Beloved of canoeists everywhere (for whom Bill Mason, after all, is a saint), the film was an iconic example of centennial-era Canadiana—and an Oscar nominee, to boot.
Deservedly so. Nothing ever captured the Great Lakes the way they were in my childhood so well as those wonderful scenes of water, rock and weather. Snowmelt and run-off, waves on rock beeches, wild storms and freeze-up. Beaver, frogs, fish, and water snakes. The leaves turning in the autumn and the buds bursting in the spring. Big lakers on the open water, and little open boats in the bays where I once fished with my dad.
The boy who carved the stalwart canoeist ‘in the Nipigon Country north of Lake Superior’ seems still to personify what it meant to be a child of the Great Lakes.
I’m grateful to be on my way to the Nipigon Country now, as the musical host of the Voyageur Folk Tour from Rossport to Red Rock, at the mouth of the Nipigon River. Like Paddle-to-the-Sea, I’ll be tested by the mighty waters in the islands around Nipigon Bay—though my journey will only be about 90 km, over the course of five days. And unlike Paddle, I’ll be paddling with a whole crew of worthy voyageurs.
Still, when I travel those waters, I’ll be thinking about that plucky little wooden canoeist, who journeyed the entire length of the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence, and out into the ocean. And I’ll remember those resounding words carved into the hull of his craft, by a little boy with a big dream:
I AM PADDLE TO THE SEA
PLEASE PUT ME BACK IN THE WATER