Callan Canoe
Credit: Kevin Callan

While cleaning the attic the other day, I found a huge assortment of VHS tapes of old camping films. I dusted off my ancient videocassette player and started screening a few.

It was like the scene in Christmas Vacation where Chevy Chase gets locked up in the attic and spends some quality time looking through old family films — except I wasn’t dressed in a mink stole and the footage I watched all related to camping.

There were the classics like Bill Mason’s Waterwalker, and Lucille Ball’s 1953 film The Long, Long Trailer. I also had the entire collection of Robert Perkin’s canoe videos and the rare Ian and Sally Wilson footage. Remember them?

Of course The Edge, Black Rob, Jeremiah Johnson and Deliverance were included in the stack, as well as the National Film Board’s Cesar’s Bark Canoe and Cree Hunters of the Mistassini. I even found a copy of Grey Owl, starring Pierce Brosnan, and the vintage British comedy Carry on Paddling.

It’s great to look back and reflect on skills, fashion, gear and camp ethics. It reveals how we’ve progressed, and at times, stayed exactly the same. One of the best films I found that depicts tradition and progression is Wilderness Day. This 1954 flick was produced and directed by Roy Dale Sanders for the Minnesota Foundation. Two paddlers (one is Sigurd Olson, I think) canoe through Quetico Provincial Park and the Boundary Waters showing the skills required to travel the interior. It highlights the issues of the day, when campers used spruce boughs for beds and kept orphaned wolf pups for pets. It also shows new high-tech gear like a sleeping pad and reflector oven. It’s definitely a classic. Check it out and let me know if you think things have changed much since.

Watch the Video Here: