Canoe
Credit: David Webb

Most of the reviews are saying that Roy MacGregor’s new book, Canoe Country: The Making of Canada, is a “rollicking read.”

They’re right. I couldn’t put this collection of essays down. I read it in two days. That’s surprising, since I’m a typical male, and it took me well over half-a-year to read The Hobbit.

Canoe Country

I guess the content of the book means much more to me than a magical ring and nasty Orcs. It should mean a lot more to any Canadian. MacGregor’s Canoe Country clearly underlines how the canoe is our country’s icon. It celebrates how it shaped Canada—just as the horse and 10-gallon hat defined the American West. It boasts the legends and personalities that continue to adore the watercraft. Most of all, however, it reminds us how the canoe continues to separate Canadian culture. It identifies us. I totally agree with MacGregor’s belief that “If the canoe is not on the Canadian flag, it is most certainly to be found in the Canadian imagination.”

The canoe was a critical tool for exploration, profit, then a recreational tool, followed by a way for us to escape and “explore” ourselves. MacGregor even touches on Pierre Berton’s quote that, “a true Canadian is one who can make love in a canoe without tipping.” And he reminds us, refreshingly, of the politicians devoted to canoe tripping; not just Pierre Trudeau, but others such as Jack Layton and Olivia Chow.

My favourite chapter—even though it’s a somewhat biased view since I’m mentioned in it—is “The Mission.” It tells the story how a misguided dreamer destroyed the memorial of legendary Canadian author and paddler, Blair Fraser, along Algonquin’s Petewawa River. I remember that act. The person who hacksawed the cross from the Precambrian riverbank sent me a note, placed in a non-descriptive brown envelope with no return address. He stated his feelings about such “shrines” are like graffiti in wilderness areas and how he had dedicated his life to remove them, like a surgeon removes cancer from a patient.

At the time, I didn’t write about his note to me. In fact, I didn’t mention it to anyone—except Roy MacGregor. I kept quiet for a personal reason—I was phobic of what kind of odd person I was dealing with. You see, a half-hour after receiving the letter in the mail, my daughter’s school called and said “Don’t panic, but we’ve lost your child.” It was her first day in kindergarten. Yes, I panicked. I soon found out the incident had nothing to with the reprobate who destroyed Fraser’s memorial. It was due to cutbacks at the school, which led to a group of volunteer grade six students watching the youngsters instead of paid teachers. They had put her on a bus—the problem, of course, was my daughter didn’t take the bus. We found her a couple hours later, riding the bus to some other school. The Blair Fraser memorial deviant wasn’t discovered until a couple years later.

I’ll save the rest of “The Mission” story for you to read. It’s truly “rollicking.” So is the rest of Roy MacGregor’s Canoe Country: The Making of Canada. The book should be placed on every Canadian’s bookshelf, just as any J.R.R. Tolkien fan should have a copy of The Hobbit.

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