which were for him the ‘one beacon which was unwavering.’¹ Many subsequent would-be adventurers for whom the Barrens’ remoteness...

  19. 13 Comfort: Bringing It with You and Finding It There
    (pp. 188-205)

    Idleness, water, and a canoe, accompanied by at least some vague sense of destination, may have been sufficient preconditions for the recreational paddler’s launch, but basic outfitting decisions have always been crucial to the overall enjoyment of a canoe holiday. The range of choice might present itself as a set of alternative preferences, which opinion poll veterans are accustomed to rank by assigning numbers between ‘one’ and ‘seven’ on a scale. The results of the ranking indicate each canoeist’s favoured position on the spectrum between wet and dry, between warm and cold, between full and empty, and between bug-bitten and...

  20. 14 The Price of Adventure
    (pp. 206-223)

    Over the years, the financial burden of lugging a heavy pack across the bog, confirming that last year’s bug dope has deteriorated in storage, spending a damp night with spruce roots between your shoulder blades, and perhaps even catching your own dinner has been comparatively modest. That is much as one would expect, and upon reflection, it is much as one would hope to find that experiences of this nature need not be expensive. But the wilderness canoe holiday has never been free; this, too, is no surprise, for the chance to be liberated – albeit temporarily – from routine toil and...

  21. 15 Consuming Wilderness
    (pp. 224-238)

    Wilderness exploration today is a lot harder than it used to be. This paradox of modernity is simple enough to explain: there is a lot less wilderness than there once was.¹ For recreational canoeists the situation is particularly problematic since members of this group generally assume that a large expanse of uncivilized and largely unmolested terrain is an essential ingredient of a fully respectable holiday. The virtues of this celebrated activity, deriving from the physical exertion required, from the canoe’s association with nature, and from the paddler’s historical lineage, are important environmental credentials. Yet complicating the matter, muddying the moral...

  22. 16 The Future of the Voyageur
    (pp. 239-253)

    Over the past century, a remarkable number of canoeists have imagined themselves travelling in the footsteps of the voyageurs, of early European explorers, or of the original human inhabitants of the North American wilderness landscape. A good many others have envisaged encounters with their legendary forebears. ‘Could the veil in which the unwritten past is enshrouded be withdrawn,’ wrote James Dickson, the surveyor and popularizer of the district that was to become Algonquin Park, ‘scenes of valour, scenes of heroism, and scenes of cruelty and blood would be beheld, equal to any told in the histories of the Old World.’...

  23. Conclusion
    (pp. 254-256)

    ‘Cowboys are much more important than canoes,’ asserted a prominent Vancouver-based journalist in condemning federal financial support for a canoe museum in Prime Minister Jean Chrétien’s Shawinigan constituency. Robert Mason Lee may just have been having a bad day, but the evidentiary base of his conclusion merits repeating: ‘People do not walk around wearing canoe hats, canoe boots or canoe buckles. They don’t listen to canoe music or readEven Canoe Girls Get the Blues. On the other hand, cowboys do not drive down the highway with a horse strapped to the roof, which would be terribly dangerous; canoe boys...

  24. Notes
    (pp. 257-292)
  25. Index
    (pp. 293-299)