Like many Canadians, I define my patriotism by how well I can shoot a puck and how well I can paddle a canoe. Ontario is home to the best paddling opportunities in the world. Exploring the rivers and lakes of our provincial parks can be a Zen-like experience. The swish of swirling eddies from each stroke of the paddle; the near-silent gliding of the canoe along placid water; the expansive dome of big blue sky; the swath of trees along the horizon that appear as though brushed onto an oil painting; and the deep inhalation of fresh clean air. It all makes this evening’s 6:00 news so unimportant. This is what we crave, and who we are as Canadians in search of a time-out where we can reconnect and recharge. Unfurling a map of Ontario I look north at the vast undiscovered wilderness, pick a point, and then read about the allure of Woodland Caribou Provincial Park.
No roads; no cell reception. This is off-the-beaten-path, remote backcountry that makes southern parks seem urban by comparison. Red Lake Outfitters is our ticket into the wild unknown, and our anticipation soars as they fly us into the park.
Disembarking at their cozy eco-lodge, we haul packs onto the dock and gaze out at the Canadian Shield. It takes time to acclimate from our hectic downtown pace to this laid back vibe where time is irrelevant, until our chef appears and shares what’s on the menu for dinner: grilled moose steaks. He needs a few extra ingredients, though. Excitedly running into the woods to check off our grocery list of cranberries, chanterelles, Labrador tea, mint and whole grain wild rice, we feel like kids on a scavenger hunt.
Only hours earlier, we were rushing to get out of our offices. Now we’re relaxing on a porch, staring out at a gorgeous sun setting over the Boreal forest, while dining on succulent steaks with all the trimmings from our afternoon forage.
As night falls a profusion of stars come into view. A thin glow hovering over the horizon catches our attention. Gradually it begins enveloping the night sky with ribbons of green light that slowly whip from one end to the other. Hypnotized by the celestial show of the aurora borealis, we sit on the dock and stare up in awe and wonder.
Daybreak. The whistle of a coffee pot, the sizzle of bacon, and the aroma of chocolate chip pancakes lure us to breakfast and fuel us for a day of fishing, hiking, and searching for Ojibwe pictographs.
Paddling out to the narrows off of Olive Lake, we cast our lines into pristine water. Here, each attempt is beginner’s luck. There are plenty of fish: trophy lake trout, northern pike and walleye. Within minutes we’ve met our quota. Over sparkling water we paddle toward our shore lunch. Filleting walleye on a paddle, we then start a fire, cook them up and enjoy them with our freshly baked bannock. Secluded and serene, we’re unwound.
This is a guy trip that feels particularly special, because there’s a difference between the wilderness and the forest. It’s primitive, but we’re fully outfitted with all the comforts we desire. It’s remote, and we’re more likely to see a caribou than another human.
Whether swimming out into the refreshing shallow waters, or afternoon-napping on the dock in the heat of the sun; hiking through the woods along Anishinaabe hunting trails, or strumming a guitar and shuffling a deck of cards on the porch; this is our quiet, unspoiled, authentic Canadian experience.