Kevin Callan
Credit: Kevin Callan

New statistics from the Canadian Activity Profile show that more and more people are playing in the woods.

Last year, 26 per cent of Canadians went hiking, climbing and/or paddling beyond a simple day-trip. That’s an increase of eight per cent. That means millennials are finally being persuaded to break away from their video games, Generation X is working less and camping more and Baby Boomers are buying gadgets to allow them to be more comfortable in the wilderness. Canadian campers are younger and wealthier, as well as single and highly educated — and split even between male and female. The only problem is they’re all spending fewer nights out than ever before. That is not good news. 

During the 1950s, the average time spent on a wilderness trip was one month. In the 1970s, it was 10 days. It dropped to five days in the 1990s. Now it’s a meager two nights camped out. That’s not enough time. On night one, you’re terrified of what’s circling the tent at night. You’ll survive but most likely not do it again. Five days in the wilderness will make you less afraid of it — but not close enough to identify with it. It’s really not until day 10 that you start to connect with your surroundings. Trekking through the woods becomes the norm and the thought of a bear attacking you while you sleep doesn’t even come to mind. After all, it hasn’t killed you yet…

By the looks of it, my family obviously isn’t conventional. My wife insists we take at least a two-week trip. She always has. We also pack our young daughter along for the ride. The Canadian statistics say that’s abnormal. 

Last season, we paddled across Ontario’s Algonquin Provincial Park for 12 days with our nine-year-old daughter, Kyla, and our time out was well spent. We caught frogs, toasted s’mores around the campfire and found a beach to swim at every day; the family bonding was immeasurable. It always has been. Since she was out of diapers, I’ve made sure Kyla was part of the trip rather than someone tagging along on it. She carries her own pack on the portage — even though it only contains a collection of dolls and her favourite books. She has chores to do around camp as well, like helping us put the tent up, fetch water or gather firewood. She even paddles some of the time (but not all the time). Our relationship on a canoe trip is somewhere between a camp councilor and an overenthusiastic and ever-watchful parent. It seems to work.

It was on the portage leading into our third lake when Kyla had her first moose encounter. I was just ahead of her on the trail, balancing our over-sized canoe over my shoulders, when I caught a glimpse of four dangly legs a few metres from the overturned bow. Bill Bryson was correct when he wrote in his book, Walk in the Woods, that a moose looks like a “horse drawn by a three-year-old.” It was a young bull; one that had definitely seen humans before. I unloaded the canoe and then jogged back on the trail a bit, catching up with Kyla, and whispered, “Your moose is waiting for you just ahead.” She did a slight scurry past me to catch a glimpse, and then stopped dead in her tracks. “It’s big! Bigger than I thought,” she muttered back, and then proceeded to motion me to go first on the trail. 

The three of us took several pictures — I swear the moose posed for them. It also took its sweet time moving out of our way. 

We escaped the moose encounter without incident and found ourselves camped on a banana-shaped island a couple of hours later. A group of vociferous terns were our neighbours, which became a problem when CBC Radio called on the satellite phone. The Ottawa-based host of In Town & Out had scheduled a few interviews with us while we made our way across Algonquin. The host said the squawking birds added to the “live” quality of the show. I just found them annoying. So did Kyla. The host interviewed her as well, and she did a great job rambling on about how she felt about being on an extended canoe trip with her parents. The best part of the interview was when the radio host asked Kyla if she could handle a full 12 days in the wilderness. Her reply was priceless: “You don’t get out much do you? Twelve days isn’t long enough.” She then handed the phone back to me and said, “That’s not my thing, Dad. Next radio interview, you’re on your own.”

I love rambling about the wilderness with my daughter. She teaches me so much. 

This article originally appeared in our Summer 2014 issue.