“Canoe: Icon of the North” Film

The film, “Canoe: Icon of the North,” by Trailguide Pictures, details the rich history of the canoe in Canadian culture…

canadian canoeist

First released in 2015, Canoe: Icon of the North is set among Canada’s stunning wilderness. It features interviews with various folks from the canoe world of the north sharing how this simple boat has impacted Canada’s history and culture.


Here’s an overview of what the film covers…

Canada’s Unique Landscape

Jeremy Ward is the curator of The Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough, Ontario. He describes how Canada’s unique landscape made the use of the canoe a natural fit through its history:

“Canada’s relationship with the canoe, because of our landscape, I think, is unique. It’s a landscape unlike anywhere else on the globe where you can paddle, essentially, from one coast to the other. It’s over a string of more than 200 portages, the longest one being about 22 kilometers. There’s nowhere else in the world like that. So this really was a landscape for the canoe.”

The Canoe’s Rich History in Canada

Of course it was the First Nations people who invented the canoe (and kayak) for hunting and transportation. It was their main vehicle for thousands of years.

The Fur Trade was dependent on the canoe, it fact this industry wouldn’t have been possible without it.

Mark Oldershaw, an Olympic sprint canoeist, says, “It’s a very Canadian thing to be in your canoe up at your cottage, on a river or lake or whatever. In part because we have so much water, it is a Canadian experience to go out in a canoe.”

“We spread across the country in a canoe, where in the States, it was a horse. It’s a very different history.” John Jennings is a historian and author of Canoe: A Living Tradition. He goes on to say:

“Since 95% of the land was not agricultural, the big thing was to have trade relationships with the native people instead of trying to dispossess them of the land.”

canoeists at dusk

Canada’s Icon

Ted Moores is an author and canoe builder, owner of Bear Mountain Boats. He believes Canadians should see the canoe as a symbol of their country.

He shares, “We get people from abroad who come to Canada because they understand it being a symbol…they see the connection.”

While today’s canoe culture is almost completely recreational, the originators of the canoe designed it to meet their needs for living.

It needed to be light enough to carry over the portages. It needed to be sea worthy enough to take on large lakes in adverse weather. And it needed to have enough cargo space to handle gear and the game they brought home to their families.

The Canoe Tripping Culture

Being able to go into the wilderness in a canoe for days and weeks at a time is uniquely Canadian.

And because of the vast number of lakes and rivers spread throughout its almost 4 million square miles, these trips can happen just about anywhere in the country.

The US has the Boundary Waters for wilderness canoeing—Canada has pretty much the whole northern half of the continent!

Becoming a Skilled Canoeist

While canoeing at its most basic is simply putting a paddle in the water and propelling yourself forward, learning the skills involved in canoeing—especially wilderness canoeing—is very rewarding.

Take time to learn specific paddle strokes, how to work with your canoe partner, how to portage. And learn how to build a fire in the rain, where the place your tent, the mental game of getting through hard routes.

It takes time and experience to build these skills, and the best way to do it is on these longer trips.

Canoe builder, Hugh Stewart, suggests:

“We can get good information from anywhere. But we can’t short circuit the route to good physical coordination and skill and judgment…knowing when it’s too rough to paddle or not too rough…when I should be doing this stroke or that stroke.

“We can’t short circuit the route to building confidence in these outdoor skills. That’s a mistake many people make more and more today. There’s a lot of boating accidents involving people who think this is all instantly accessible.”

canoeist at sunset

There’s much more in this 43-minute film—enjoy!

(See more from Trailguide Pictures)

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