After a decade of columns in this space dedicated to the history, heritage, esoterica and minutiae of canoeing, written for paddlers and would-be paddlers, it occurred to me that there might be people out there who are non-paddlers. Maybe the spouses or children of readers, who might pick up Canoeroots out of curiosity or from self-preservation having to share living space with a person who goes on and on about all things canoe. For the benefit of these folk, here’s a debunker’s guide to the paddling mythosphere.
Canoeists are cheap. Let’s get this one right up front. When it comes to gear—and I’m talking good gear, not office technical wear, and stuff that is sold with main street in mind—canoeists will spare no expense. It’s not so much the availability of funds as it is about deployment of funds that fuels this myth. Canoeists look at ‘60s blue porcelain bathroom fixtures, shag carpets or comely avocado-colored kitchen appliances and ask, “Why would you want a new one of those when the ones we have are perfectly serviceable?” Same goes for decisions about saving for college tuition and weddings versus setting cash aside for a new canoe or a longer or more exotic canoe trip.
Canoeists all drink as much as Kevin Callan. I know Kevin is prone to claiming that alcohol taken orally is an excellent bug deterrent. He also claims it makes his skin more water repellent. Whatever other merits he and his sidekick, Andy Baxter, award the perfect bush martini, most canoeists don't drink as much as Kevin. No, no, no. For as far back as when the Hudson Bay Company and North West Company sent voyageurs west with casks of whiskey to trade, we've tended to drink more.
Canoeists will all, eventually, look like Bill Mason. A former student came up to me one day and said that he’d just had a strange and portentious dream. In his dream he was at a talk I was giving, sitting in the front row. He turned around and everybody in the audience—both men and women—looked just like Bill Mason. The lecture hall was filled with short, white-bearded canoeists wearing red flannel shirts and neck scarves. Scary thought. This one has some truth. However, the Masonesque characteristic that is echoed by all dyed-in-the-wool paddlers is not so much the soggy sneakers, white beard and plaid shirt. It's a look in their eyes that says, “I may be bodily indoors but I’m actually running a river in my head.”
Canadian canoeists are forever asserting their “Canadianness” at the least provocation. That this myth endures is due largely to Pierre Berton or Pierre Elliott Trudeau— neither of whom admitted they said, or did, anything of the kind. For the record, canoeists are not forever asserting their Canadianness in a canoe. We only do so in private, often in the dark under pincushion skies, when the water is calm, rarely at put-ins or on
portages, and only when overtaken by the wilderness muse. And— safety paramount if on the water—we always take the precaution of removing the center thwart.
Canoeists are always right. Well…anyone who has hung around a canoeist for more than a few minutes will know that no matter what the issue, we all think our solution is the best. Our answers to topics as diverse as paddling, portaging, how to build a fire, how to make camp kitchen, how to raise a child, how to foster a relationship, how to achieve world peace and nuclear disarmament, how to simultaneously eat, drive and find the access-point coordinates on a GPS; and how to remediate climate change or change a tire are not only right but also, having considered all other options (or the other options we could imagine), our solutions are, simply, the best. For better or worse, sadly, this is not a myth. It’s true. Just ask our paddling Prime Minister.
James Raffan is Director Emeritus at the Canadian Canoe Museum and Tumblehome is a regular column in Canoeroots. His website, www.jamesraffan.ca, ranks second in all of Google for the keyword “snotsickle.” That’s a fact. Watch THE CANOE,, an award-winning film that tells the story of Canada's connection to water and how paddling in Ontario is enriching the lives of those who paddle there. #PaddleON.