First used by Canada’s First Nations and later adopted by European explorers, canoes have a long history plying our country’s lakes and rivers. Today, an outing in a canoe is a quintessentially Canadian cottage activity.
If you don’t know how to properly paddle a canoe, there are a number of different organizations that offer lessons. Paddle Canada offers introductory, intermediate, and advanced courses where you can learn everything from how to get into a canoe without tipping it over to advanced strokes that allow you to turn a canoe 180-degrees in seconds. Most courses range from a half-day to a full weekend in length.
If you’re in the market for a new canoe, there are a number of considerations to keep in mind. Most cottagers will want a recreational or touring canoe that’s sturdy and stable, as opposed to a longer, deeper tripping canoe, or a highly manoeuvrable though tippy-feeling whitewater canoe.
For a family of two adults and two kids, you’ll want a canoe that’s around 15 or 16 feet long. There’s no denying the aesthetic appeal of a traditional woodstrip canoe, but they are pricey (in the $5,000 range) and can be heavy to haul on long portages. On the low-end of the price spectrum are polyethylene- and aluminum-hulled boats starting at about $500. Somewhere in the middle lie canoes made with durable, lightweight materials such as Kevlar.
For most cottage families, canoe tripping means a short jaunt around the lake. But as your skills develop, you’ll likely want to travel farther afield, perhaps even taking a portage or two to visit neighbouring lakes and rivers.
It’s almost always easier for one person to carry a canoe on their shoulders than for two people to struggle hauling it together. If you do plan on doing any portaging, it’s worth investing in a lightweight model with a yoke and yoke pads that are comfortable for you to carry on your shoulders.
Whether you’re just paddling around in your own bay, or heading out on an epic trek, make sure you pack all the required safety equipment. That includes personal floatation devices (PFDs) for everyone on board, a whistle or other audible signalling device, a 15-metre or longer heaving line, and something to scoop out any water that gets in the canoe. You should also pack a waterproof flashlight in case you get delayed and end up having to travel in darkness. And if you’re venturing away from familiar haunts, pack a compass and waterproof map.
At the end of your trip, store the canoe upside down on a rack that keeps the wooden seats and framing out of direct contact with the ground.
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