Canoeing is Good for the Soul

By Cliff Speer

Saskatoon Star Phoenix, April 24, 2002

Canoes on a northern Saskatchewan creek

A canoe means different things to different people. But one thing most canoeists would agree on is that canoeing contributes to their sense of well being. There is an almost indefinable connection that a canoeist makes between mind, body and environment during the course of a canoe outing. This interplay of nature and the human psyche occurs in any self-propelled outdoor pursuit, but the nature of canoeing magnifies this process several-fold. Why is this?

My experience with canoeing points to the vehicle itself for the first part of the answer. The canoe is the quintessential eco-vehicle. If you think of its roots, the canoe, in its original incarnation as a birch bark craft, was an Aboriginal transport vehicle crafted from all natural materials found in the boreal environment. It was marvellously engineered to transport its creators through that environment leaving not a trace of its passage. It was, and still is, powered by renewable, non-polluting energy.

This heritage denotes an earlier way of life connected to the earth in a real and elemental way. In this simpler world, the canoe was the most efficient, and often the only way of travelling through vast tracts of otherwise inaccessible wilderness. At that point in human history it is unlikely that anyone considered the canoe as other than a good aid to a semi-nomadic lifestyle. Nonetheless, even then, the canoe provided a way of connecting people to the landscape. This primal connection with the natural world is necessary for the human spirit to thrive. Today, the canoe can still provide that essential connection by virtue of its heritage.

The other half of the answer lies in where the canoe can take you. There are untracked places that only a canoe can get to. And usually these quiet, wild places abound with natural wonders and have a charm that is addictive and all absorbing. Once you experience such places, you will want to return again and again.

Like no other vehicle, the canoe can transport you to another dimension. If you are open to Nature in this dimension, you can achieve a kind of spiritual connection to the natural world. This communion takes place in quiet, wild places where you find the very best that Nature offers, but it takes place on Nature’s terms, not on ours. This communion is the ultimate essence of canoeing — and sustenance for the soul.

If you haven’t partaken of this “soul food”, you are being shortchanged. Your Canadian birthright entitles you to experience our common canoeing heritage; the rewards are waiting for you to claim.

How do you claim these rewards? The best way to get started is to enroll in a beginner canoeing program taught by qualified, experienced instructors. The advantages of going this route over learning by trial and error are significant. First, you get acquainted with up-to-date technique and get immediate feedback on how well you are progressing with your paddling. Second, you find out about safety issues and how to take the necessary precautions to assure a safe and enjoyable canoeing experience.

CanoeSki Discovery Company is one local outdoor adventure company that has been conducting canoeing instruction and touring programs for the last 12 years. On the program line-up for the upcoming season are learn to canoe programs and paddling improvement workshops in Saskatoon, plus a wide variety of tours on the rivers near Saskatoon and in northern Saskatchewan…

Kingsmere Lake in Prince Albert National Park

A CanoeSki group makes a beach stop on Kingsmere Lake en route to Grey Owl's cabin in Prince Albert National Park

CanoeSki programs are conducted by experienced, certified instructors with the emphasis on safety and enjoyment. In addition, CanoeSki is officially accredited as an ecotour operator by the Ecotourism Society of Saskatchewan. Many of the company’s programs have eco-oriented themes with on-board specialists facilitating the natural or cultural learning components of the tour. For example, one tour in Prince Albert National Park familiarizes you with the historical legend of Grey Owl and takes you by canoe to visit his log cabin. Another tour takes you by floatplane into remote northern Saskatchewan on an archaeology program where you visit Aboriginal rock painting sites by canoe. There is also a women’s only tour that features a massage therapist and a musician to help revive paddlers after a day on the water.

For more info on CanoeSki programs call 653-5693 or visit the company’s website at