Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 27, 2021
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Path of the Paddle

There's only one way to really get off the beaten track -- get in the water

The birch-bark canoe introduced European explorers and voyageurs to Canada's ancient waterways. The eight-metre-long canot du nord, inspired by Algonquin and Ojibway dugouts, carried them deep into the interior of our country and paved the way for the fur trade. When it declined and roadways and railways were laid, the use of the large birch-bark canoe subsided. Today's open-style canoe combines the best of both -- the light weight of a birch-bark vessel with the strength of a wooden dugout.

The kayak is another descendent of Canada's First Nation's heritage, a sleek hunting craft used for centuries by northern native groups. Today, canoes and kayaks offer a chance to experience unspoiled wilderness, beyond the reaches of major roadways, urban centres and clear-cut areas. And Canada is the place to explore this rugged wilderness. It contains one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world, rivers untouched by floodgates and embankments, not to mention three of the world's oceans -- all of which are accessible in these refined water crafts. It is on the following waterways that we rediscover our cultural and natural heritage. Whether standing at the base of an ancient pine in Temagami or watching an orca dive underneath your kayak in Johnstone Strait, Canada is home to the waters.

Johnstone Strait,
British Columbia

Johnstone Strait is one of the best places in the world to view orcas in their natural habitat. More than 300-metres deep and 75-kilometres long, this giant fjord flanks the northwest tip of Vancouver Island and creates a channel that salmon follow to their spawning grounds. Carved by glacial waters, the strait has deep inlets, rich estuaries and craggy islands, forming a complex web of life from the tiniest plankton to the orca, the largest member of the dolphin family. Although encountering a pod of orcas is the highlight of this trip, the voyage offers countless other memories, including porpoises turning cartwheels in the water, an eagle catching fish with outstretched talons and timber wolves howling at night.

While paddling through the Backwaters area, you can witness ancient village sites that mark the Kwakiutl ties to the sea: pictographs on granite cliffs that overlook the water, clam and barnacle middens that rise two metres from the high water mark, and islands where moss-covered beams mark overgrown longhouse sites.


Lake Obabika's ancient arbours are more than 300-years old and rise higher than a 15-storey building. Canoeing the lake is a great way to see the tall red and white pines reaching into the sky above other trees. Standing up to 40-metres tall with trunks that spread more than one metre in diameter, they are the last remnants of a rare ecosystem. Only one percent of old-growth red and white pine remain in the world and almost one quarter of it exists in Temagami. Sadly, less than half of it is protected from logging.

The 20,500 hectares of Obabika River Provincial Park is the largest continuous stand of old-growth red and white pine left in the world. It encompasses many significant cultural and ecological features, and protects the 3000-year-old Nastagwan -- one of the largest recorded traditional aboriginal trail networks in the world. Rare species of birds, such as the golden eagle, the aurora trout and some of the largest nesting concentrations of great blue herons, osprey, pine warblers and merlins in Ontario, are found here. This rare old-growth forest can only be reached by airplane or canoe. Paddling is the preferred mode of travel among these lakes so calm that clouds swim in the waters, so quiet that a merganser's wing-beat is heard, so clear that you can count ripples on the lake's bottom. You can glide into rocky shorelines looking for pictographs, paddle past a gull rookery or explore campsites on sheltered bays.



Lake Superior's surrounding landscape owes its beauty to cataclysmic activities of the past. Volcanic eruptions heaved boiling rock into the islands and mountains. Glaciers then scoured, gouged and buffed the hills and raised cobble beaches. The result is Pukaskwa, a land of steep cliffs and tiny bays, beaches with boulders the size of dinosaur eggs and rock crevices holding small arctic plants. Where Cascade Falls plunges into the lake, you can walk right up to the waterfalls and stand underneath them on a hot day to cool off. Above the present beaches, the land rises higher and wider, marking ancient shorelines that curve as if waves were still shaping them. The Pukaskwa Pits are ancient shallow depressions that vary from one to two metres in diameter. Used by the Anishnabe, there are many theories as to their purpose -- hunting blinds, smoking pits, dwellings or ceremonial uses. Whatever the function, they are evidence of the Anishnabe's presence, long before voyageurs, missionaries and trappers came to this area.

Surprises continue as you paddle northward, with cairns to follow on the Coastal Trail, caves to explore and caribou tracks to investigate. The water is so clear that your eye can follow a quartzite line from deep in the water as it rises up a rock ledge. Around every bend, rock formations draw upon the imagination.

Dumoine River,

Waterfalls, chutes, cliffs, beaches and more than 30 sets of Class I and II rapids lie within the 100-kilometre stretch of the Dumoine River. From Lac Dumoine to the Ottawa River, this waterway drops more than 150 metres and includes a few Class III and IV rapids for experienced paddlers. This trip develops skills in white-water paddling and river reading, as well as portaging and lining canoes. From the campsite at Lac Laforge, the river is full of logging history. You'll see rusting horse-drawn tools for icing winter sleigh roads, steam powered alligator boats for towing rafts of logs on the larger lakes, inscriptions chipped into bedrock in memory of log drivers who drowned on the river, and rotting wooden trestles used to winch alligator boats around the falls.

Strait of Belle Isle, Quirpon Island,

It takes two to three years for an iceberg to drift 1600 nautical miles from Greenland into the Iceberg Alley, which extends south along the coast of Newfoundland. Each year several thousand reach Newfoundland waters, starting from the north at Quirpon Island. The northern tip of the island, located at the mouth of the Strait of Belle Isle, is a veritable conveyor belt of fish moving between the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Atlantic Ocean. Many birds and whales spend considerable time around the tip of the Northern Peninsula near L'Anse Aux Meadows and Quirpon Island. Humpbacks are very popular -- their spectacular tail displays ensure they're favourites with whale watchers. Staying at a 1922 light keeper's home on the shores of Iceberg Alley provides a suitable base for iceberg and whale excursions. Expeditions and customized guided packages offer a variety of possibilities for outdoor adventures.

Soper River,

This Canadian Heritage River winds its way through Katannilik Territorial Park Reserve for 100 kilometres from Baffin Island's Meta Incognita Peninsula highlands to the salt waters of Pleasant Inlet. From calm stretches to Class I & II rapids and fast waters, the river provides a variety of scenery. Waterfalls splash down steep valley walls, caribou bound across sandy shores and white cotton-grass colours the tundra. A visit during the summer, when the midnight sun offers daylight well into the night, provides plenty of time to explore these scenic areas. For centuries, Inuit people hunted caribou in the Soper River valley and traces of this heritage are spotted along the trip. On one overnight campsite, you can find ancient tent rings bordering the river. The trip ends in Kimmirut, a small Inuit village of approximately 400 people, renowned for its soapstone carvings. Paddlers are billeted in Inuit homes and served a traditional dinner.

Canadian Canoe Museum,

The only canoe museum in existence houses more than 600 canoes and kayaks. Some are century-old vessels, their stories revealed through tattered skins, chipped paint and scraped bows. Others are newer creations, such as the Thai Klong Boat, built for Expo '86. Many canoes, such as the Drua from Fiji, were acquired from native tribes in all corners of the earth. Others were simply found floating empty, such as the solid mahogany Guatemalan dugout found 1000 kilometres off the California coast. The museum also offers courses in wood, canvas and fine woodstrip canoe construction and will be building a paddling area for visitors.


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