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Loss of Western Canoe Culture...
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Author:  smithers bc [ April 19th, 2013, 10:55 pm ]
Post subject:  Loss of Western Canoe Culture...

I have been wanting to start a discussion about what we term the "loss of western canoe culture" for a while but have not found the right medium to make it happen. Seems like this forum through myccr has a broad reader base so I hope the discussion flourishes.....

The more time my family spends on the lakes and rivers of BC the more we ask ourselves "why are there so few people out in canoes these days - especially families"?

Historically the water ways were the highways of travel. Part of the cause for the decline in canoe travel is undoubtedly that we now have roads to most places and travel by vehicle is fast and easy.
But what are the other factors at play here? Can't find the time? Money? Are we too many generations removed from the old days that today's generation can't appreciate nor has the skills to travel in the wilderness by canoe?

Case in point have been our recent trips on the lower N Thompson River and Okanagan Lake. Both not anywhere near remote yet we saw only 6 day tripping sea kayaks near Naramata over 22 days and 240km of easily accessible water.

It seems back east (my wife is from Kenora Ontario - AKA Lake of the Woods/cottage country) canoe culture is alive and well. Sure they have 100 times the lakes we do out west, but what we lack in lakes we make up for in rivers, big lake and ocean tripping possibilities...
My concern is that canoe tripping/wilderness travel is becoming a thing of the past. This is why as a family we are making the effort to read up on BC's rich pioneering history, gain the necessary skills and get the right gear to paddle the routes we have done and plan to do.
The rewards from these trips will last a life time for our family. Each trip allows us to temporarily put aside the everyday conveniences, technologies and distractions to experience what it truly feels like to travel within nature - as a family wilderness traveling by canoe....

Thanks and I hope to hear your thoughts......

Author:  littleredcanoe [ April 20th, 2013, 7:47 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Loss of Western Canoe Culture...

Time. I suspect time constraints are the same no matter East or West. Competing with other activities with limited time off. Not many working folks get 22 days off unless you are an educator and not beholden to spend your summer getting continuing education. I know when we were working we had to make our canoe trips fit a ten day window.

Money. Not all people own a canoe. If you need to rent, you need to find a rental. Not enough business, and liveries go away.

I think its not a BC thing at all. BWCA permits are down. The Allagash in Maine used to be wildly overused. Now its a virtual ghost river in terms of use. The main users are camp groups. That concentrates use to a six week period.

You mention gear. It gets expensive, though gaining stuff gradually I don't notice. When I took a calculator to the camp shed..the amount was scary. It used to be that no one needed special gear. You used what you used at home and had the skill to make do outside. For example you did not need the latest doo dad cause you knew how for example to make a hanging tripod or to carve a spoon.

Interesting topic of discussion and IMO not confined to British Columbia.

Author:  dunkin' [ April 20th, 2013, 8:02 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Loss of Western Canoe Culture...

littleredcanoe wrote:


This is the number one reason for my limited canoeing at any time of my life. Finding the time to do it, especially more than weekend trips, is tough. I imagine it is the same for most people too. Soon, I will be retired, and look forward to many peaceful canoe trips.

When the kids were younger, we would do one week or so trip with them, as well as a weekend here and their, and sure wish it could have been more.

Author:  Stencil [ April 20th, 2013, 10:38 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Loss of Western Canoe Culture...

Interesting thread. You have to remember that the human-powered recreational crowd is a small one. There are all kinds of people out doing things on the water and in the forests but most of them are connected to an engine and an accelerator. Jet-boats, personal watercraft, ski-boats, fishing boats and on land it is quads. Self-propelled is just not popular amongst the majority. Canoes are a special niche. Few other craft or conveyances have had as large a part in the history of the country. Some people get this, most are not even aware. Compare drifting along the edge of a lake in the still of the morning with roaring around in a motor boat. A question of sensibilities. I am reminded of a pissed-up cat-skinner I encountered one evening long ago. He loved his job pushing in logging roads because he said "It is just so damn peacefull back there." Keep on paddling. Your kids are going to benefit. Canoe culture is alive and well it is just very small.

Author:  erich [ April 20th, 2013, 9:35 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Loss of Western Canoe Culture...

Smithers, this is a good question. The answer is complex. While there is a decline in canoe culture in the East, as Kim mentioned, the problem is much more widespread in the West. Part of it is due to a lack of time, or the perception that we have less free time. More, it is a a lack of commitment for the experience. Decades ago, as Kevin Callan has written, people spent more time in the bush on vacations. Do we have less free time today? Perhaps, but I think it is more than we are pulled many different directions. Kids and piano camp, soccer camp, the trip to Europe. These things didn't exist decades ago, or were for the wealthy. A dozen years ago, I wanted to get my son out on long sojourns in the bush, and so made the commitment to take a month or so off each summer, even if I missed a job(I was a free lance cinematographer). I made the commitment because I felt it was part of my son's education to be exposed to the natural lands. So, I think that many people do not make that commitment.

You are correct in that there is more canoe culture in the East, than there is in the West. That is just a fact. And there is a stronger canoe culture in Canada, than in the US, especially here in the PNW. Canada was explored by canoe. The American West was largely explored on foot and horseback. While the FN of the West Coast certainly had canoes, they were the cedar log variety, and not very suitable for rivers or portaging. Birch canoes just were not common out here, unless they came West with the explorers. Spruce bark canoes, and moose hide boats were used, but the latter were a native adaption of the York Boat and the former just aren't of the quality of a birch canoe. Remember that when Mackenzie left the Fraser for the Pacific, he walked.

Another reason for the decline of the canoe in recent times, is the proliferation of kayaks especially here in the PNW, and now SUPs. The PNW is sea kayak central and has been since the early 70's. I have staff at the main REI store, tell me that a sea kayak is perfectly suitable for the trips I do in the North. While some trips are possible in a sea kayak, such as Bowron Lakes, or the Yukon, many trips can't be done in those. The canoe is much more versatile, and this is what I tell them. Try getting 40 days of food in a sea kayak that can still run Class 3. But that is what the knowledge base here says. Most people, when they think of a canoe conjure images of grandpa's old dented Grumman, and "kayak" brings to mind some svelt Greenland style boat. Never mind that canoes can be every bit as svelte and fast as a kayak. As far as SUPs, they are here to stay, but I say that the Canadian Canoe is the original SUP. Still kayaks are fading in popularity as the popularity of the SUPs grow. And then there are the paddle boarders who run rivers in dry suits and fins... another subculture. And the rafters, the drift boats, etc.

Finally, and this somewhat relates to the comment about lack of time and commitment, there are just not that many people interested in paddle sports and that is dwindling. My local club had 500 members in the mid 80's and now we're stable at 200. And out of those, only four of us do northern trips, the rest just day paddle white water, if at all. Here at CCR, we have contact with most of the people doing longer trips.

The reality is that paddle sports of any sort, is not that popular. And combined with the cycling culture, the climbing culture, and so many other areas that drain prospective paddlers, we are fighting a battle. And more so here in the West, than the East. We just don't have the long tradition of canoes, or paddling in general.

Author:  littleredcanoe [ April 21st, 2013, 7:31 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Loss of Western Canoe Culture...

The other bit that has not been addressed is the perceived difficulty in learning how to canoe.

The East is not particularly a hotbed of canoeing. I am noticing increasingly that people want to kayak everywhere..including routes with non cartable portages. The Northern Forest Canoe Trail is 740 miles of lake and river travel with upstream work and many portages..a few lengthy and difficult. Most craft used are now kayaks. Including REC kayaks..when the paddlers hit the Allagash Wilderness Way their craft are measured. Some rec kayaks are pulled off the river and the paddler made to find alternative craft that is more "traditional". (it still can be a kayak).

I see the majority of people in rec kayaks.. Why? They want to go out for an afternoon. They don't want to go far or hard. They can get from A to B without much thought. Double blade plant on one side..plant on the other side. Their track may be a Z but they will get there.

They don't want to spend a lot of money. I ask why not a canoe? "It's too hard" is the typical answer. "It's too heavy" is another. I ask them how much do their little yaks weigh...Its always at least ten lbs more than most of my canoes.

Don't get me wrong. I love kayaking. I started out as a sea kayaker and still do. When sea kayaking became popular in the eighties.. Maine was a hotbed for sea kayaking destinations..for a good reason. and still is (Erich lives in one epicenter, I in another. )

So I think the question is two fold. One is the canoe vs kayak culture in what historically has been a canoeing area. That I think is in part because of the lack of mentoring on how to handle a canoe and travel with it. Kids don't grow up with canoes anymore. Even the five camps on our lake now have a slew of plastic kayaks.

The other is of course the canoe expedition.. And again that may be because of a lack of time and competing interests.

Author:  erich [ April 21st, 2013, 11:07 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Loss of Western Canoe Culture...

I agree, Kim. There is a lot of misconception regarding kayaks vs. canoes. In some general presentations that I've done at REI's flagship store, and other venues in the PNW, I start with a photo of a beat up Grumman, as I alluded to earlier, and follow with photos of all the different kinds of canoes...more than types of kayaks. And kayaks in order to go straight, are easier to learn. The old saw of half the paddle, twice the paddler applies. And, as you say most people just don't want to invest much time or money and just want to get a SOT to paddle for an afternoon. Now, even those are on the wane, as SUPs take over. At OR last year, the demo day had about three or four canoes, fifteen or twenty kayaks, and perhaps a hundred SUPs.

I started whitewater kayaking in the late sixties in one of those old Czech boats, and then did a canoe trip on the Bowron Lake circuit. I dropped canoeing for a while when I couldn't find anyone to trip with.

I'm so glad my son went to Keewaydin and now is staff there. I started him early. And he's a dedicated canoe head.

Author:  Canoeheadted [ April 21st, 2013, 11:39 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Loss of Western Canoe Culture...

I'm gonna say priorities and lack of developed paddling routes.

People fill up their lives with many things. We all know we can't do everything, but many of try. When you're scattered so much it's hard to have so much commitment to one specific activity. Again, I think our society likes to have so many choices so people are too busy changing their minds as to what they want. Ooh..look at that!!!

My son can paddle his own canoe but I bet it's gonna be 15-20 years till he decides to get back in a canoe with some serious intent. He's got way cooler things to do!
How old are you SmithersBC?
Had you been tripping before you met your wife or is this something to provide activity for your family?

The East and South have maps, trip reports, warmer weather and water, drop and pool rivers, cel phone coverage ( :lol: ), and the masses. All these add up to the user not having to invest as much time and energy in the same activity compared to one out West.

Sure the big ones are documented. Bowron, Murtle, Powell River, etc... step outside these and all information can start to get sketchy.
Therefore I think it's a lot easier for new participants to get started in these developed areas.

Paddling is another one of these that everybody thinks is real easy. Sure it is, but like anything it takes a lot of work and organization to pull it off in style. People that have been doing it for years can deceivingly make it look real easy.
These people that are distracted by life's other distractions often decide that it's too much work for not enough reward. Now they go back to the instant gratification stuff.

Anyways, keep up the good work! :clap:
Make yourself a canoe pole now. It's the next logical step.

Author:  littleredcanoe [ April 21st, 2013, 12:37 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Loss of Western Canoe Culture...

Cell phone coverage? Where? One of the questions raised on local paddling and hiking forums is cell phone coverage. People who live in the urbs expect it. Believe me cell phone coverage in paddling areas in the East is absent or spotty. It is possible that people are uncomfortable these days being "disconnected"

The masses..? Where? Not where I go canoeing. Warmer weather?.. Lets see its minus 20 in the Upper Midwest of the USA in the last two days. O now. Checked climatological data for Burns Lake.. You might as well be here. No difference.

I agree that documentation can be important. No longer to people explore much. They want to know where they are going and how long it will take; most are tied to a schedule. And keeping to schedule, we all know, can lead to unwise decisions.

I think that in more remote areas people develop outdoor skills more quickly as they are a part of everyday life. I know that were I to live in the city, I would not have learned a thing about an axe.

Here my woodstove demands some knowledge.

Author:  erich [ April 21st, 2013, 1:34 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Loss of Western Canoe Culture...

While Bowron and Murtle are well documented, I think that there is still a lot of routes that are equally well documented in the West. I have BC and Yukon guides going back to the seventies, including publications by the Beaver Club, Prince George paddlers, Mike Rourke out of Houston, BC, Gus Karpes, and others. Again, the numbers of people here in the PNW who do longer trips is limited. Head north, though, and you see fewer kayaks on cars, mostly canoes. Then when you roll into Whitehorse, it is almost all canoe. As far as the limited time we have to do these things, or the commitment to attempt them, I'll reference the number of Germans and Japanese I see in the Yukon. They make the commitment to come to the North. Germany has four direct flights a week land in WH. I agree that kids today have many more pursuits that take their time. Yet, if you get them in early, show them the "hard fun", and they'll keep coming back. My son is as much into computers and gaming as anyone his age. But he abandons it all to be staff at Keewaydin and loved his time as a camper. That said, he was never interested in T ball or soccer like many of his friends. He has always preferred less competitive sports like skiing, hiking, and paddling.

Author:  littleredcanoe [ April 21st, 2013, 1:48 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Loss of Western Canoe Culture...

Then when you roll into Whitehorse, it is almost all canoe

That is changing too. Go to Kanoe Peoples place and see what they are renting. I was surprised given the cost of shuttles and rentals. Canoes there fit two..whereas there were no tandem kayaks, effectively doubling rental costs.

Author:  erich [ April 21st, 2013, 2:12 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Loss of Western Canoe Culture...

Certainly it is changing. Even when I did the Teslin a decade ago, there was a guided group from a Japanese magazine and they all had solo kayaks(some were folders) while Scott McDougall paddled a canoe with his son so they could carry the food. And now there are folks doing routes in SUPs. One of the employees at Western Canoeing did the Bowron last year on one, while her husband paddled his kayak. However, Kanoe People and Up North, usually rent those solo kayaks to people doing the Yukon or the Teslin, or some of the easier rivers. I've seen Tom Sawyer type rafts on the Yukon, so anything goes there. And certainly ww kayaks have done the Bonnet Plume and other harder rivers, sometimes with support and sometimes without. Folding canoes, IKs? Yes I see them. But hard shell canoes are still the preferred boat for most of the rivers. One thing that I have seen is fewer people after 9/11 in the North. And certainly since the economy tanked, there are fewer people in the Yukon. I don't have to pass those endless lines of motorhomes on the Cassiar anymore. But that has also meant the local economy has slowed. Fewer gas stations, motels and cafes.

Author:  yarnellboat [ April 22nd, 2013, 12:02 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Loss of Western Canoe Culture...

BC will always have it challenges because of geography - I know hard-core canoeists who have made the effort will argue this, but relative to other parts of Canada, BC just doesn't have many nice opportunities for introductory canoe camping, especially if you live in SW BC, where most of the population is.

So, there's not many obvious, easy opportunities, and there's tonnes of competing activities - it just doesn't add up well for getting people into canoes.

Those who trip here tend to go up north. But few have the time or money for that, and they're not likely to make it a priority if there are not local opportunities that encourage them to have the gear and the skills.

We do have good ww rivers, but they are steep and icy-cold, so it's a good place to ww canoe, but not a great place to learn how to canoe.

But ya do what you can (2-min vid of my family's baby steps):


Author:  Paddle Power [ April 22nd, 2013, 12:57 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Loss of Western Canoe Culture...

We as a world are becoming an urban population and thus most people spend most of their time in cities.

This is no doubt a very complex topic and I fear it is like going up river, few will do it.

Author:  Stencil [ April 22nd, 2013, 5:40 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Loss of Western Canoe Culture...

BC Parks says they get up to 4500 people a year on the Bowron. Murtle Lake gets a substantial number of visitors. There is a lot of paddling to be had here. There are clubs for those who need them and organization for instruction and courses. There are two longtime manufacturers of canoes in the province. Yes there are lots of other activities for the modern adventurer to try but I don't see canoeing going the way of the dodo. We will never have the numbers that there are in the east but that is not all bad either. It is a small niche but the opportunities for those that want to paddle a canoe in BC are, if not limitless, extremely varied and I would say, exciting.

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