Bill Guppy: King of the Woodsmen
By Hal Pink / McGahern Stewart Publishing, 2016
Ottawa-based McGahern Stewart Publishing has made an impressive impact on canoe lit in a short period of time. Since their inception as boutique publishers in 2011, rare book collector Patrick McGahern and veteran wilderness canoeist Hugh Stewart have released six titles. All consist of out-of-print and never-before-published accounts of northern travel, aptly referred to as "Forgotten Northern Classics".
McGahern Stewart's latest title is sure to inspire canoe trippers in northern Ontario's Temagami region. Bill Guppy: King of the Woodsmen ($25, available online) is the story of quintessential Canadian fur trapper, guide and backwoodsman Bill Guppy, spanning from the turn of the 20th century to the First World War and the Great Depression. Guppy ranged the woods of today's canoe country, and one spring just before the outbreak of WWII, he sat down with writer Hal Pink to tell his story.
Guppy's tales range from the trapline to logging camps, and include wonderful descriptions of northern travel by canoe. Most intriguing, however, is his description of Grey Owl, the noted Canadian naturalist who achieved considerable fame in Great Britain during the 1930s. As it happens, Guppy was Grey Owl's tutor, and was a highly sought after interview when Grey Owl died and was revealed to be an Englishman named Archie Belaney. From Guppy's account, Belaney was the real deal.
As Stewart notes in his introduction, original copies of King of the Woodsmen are exceedingly rare because of the time it was published. In 1940, England was in the midst of the Second World War; the tales of a curious Brit turned Ojibwa were lost in the turmoil of air raids and drafts. Yet Guppy's story still resonates today, especially in the watery landscape that shaped his life and moulded Grey Owl, a Canadian icon.
To order a copy, contact McGahern Stewart Publishing at email@example.com
The Contemplative Paddler's Fireside Companion
By Timothy McDonnell / North Star Press, 2016
In close to two decades of work as a sea kayak guide on Lake Superior's Canadian shore, I've heard Tim McDonnell's name many times. He has participated on numerous sea kayak trips, and by all accounts in guide circles he's a first-rate guest. Surprisingly, after all those years I've never had him on a trip. After reading his new collection of essays, I realize what I've been missing. The Contemplative Paddler's Fireside Companion ($14.95, available online) ranges from wilderness canoe tripping in the Canadian subarctic to sea kayaking on the Great Lakes. McDonnnell's prose is true to the title: He contemplates issues from group dynamics to his choice to switch from a single to a double blade.
McDonnell has a pleasant style that avoids the usual pitfalls of machismo and over exaggeration. He has a wonderful sense of humor, but at the same time delves into how his experiences on the water have shaped his life. As the dust jacket notes, "Each of his essays flares a bit then lingers, just as one would expect from a good fire."
Some day, I hope to witness his wonderfully humble storytelling first hand, by the shores of the greatest lake.
— Read about a new wilderness park on Lake Superior's rugged Canadian shore.
Comrades on the Colca
By Eugene Buchanan / Conundrum Press, 2016
Longtime Canoe & Kayak readers know the magazine's indefatigable editor-at-large Eugene Buchanan's plucky, witty ways of storytelling. Brothers on the Bashkaus, Buchanan's 2007 account of his experience paddling Class V whitewater in the Siberian hinterlands in homemade rafts with a crew of kamikaze partners, is an adventure lit classic. In the same vein of impossible adventure, Buchanan returns with Comrades on the Colca ($14.99 at Amazon.com), the tale of a weird and wonderful first descent of the world's deepest canyon.
Comrades on the Colca is as much the story of Buchanan's experience on an Explorers Club-sponsored expedition in the Peruvian Andes as it is an exposé of Poland's hard-core paddling culture. The story begins with Polish explorer Jerzy "Yurek" Majcherczyk invites Buchanan, an old friend, to venture into headwaters of the Rio Colca—"one of the world's true blank spots"—an unknown cleft in the earth's crust that's twice the depth of the Grand Canyon. Here, the Colca plummets 2,750 feet on a 12-mile stretch of river, promising hair-raising whitewater and shadowy campsites in the canyon's depths.
Like any good adventure yarn, the 15-member Colca expedition involves the prospect of El Dorado (some believe the Inca hid gold in the depths of the Colca, which literally translates to "Money Cave") and a race with a competing team of Polish paddlers. Buchanan also weaves in fascinating Inca lore and a concise history of Poland's world-class paddling culture. But in the end, perhaps the most striking element of Comrades on the Colca is captured in the title: The friendships gleaned from hardship on a wild river.
— Read C&K Editor Jeff Moag's story about Rocky Contos' mission to map the true source of the Amazon River
By Sean Bloomfield / 10,000 Lakes Publishing
By dint of geography alone, canoe tripping is an esteemed pursuit in the 10,000-lake state. While Minnesota's license plate slogan is embodied by the myriad waterways of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness—America's most popular canoeing destination—the state's fascination with tripping is rooted in the legendary 1930 journey of teenagers Eric Sevareid and Walter Port, a 2,250-mile passage from the Twin Cities to Hudson Bay.
So it was no surprise when two teenagers caught Minnesota's attention when they accelerated their high school studies and retraced Sevareid and Port's "Canoeing with the Cree" route in 2008. Sean Bloomfield and Colton Witte launched their canoe from their hometown of Chaska, Minn., and paddled upstream on the Minnesota River before crossing the height of land and tracing the Red River into Canada to the infamously rough water of Lake Winnipeg. The 18-year-old friends completed the 250-mile paddle on the big lake's eastern shore before descending the Hayes River to York Factory, a historic fur trade post on Hudson Bay.
Adventure North ($16.95, available online) captures the thrills and chills—and especially the heartfelt emotions—of Bloomfield and Witte's journey. It's an unlikely tale in this day and age. At its core, Adventure North is an account of coming of age, a rite of passage. It is the story of young adventurers pursuing and attaining a challenging goal. Sevareid's wildly popular travelogue, Canoeing with the Cree, had a similarly engaging theme. Herein lies the book's greatest attribute, in describing the timeless demands and rewards of a long journey and how they influenced Bloomfield and Witte.