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Paddling Ontario's Canoe Routes

It was a strange request from nine-year-old Will. We were touring the Nancy Island Historic Site in Wasaga Beach, Ontario, dedicated to the ship that was attacked and destroyed during the War of 1812, and he wanted a pen. The reason? He wanted to copy down the daily diet of a Voyageur listed on one of the exhibit boards. Why? He figured that if he ate those exact and copious amounts of pea soup, corn, oatmeal and pork lard every day, he too would be able to paddle a 290-km (181-mile) river run in one day.

Certainly, it’s easier than ever for families to travel by canoe or kayak along the water routes of these strong Voyageurs. Especially in Ontario, where 22 of the province’s canoe and kayak experts have joined together to form the new Paddling Ontario Alliance, and where some 60,000 kms of canoe routes link the world’s largest freshwater lake (Superior) to the world’s largest freshwater island (Manitoulin) to the world’s largest freshwater bay (Georgian) along the world’s largest protected coastline.

You don’t even need your own canoe or kayak. All of the Paddling Ontario outfitters will supply equipment, including life jackets, paddles and helmets (many have kid-sized models), and offer guided instruction. Some kick in meals, accommodation and interesting experiences such as a visit to a beaver dam or a native settlement. And at least one (Grand Experiences) offers pick-up from the local Brantford train station so you don’t even need a car to experience this age-old mode of transportation.

You may not be able to, or even want to, cover the vast distances of the Voyageurs. But even if it’s only for one summer morning or afternoon, it’s worth it to take some vacation money and spend it by putting a kid into a canoe or a kayak. There’s something quietly exhilarating for a kid who’s paddling along nature’s pathway. Even a hyper kid will usually become calm and quiet. Here are just a few of the resources and interesting experiences for families around the province:

Canadian Wilderness Trips: For over 28 years, CWT’s wilderness guides have been paddling one of the world’s most famous canoeing destinations—Algonquin Park, setting for 1600 km (950 mi) of canoe routes across lakes linked by portage routes. Their four-day family canoe trips include two guides to help with chores and entertain the kids with searches for wolf tracks or a historic logging camp. Six and up only; $440 for adults, $285 for kids including all meals. Call 416-960-2298, e-mail cwt@inforamp.net, or visit www.CdnWildernessTrips.com

Grand Experiences: Geared for families is the popular Canoe the Highway of the Iroquois trip, a guided journey in a big canoe along the Grand River (a Canadian Heritage River) to the Iroquoian village of Kanata. Offered every day, the trip ($49.95 for adults, half price for kids under 12) includes tours of the longhouse, native stories and lunch. Call 1-888-258-0441, e-mail mail@grand-experiences.com or visit www.grand-experiences.com

Smoothwater Outfitters & Ecolodge: Just five hours north of Toronto is Temagami, home to old growth pine forests and the largest network of canoe routes in North America. Smoothwater specializes in themed wilderness trips through this amazingly beautiful area including a July mother-and-daughter canoe trip. Kids who were fans of Pierce Brosnan’s movie of Grey Owl might want to sign up for The Beaver: Recreating Grey Owl, Oct. 12 to 14 to spend a weekend with a beaver expert. How about a canoe trip to a beaver lodge or walking in the footsteps of the famous British “native” who lived in Temagami; $250. The Ecolodge is open year round and serves dishes such as Grey Owl Veggie Pie or Blueberry Buckwheat Pancakes. Call 705-569-3539, e-mail temagami@onlink.net or visit www.smoothwater.com

Thorncrest Outfitters: Based in the resort town of Southampton on Lake Huron, this sea kayaking and canoe outfitter has made it easy for families with rentals, luggage shuttles and transportation to the calm Saugeen River. There are also pick up points along the way in case your beginner canoeist begins to flag. New this summer were the Kids Only Chantry Island Kayak Tours to the rebuilt Keeper’s Cottage; $39.95. Their Saugeen River Day Trips, August 19 and September 15, with a guide and lunch, welcome kids 8 and up. The best part? No experience required. Call 519-442-3654, e-mail tim@thorncrestoutfitters.com or visit www.thorncrestoutfitters.com

Canadian Canoe Museum: The world’s largest collection of canoes and kayaks in Peterborough has been adding new interactive exhibits for kids. Nine new exhibits include a two-story waterfall, a Mi’Kmaq wigwam, and just for Will, how to live like a Voyageur. Start shelling the peas and shucking the corn. Call 705-748-9153 or visit www.canoemuseum.net

To receive a free Paddling Ontario brochure listing outfitters, guides, lodges and packages, call 1-800-ONTARIO or visit www.PaddlingOntario.com

Ontario Park’s free Nearby and Natural booklet lists challenging paddles for experienced families as well as descriptions and services for all of the 115 Provincial Parks (many of which rent canoes by the day). Call 1-800-ONTARIO or visit www.OntarioPark.com





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