After a very busy year, my husband and I took a September break in Algonquin Park, Ontario, Canada. We had always wanted to explore Canada and never managed it before this year, but… where to start? It’s a HUGE country. We went online and looked at a Canada-sized range of options, but the one my husband (J) really hankered after was (forget Toronto!) the wilderness. I honestly thought he’d been tripping on ‘Dances with Wolves’, as he enthused about animals I didn’t want to meet close up and personal. “They’ll never be a problem – they’re more frightened of us and we’ll be lucky to see them.” They? Black bears, wolves and moose!!!
His excitement was, to repeat the cliché, infectious and I put aside my qualms as he summoned up Canadian wilderness images on his computer to impress me. To be honest, I was more struck by the fact that he didn’t want to spend hours and hours on the road or on a train and, well, neither did I. Thus we homed in on Algonquin Park, manageable by hire car from Toronto airport and with a range of options for exploration. What I didn’t expect was that we’d be doing it all by canoe.
As it happens my son and his family have an Old Town open canoe of the Canadian kind and we had a day out in it to see whether we could cope. Much to my surprise, I enjoyed our excursion on the river and so we went ahead with our plans. As readers of this blog know, I’ve come to love canal boating (another of my J’s ideas) and I honestly thought that this might work – it’s all water, after all.
There were provisos: knowing J of old, I immediately said: “NO CAMPING!” His face fell. “NO BUTS!” His face fell further.
While I was in New York on business, he got on with the research and, when I returned, he presented me with – not a fait accompli – a compromise that I could live with… be attracted by… see myself enjoying. “It’s a resort,” he explained, which wasn’t promising, as a certain company in the UK doesn’t appeal to me at all. It was called Arowhon Pines and proved to be as unlike the conventional idea of a resort as I could wish.
We arrived in sunshine after a pleasant lunch at a Polish wayside restaurant and a drive along highway 60, the usual way into the park. The unmade road to the Pines wound its way through woodland and we found the car park encouragingly only half full. The lake, Little Joe Lake, looked lovely.
A word or two about the history of this place, Arowhon Pines.
Accommodation in cabins and a central restaurant and reception, with freely available canoes and kayaks, a couple of sailing dinghies and plenty of dockside loungers seemed right for us. We ‘totally got’ the principle of Arowhon Pines: price to include everything: food, accommodation, activities and equipment, taxes and gratuities. No hidden extras. We heard that some people do complain about the price, but to us it more than matched what we in a short time in Canada realised were ‘normal’ tourist costs. It was a place geared to people who wanted to enjoy their remote surroundings and provided an exceptionally high standard of cuisine, service and facilities. We loved the fact that most of the employees were young, very well trained, impassioned and utterly welcoming; those who were older were knowledgeable, skilled and… utterly welcoming.
So, we took advantage of the golf-buggy delivery of our luggage to our cabin room, grabbed a lifejacket and paddle each and went immediately out on the lake.
What were we trying to achieve? To see as much wildlife as possible (though at a safe distance in my case!) and to find peace ‘dropping slow’. J, after some serious surgery over several years (and being a man) had something physical to prove in the form of portage – could he do it? How far could he carry a canoe? Could he even pick one up and put it over his head? We knew that to complete a circuit, we’d have to cope with portage and we’d seen young women and men merrily hoisting canoes and disappearing into the forest. We started gently and built up over our stay to a three-quarter mile up and down portage… and loved it. The weather smiled (apart from troublesome afternoon winds) and we found loons, otters, beavers, hares, rabbits, squirrels, frogs, herons, pileated woodpeckers, blue jays, mergansers and unbelievably beautiful scenery. We hauled over beaver dams and tree-blocked creeks; we met lovely people (Hello, Patty and John, Jen and Bruce!); we had brilliant packed lunches, courtesy of Arowhon Pines; we went out in the early light of dawn and listened to the turning world. We saw not one wolf, bear or moose, which I know means that J will be agitating for a return… very soon. And do you know, I’ll agree.
Finally, we had a ride out in the Arowhon Pines pontoon boat; its captain was Geoff Brown, who I discovered was from Deeping St James, near my home town of Spalding, in Lincolnshire! Small world. (Lovely to meet you, Geoff, and that book will be on its way to you.)
Enjoy the pictures, everyone.
10 thoughts on “Into the wild…”
Seems like you have found a new heaven….. xx
Hello, Marjorie. I think I have. 🙂 Hope all is well with you and that your writing continues to flourish. XX
Oh Christina, I don’t know how I missed this, but I did. What a lovely, invigorating, but peaceful holiday! I’m very impressed by your ability to…what is it…port your canoe? Is it a verb? Or do you just carry it but refer to it as portage? They look huge, so what kind of weight are you carrying there? Anyway, it all looks absolutely lovely. I’m quite sure Koos wouldn’t enjoy it at all…there’s no industry, no buildings and no locks… but I would love it. I hope you came back feeling thoroughly refreshed!
‘Carry’ your canoe? That’s what I’d say. But ‘portage’ (French pronunciation) is the term used for the carrying (noun) – in Canada, anyway. Here’s how: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ad5HzmQORhk As you can see from this, the canoes are reasonably light – very light when you have a personal sherpa to do it for you! 😉 – because they are made of kevlar or a similar bonded material.
You know we love the industrial heritage of canals, but this just wasn’t the same experience at all, though we’ve thought that an open canoe would be a good way to ‘do’ the English canals, with portage for the locks. (We did go through an electrically operated lock on the Great Ouse with our son’s canoe, but, to be honest, it would have been a lot easier to carry it round.) Who knows? We might just do that. I’m happy to say, very refreshed! XX
Wonderful! Thank you for the explanation and the video. It clearly requires some skill to carry your canoe, though. They are unwieldy shapes. Well done you!
J. confirms that they are indeed unwieldy, especially when the person carrying is climbing over fallen trees and negotiating swampy or steep terrain. Apparently the lifting and lowering are best done in one fluid movement, or the canoe can take control!!!
Great photos, Christina. It looked serene and a very good way to re-charge the batteries. Glad you had a great time. Canada is on my list to visit… may be a while down the track, in the meantime I’ll digest via your photos 😀
Thank you, Luciana! Lovely to hear from you again. I know you know all about having to re-charge the batteries! I much enjoyed Canada and this place was very special. We’ll go back, I’m sure. 🙂
This looks amazing! So glad you had such a wonderful time despite your misgivings 🙂
Thanks, Jo. It’s lovely of you to say so. It was certainly an experience to cherish. 😊