Veteran journalist Roy MacGregor has developed a reputation as one of Canada’s finest storytellers. The Ottawa-based writer’s subject matter runs the gamut from from hockey to the mysterious death of legendary landscape painter Tom Thomson. Never flashy, MacGregor’s prose weaves colorful characters into nuanced narratives, often with “everyman” charm.
MacGregor is in fine form in Canoe Country: The Making of Canada, his 50th book. In it, he argues that the canoe is Canada’s greatest natural wonder, and he explores how this simple vessel has shaped the development of the country. MacGregor draws on his own experience growing up in Ontario’s renowned Algonquin Park, where he learned to paddle from his grandmother. He shares the joys of a canoe trip on Quebec’s Dumoine River with friends—the quintessential Canadian wilderness experience—and explores the legacy of Canada’s paddling icons, celebrated prime minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau and filmmaker Bill Mason, who were contemporaries and close friends.
MacGregor’s retelling of a Canadian military operation in the middle east in 1884, where voyageurs paddled the Nile River in support of a British offensive, is weird and wonderful; he also explores the long tradition of “canoodling”—love and courtship in a canoe. Though he’s a passionate canoeist, MacGregor would be the first to admit he’s no expert in all canoeing disciplines. His description of the evolution of canoe design—from birchbark to cedar-canvas to the huge, motorized canoes of Hudson Bay—is insightful, however careful readers (and whitewater enthusiasts) will notice MacGregor’s few errors: Mistaking Royalex canoes for a prestigious brand of wristwatch and his description of the “Tomahawk” solo whitewater canoe (Mohawk-brand, perhaps?).
In any case, Canoe Country is destined to become classic literature for winter reading. Let’s hope it comes out in paperback for next summer’s tripping season.
–Listen to Roy MacGregor discuss his favorite parts of the book on CBC Radio