I remember the first time going to the annual Wilderness Canoe Symposium, the same one coming up this February 5th. & 6th., held at Toronto's Monarch Park Collegiate (check out the site WCA ). A canoe friend invited me and I seriously second-guessed going. It gave me the same feeling when someone tells of the length and difficulty of a portage but then adds that's its all worth it in the end?? My buddy, in detail, described the process of the show; after an extensive Friday night showing of presentations we would gather again with the same 800 plus canoe extremists to watch presenters from 9:00 in the morning to 8:00 in the evening. Wow! That's a lot of presentations! Then he added some tid-bits about the charismatic organizer, George Luste, honking a horn at the presenter if they go over their time limit. Three shows — a break — three shows — a break - three shows…I guess a horn is needed.

I agreed to go. Heck, it was February — why not. That was over eighteen years ago, and I havn't missed a show since. This is one incredible event. The presentations are by key figures in the canoe and exploration field. Countless times I've found my jaw drop at what the person had to show and say on the podium. Each presenter is only allocated twenty-five minutes, and then gets the horn. This, of course, can be a downfall or a blessing. Most of the time you are in complete awe of the presenter's story and desperately want to hear more. But on the rare occasions, and depending on your personal interests, George's horn is a welcome addition, waking up the person sitting beside you.

The first "Wilderness & Canoeing Symposium" was a small gathering of kindred spirits who first came together to look at each other's slides in George Luste's living room on Albany Ave. This was in 1986. Now close to a thousand people gather (but no longer in George's living room).

In George Luste's words, stated in an introduction in 1993: In organizing these mid-winter events and in trying to put together the program every year, I am very conscious of the many diverse topics and the variety of perspectives that are possible. My own bias is, of course, reflected in my final choices for the program. Thus a word about this bias may be in order. To illustrate: the act of canoeing has never been an end in itself for me, but rather a means, a means by which to experience a landscape rich in natural beauty and a means to a richer appreciation of its history. The ensemble of nineteen speakers in the program attempts to replicate this, to create some sense of the rich tapestry that is our northern heritage as well as to share the personal narratives and perspectives of those who have experienced them firsthand.

If you've been to the show before, then you've already booked your tickets. If you havn't experienced the event, then I have to convince you that watching two days of countless presentations on wilderness canoe ventures is worth it. And yes, it is similar to talking you into doing a lengthy portage - the only way to convince you that's its definitely worth sitting in a packed auditorium for most of the weekend is to let you to try it out for yourself. I guarantee you won't be disappointed.

Here's a list of some of the speakers booked, including myself (hope I don't get the horn).

  1. Bill Moreau from Ontario — David Thompson

  2. Jon Turk from Montana - The Raven's Gift and Wilderness Spirituality

  3. Meg Casey & Nina Emery - Two Month 2008 Borealis Canoe Expedition

  4. Morten Asfedt & Bob Henderson — Pike's Portage Story

  5. John Wadland from Ontario — E.T. Seton and his Arctic Prairie

  6. Larry Innes from Labrador — Land of the Ancestors

  7. Ed Struzik from Alberta — The Big Thaw: Travels in the Melting North

  8. Maud Barlow from Ontario — Water and Canada

  9. Glen Hooper from Ontario — TBA

  10. Jay Neilson from Ontario — Spatsizi and Its Sacred Headwaters

  11. David Lee & Dave Robinson — Two Romaine Trips & a Lost River

  12. Virginia Barter from Ontario — Ungava Fur Trade Families

  13. Eric Leclair fom Quebec — Vachon River in Ungava

  14. Christine Persaud from Quebec — Long Dubawnt Venture

  15. Terry Ryan from Ontario — Baffin Island Travels in the 1950s

  16. Kevin Callan from Ontario — Ontario Canoeing

  17. Hermann & Claudia from Germany — Kayaking in Mongolia