By Sue Canoe (Sue Hamel)

My favourite human invention is the canoe. And there is no country in the world more perfectly crafted for the canoe than the one we call Canada. At 16, as I was starting my decades-long journey as a canoe instructor and wilderness guide, I loved learning that I could put my canoe in the waters in any major city in this country and paddle to any of the three adjacent oceans. Sure, there are a few portages here and there, but overall, this has forever affected my imagination, and my relationship to the country I call home—I see it as a network of canoe routes, first and foremost. That sense of freedom is now renewed as I write this article, since Ontario has just announced the re-opening of backcountry camping and canoeing.

I’m not alone in my love of exploring by canoe. For 10,000-plus years, humans all over the world have journeyed their waters with them, crafted by materials found on their landscape. However, it could be argued that the canoe’s construction was perfected by the Indigenous people located in this part of the world, with the birch bark canoe. It is light, can be repaired from materials readily available en route, and can carry heaps of weight. Ranging in length, it can navigate the challenges of whitewater rapids, or significant waves on the largest of freshwater lakes. The birch bark canoe was the foundation for major trade among the First Nations across thousands of kilometres of Turtle Island, and later during the fur trade with Europeans, lasting for over four centuries.

In the 21st century, I am grateful to have had so much time in a canoe for both work and pleasure, and the privilege of work as pleasure. For me, paddling gifts me with immeasurable benefits. Since I no longer work seasonally as a paddle guide, I now savour the time I do get on the water even more. Whether it is a morning paddle before work, or a planned backcountry canoe trip, it quiets my mind, and is a powerful antidote for modern urban life. Paddling can counter some of what ails us, inviting us to slow down, embrace the sensuous, and experience a sense of timelessness—all so deeply needed to heal from today’s fast pace, and seeming obsession with productivity, screen use, and distractions. For me, tensions weighing heavy on my heart or mind seem to dissolve with each additional paddle stroke. The lake is calling.


Birch bark canoe, built in 2018, by Fort William First Nation youth participating in the Mountain Keeper’s program on Anemki Wajiw (Mount McKay)