Take the path less traveled along lesser-known waterways. Some of the routes featured in this book are little known; some haven't been documented for as long as 50 years. The 15 trips range from two to eight days, involve all types of water, and are suitable for canoeists of all skill levels.
With eight titles to his credit, Kevin Callan is the leading author of books on canoeing in Ontario. He is a regular contributor to several outdoors magazines, a popular speaker at North American canoe gatherings, and a frequent guest on radio and television. He lives in Peterborough, Ontario, birthplace of the famous Peterborough canoe and home of the Canadian Canoe Museum.
In the spring of 2000, I had a nasty run-in with some extremely unethical canoeists on an overcrowded portage. After that experience, I began looking for "lost" canoe routes across Ontario. It became a personal quest, looking for a way to escape the business of the province's well-known parks. Places such as Algonquin and Killarney are great, but everybody knows about them. It took some time to get used to the challenges of bushwhacking through grown-over portages and being continuously confused as to my whereabouts. The word "lost" was particularly appropriate many times. But the rewards were high. I never once had to reserve a campsite, and hardly ever had to deal with anything even resembling a crowd. And few unscrupulous canoeists choose to travel these routes, so run-ins were rare.
Two years later -- in all, ninety-four days spent in a canoe -- I had become obsessed with the unfamiliar. I had fallen addicted to these obscure routes and, at the same time, became totally dedicated to the protection of them.
Hmmm, you may be thinking. How can a route be "lost," or better yet, protected, if some wilderness pornographer like me writes about it in a guidebook? Well, in this day and age, it seems the only way to actually save something is to make use of it. I admit to having a bit of a problem with this philosophy. After all, true wilderness is a place we've never been. But I also don't want Ontario's prime canoe routes to disappear entirely. So they must be publicized if they are to survive. I do believe this.
One of the big questions we should be asking ourselves is, why are these canoe routes lost in the first place?
The main reason is that the government, while creating dozens of new provincial parks through the Living Legacy program, has also severely cut back on ways for canoeists to visit them. To date, not one newly created park has a properly managed canoe route. And a large number of canoe routes in previously protected areas are also not being maintained.
There's also a shift in the general canoe-tripping philosophy. It's a constantly changing society. People are busier at work. Our time is limited. A month spent canoeing in the far north is just a dream to most. A weekend getaway close to home sounds more do-able. And when you do go on a stress-relief holiday, you don't necessarily want to spend most of that time balancing a canoe over your head.
Believe me, though -- these lost canoe routes are well worth the time and effort, both for the government to manage them and for canoeists to travel on them. The inspiring scenery along the Steel River, the continuous swift water of Tatachikapika River, the old-growth pine of Algoma's Ranger Lake Loop, Wabakimi's elusive woodland caribou and the bizarre hermitage of Wendell Beckwith -- all are worth being rediscovered and, it is hoped, cherished forever.
Since the initial printing of A Paddler's Guide to Ontario's Lost Canoe Routes, some amazing things have happened. A good number of the routes included in the book have been "found again." With the help of a number of private and corporate volunteers, over a quarter of the routes have been maintained in some way.
The first group to act was the staff at Mountain Equipment Co-op. Through their Social and Environmental Responsibility Program (managed by Mark van Kooy in Ottawa and Dave Robinson in Toronto), the staff volunteers have gone on a number of canoe route cleanups, taking on a range of tasks, from picking up over thirty bags of garbage from the campsites on Wicksteed Lake to clearing the almost nonexistent portages along the South River.
Private lodge owners, youth camps, and outfitters have boosted their local initiative as well. Various outdoor clubs have increased their support, a great example being Geraldton Composite High School Outers Club (organized by Rob Haslam and funded by the Geraldton Community Forest Organization), who cleared the portages along the Steel River loop, including the dreaded Diablo Portage. Friends of the York River have also developed an annual canoe route maintenance weekend, and a cleanup initiative for the Sudbury area routes was held by the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup in 2003. It was represented by the Partners in Eco-Adventure Tourism (Meredith Armstrong) and the Northern Environmental Heritage Institute at Cambrian College (Kim Goodman), who managed to pick up 2,200 pounds of garbage.
One of the most positive enterprises has to be the formation of Save Wilderness Canoeing. This book itself didn't actually develop SWC, but it did help to highlight this national organization's mission statement -- to stop the government neglect over wilderness areas and the destruction of the Canadian canoe culture itself.