Chapter 5: A North American's Perspective

by Neil E. Miller|Published 10-03-2008

     A North American’s Perspective


     Churchill once described the differences between the British and the Americans as two people separated by a common language.  I think perhaps the Canadians and the Americans are two people separated by a common culture.  Our ways of life seem much the same on the surface but our priorities both nationally and personally are different.  We follow divergent paths driven by our own unique history, culture and national aspirations.  There exists between us cultural differences and I never grow tired of visiting our neighbors to the north to experience those differences.


     My canoeing partner and I drove to MKC by a slightly circuitous route so that we could pass through “the park”.  By that I mean Algonquin Provincial Park, that giant magnificent wilderness area a mere 300 kilometers from the sprawling suburbia of Metropolitan Toronto.  About midway through the park on Highway 60, we rounded a bend and cars were scattered everywhere – off the road, in the road and halfway in between.  The cause of this chaos was a moose grazing about 25 meters from the thoroughfare.  This was a photo opportunity not to be missed at any cost.  In a cavalier way we laughed at these “pilgrims” as we wove around their vehicles to pass through.  But just to be honest with ourselves, in every trip we have ever made into the park, we have always seen at least one moose and now, just passing through on the highway, we had seen our moose. In our own way, we were just as excited as the tourists who had leapt from moving vehicles to capture the moment with their little digital “point & shoots”.


     Departing the park through its eastern gateway, we entered the Madawaska River basin.  This region is an eclectic mixture of both resort and working class country. Interspersed among the timber industry businesses are bed & breakfasts, quaint restaurants, gift shops, antique shops and art galleries.  If you are not paying close attention, you will sail right past some of these little gems without ever noticing.  The whole place is blanketed in rugged forest and the random granite outcropping.


     We had registered into a three-day program at MKC to increase our paddling skills and prepare us for remote trips involving river travel.  The program, which included all equipment and clothing rentals, meals and camping, cost $700 (CDN) per person.  This was 55% of the per person cost for our entire six-day trip in Ontario.  It seemed like a lot of money but if put in perspective, a three day package at Disneyworld including park fees and lodging but not counting transportation or meals would cost three times that amount at a minimum.  In that park, the boats that run the rivers are on submerged rails but you do get pop-up animatronic hippos and crocodiles, whereas at MKC we only got rocks, ledges and “haystacks”.


     When we weren’t dining in the lodge at MKC, we dined in unique restaurants in small hamlets with names like Wilno, Palmer Rapids and Whitney.  And of course, once back in the bustling metropolis of Huntsville, we dined at Three Guys and a Stove (and stayed at the Rainbow Inn) as is our peculiar custom. 


     In the States, the pace is frenetic; the future uncertain and where we live, rivers are sterilized of debris and obstacles to eliminate any possible hardship for the weekend tubers .  Yes, that’s right … people (I’ve seen as many as 50 at a time) drifting down the river in innertubes with net bags full of beer cans dangling in the water.  We come to Ontario to escape this bizarreness and to put-in our canoes on lakes and rivers that lack the carnival atmosphere of those back home.


     We had both been to MKC before and we knew it would be physically demanding. We were not to be disappointed.  The owners of this whitewater camp understand that not everybody is going to be on the same physical plane and they will bend as much as possible to be accommodating to all.  But once you’ve put in your canoe or kayak and entered the stream, the experience takes on a life of its own. If you have listened carefully to your instructors, you will be able to interject some amount of boat control and be successful.  Success in a grade 3 rapid is “Woo-Hoo’s” and “high fives” all round.  The opposite is a very real possibility that you will be swimming (without the innertube or the net bag full of beer).


     In three days, I learned a lot about myself, my paddling partner and our new friends – Canadians all.  Most importantly, I reinforced what I’ve always known:  different cultures are interesting, even fascinating, and there’s just no downside to it.


Neil E. Miller

Copyright © September 17, 2008