Camping Algonquin
Credit: Kevin Callan

I was definitely in the wrong.

Our group had set up camp along Algonquin Provincial Park’s Nippissing River on a site we didn’t reserve. A couple of years back, you’d reserve sites along a section of the river, not an individual site. Things had changed. We didn’t think it was an issue at the time, though. It was late and we had been delayed while paddling the maze of alders crowding the riverbank along the upper section of the river. Besides, not many paddlers get to this remote section of the river, even on a long weekend in May.

At least that’s what I naively assumed.

We had also met a couple of canoeists who were in a similar circumstance. One had left his PFD at the last portage, a good half-hour paddle back upstream. While he went back to retrieve it, we cooked up supper and hot tea for his buddy at the campsite while he waited. When his partner returned, we offered them to stay with us but they decided to go to the next site downstream—the one we had booked.

An hour later, just as the sun was sinking past the treeline, another pair of canoeists arrived. I went over to say hello and was instantly informed we were on their campsite. They had reserved it, and they weren’t interested in sharing. Their tone was a tad harsh—but we were in the wrong so without saying a word, we packed up our gear and loaded the canoes to drift off downriver to search for a place to pitch our tents before darkness set in.

Problem is, I just couldn’t leave without saying something to the two guys. Maybe it’s the Irish and Scottish blood in me. Or maybe it’s simply because I’d been in their position many times before and reacted to the situation in a very different manner. I questioned their “wilderness ethics,” before embarking blindly down the Nippissing.

That’s when tempers flared.

The paddlers continued to underline the fact that they were in the right. And again, they were. I tried to educate them on what true wilderness ethics were all about and that self-interest is not something that does anyone any good while out in the woods. Life out here is different than urban life. You help one another—not banish them.

As my 11-year-old daughter always reminds me: boys will be boys. The two paddlers got their site—again, justly so—but we left not feeling too good about the future of some of the people paddling out there. Of course, my daughter also believes in karma. So do I.

Where we camped that night was better than the site we left, and the camaraderie under the evening stars were brighter than the stars shining over us along the not-so-remote Nippissing River.