Roy MacGregor’s new book celebrates Canada’s love for the canoe

Roy MacGregor, the award-winning journalist and author, starts his new book with the statement: “It never occurred to me that my love affair with the canoe might one day lead to a death threat.”

He’s referring to the spring of 2007, when the CBC asked if he’d like to be a juror for a contest finding the Seven Wonders of Canada. After an initial public vote, Thunder Bay’s Sleeping Giant, which is a rock formation that looks a napping giant from afar, came out in first place. However, when it was time for the judges to make the final the decision, the canoe beat out the Sleeping Giant for one of the coveted seven spots. The backlash was swift, and MacGregor, who championed the canoe, was left to convince naysayers why the canoe was a national icon, a character, a wonder.

Canoe Country: The Making of Canada is MacGregor’s literary ode to the canoe. In it, he charts the canoe’s meandering history in Canada. He writes about how explorers paddled across the Columbia River in British Columbia and the Mattawa River in Ontario, and the describes the dugouts—which is a canoe made from a hollowed tree trunk—used by the West Coast’s First Nations. He concludes that the canoe was critical in shaping the foundation of our country.

“The canoe made Canada,” he writes. “No canoe, no exploration of this second-largest country on earth. No canoe, no fur trade to open up the colony-then-country to commerce and settlement.”

Although padded with plenty of history lessons, the heart of MacGregor’s book lies in his own affection for the canoe. He chronicles his own canoeing adventures and his own upbringing near Algonquin Park, which he calls Canada’s top canoe destination.

“I love my canoe. Nothing in the material world has cost less to maintain and run; nothing has afforded me more opportunity to flee that world,” he writes. 

MacGregor is a long-time Globe and Mail columnist and the author of 50 books, including The Home Team: Fathers, Sons and Hockey, Wayne Gretzy’s Ghost, and Northern Light: The Enduring Mystery of Tom Thomson and the Woman Who Loved Him. In this latest book, he writes with charm and poetic ease, cleverly articulating the passion (or obsession) many Canadians have with the canoe.

“It requires no fuel beyond human muscle. It does not pollute. It makes no noise. It takes us to and from familiar place we love the best, introduces us to magical places we would not otherwise experience.”

Without a doubt, this is a must-read for all cottagers.

Canoe Country: The Making of Canada, published by Penguin Random House Canada,  is available now for $16.99