Trip Reports

WILDERNESS CANOEING

WILDERNESS CANOEING

by Louis P. Bonnenfant

ASSOCIATION FORUM of the A.O.S. November- December 1952

This article was written by Dot Bonnenfant's father.  He founded the Canoe Club in 1952.

This is a magazine prepared by a committee of the Canadian Chapter of the Association of Secretaries

Mr Louis P. Bonnenfant is Physical Director of the Y.M.C.A. at Ottawa, Ontario and a graduate of George
Williams College, Chicago.

It is still not long since much of the travel through Canada was done on foot, on horseback, in horsedrawn vehicles, or by boat.The coming of the railroad, the automobile, and the aeroplane has almost eliminated these means of travel and much of the adventure and pioneering spirit that went with them.

Now it is simple to board a plane in Montreal in the morning and to eat supper in Vancouver that day, or
to get into a car and travel 200 to 500 miles in one day. It is all so easy, but not nearly so challenging nor
so rewarding as the 20 to 30 miles that a canoeist travels in a day through wilderness lakes and rivers,
where self-reliance is needed to reach the journey's end.

 

Travel "the modern way" is but one side of our life, where everyone seems to be striving to do less in an
easier fashion. We tend to live more and more in a hot-house atmosphere of protection. In such a
situation the spirit of outdoor adventure and pioneering has grown dim indeed. But all we have to do is
to find unlimited opportunities for fulfilling these feelings that all of us dream of but do little about, is to
look around and discover that in this country of ours there is still plenty of wilderness where the spirit of
adventure and pioneering can be recaptured. Within short distances to all of our major cities there is
country that sees man very seldom, if at all.

Ottawa is probably better favoured in this regard because it has literally hundreds of lakes and smaller
rivers within 100 miles, besides the larger rivers like the Ottawa and the Gatineau, which flow past the
city and drain tens of thousands of square miles of land.

It was to enable more people to enjoy the thrills of adventure that our forefathers experienced through
canoe travel, that the Ottawa Y.M.C.A. Canoe Club was formed.

Quite early in its life the club discovered several interesting facts. First, this type of program attracted a
group of self-reliant, intensely interested young people. Secondly, it demonstrated that a great many of
our people lacked even the elementary skills necessary for successful outdoor living. Thirdly, it opened
up whole areas of new program possibilities that were related to wilderness canoe travel.

The rapid growth of this club was in no small way due to the presence of some very fine leaders in its
membership, and the type of people it attracted. Within three years the club expanded from seven to
some seventy members and owned several canoes, large amounts of camping equipment such as pack
sacks, tents, and cooking utensils, plus a great deal of self-acquired know-how.

It soon became apparent that three types of people join in this canoe club. The first type is what I call
the "campers". They like to travel one or two days into the wilderness well away from other people and
then establish a base camp. They make their campsite their headquarters and take short canoe trips to
points within a ten to twenty-mile radius.

The second type is the "fishermen.". This type uses the canoe as a means of access to the Glory Holes. If
the base camp is close to a good fishing ground they are happy, if not they move on. Food and
camperaft are secondary skills with these people, but they are usually quite expert in paddling as well as
fishing.

The third group I call the "travellers." They never establish a base camp, and fishing is indulged in but
only secondary to their primary objective - - seeing as much country as possible in the time available.
These people are usually not too expert in setting up camp, but they get it done in a hurry. They usually
have superior physical condition and see the more inaccessible spots which their other club mates do
not see. They usually travel lightly and are particularly adept at portaging and packing.

It might be wise to explain at this point that the term "Wilderness" means different things to different
people. To some, the stretch of river or lake where there are no cottages is a wilderness. To others,
canoe country, such as the Algonquin Provincial Park with its marked portages, cleared campsites and
accurate maps, is a wilderness. To still others, wilderness means lakes and rivers where people never or
seldom travel and where camp-sites must be made and portages found.

I suspect that to become an expert in canoe travel, the 'wilderness' should be mastered in the order
named.

While two or three-day trips can be most enjoyable, it takes ten to fourteen-day trips to acquire the skill,
confidence, and self reliance that one should learn on a successful canoe trip. Because members of a
canoe club must necessarily learn to take responsibilities on trips, this type of program tends to see
democracy functioning at its best.

In the 'Y' Canoe Club, every active member of the trip shares in its planning. Transportation, camp
equipment, menus and food purchasing, financing, route, and the trip report, all are rotated so that as
many people as possible learn the total organization of a trip.

Possibly the most significant program this club sponsors is its "School for Outdoor Living." Because it is
found that outdoor living is enjoyable only when people have the necessary skills, the club now
organizes and conducts courses in a wide variety of outdoor skills. These include canoe safety, paddling,
water safety, axemanship, tent pitching, camp cooking, camp menus, map and compass reading, packing
and carrying pack sacks, portaging canoes and last but far from least, building fires and fire prevention.

When a beginner has taken all or most of these courses he is much more likely to have a good
experience on his first canoe trip.

A typical summer canoe trip program involves approximately 15 sponsored trips and many others
organized by club members on their own initiative. These trips vary from one to fifteen days in length.
The early spring jaunts are usually one day or weekend affairs and take place in waters near the city. By
mid-June the longer trips begin and continue through August. The last trip is usually in early October.

The Club has found that for short trips ten to fourteen people are best and for longer trips ten canoeists
are about the limit. Beyond that number, mobility drops sharply and campsite problems become
serious.

The age range of the club is interesting. The youngest member is 19, the oldest 57. The average age is
between 25 and 27 years. There are more men than women, but the percentage of women is growing.

It is not likely this activity will ever have masses of people involved but because if its limited size and its
many opportunities it can do more for its members.

For a genuine sense of challenge, for an opportunity to develop self-reliance, initiative, and fellowship, wilderness canoeing has much to offer.