The leaves are gone, the birds are gone, but the forest still remains...filled with silent sentinels waiting for winter's cloak to envelop the land. It is a good time to go for a walk, to see the bare bones of these woods that we call our back yard.We live beside the Ottawa River in eastern Ontario, a land once ruled by the Algonquin. They are still present, and still play an important role in our community...not the least of which is the preservation of their culture. It is to the Algonquin that we owe our thanks for the ubiquitous Canadian canoe. Originally made of birch bark, the canoe was common on the lakes and rivers of this area.
In our back yard are many birch trees who's botanical grandparents may have contributed to a canoe or two. On a day like today,with no leaves to block the view, and no birds to distract me, one can easily see why the birch was chosen as a prime building material. It's strong yet pliable, waterproof, light, and readily available.
Former Prime Minister, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, loved the wilderness and being out in it. He was an expert paddler, who was seldom thwarted. He once wrote, "What sets a canoeing expedition apart is that it purifies you more rapidly and inescapably than any other travel. Travel a thousand miles by train and you are a brute; pedal five hundred on a bicycle and you remain basically a bourgeois; paddle a hundred in a canoe and you are already a child of nature."
The canoe is a Canadian icon. Renowned author and historian, the late Pierre Berton, once wrote, "A true Canadian is one who can make love in a canoe without tipping", to which the clever reparte is, "Anyone can make love in a canoe, it's a Canadian who knows enough to take out the centre thwart!"
This is the stuff of culture...and that keeps us from being thought of simply as fur bearing lumberjacks who yodel.
If you would like to learn more about either the Algonquin, or the canoe, visit: