Lake Superior Goodness
A blog about everything Superior.
The Lost Light
Perched on the rocky point of Agate Island, I could make out the towering cliffs of nearby Talbot Island. Ten minutes later, they were gone. Another ten minutes passed, and the cliffs returned only to disappear again as the fog patches came and went with the gentle breeze.
We were midway through a nine-day sea kayak trip from the tip of the “Sleeping Giant” peninsula to the fishing village of Rossport. We had arrived last afternoon, crossing the Nipigon Strait with little trouble. My maps are scratched with notes of “Danger!” “Waves!” “Wind!” “Caution!” at key points from guides before me. The strait was one of them. We were now in the relative shelter of the massive St. Ignace Island, camped among the islands dotting its southern shore. Each unique island is rich with history, geology and biodiversity. The trio of Agate, Talbot and Paradise Islands are some of my favourites on Lake Superior.
Our route would take us beneath the towering cliffs of Talbot Island’s north shore. Passing in the shadow of the overhanging rocks brings a reminder of the relative scale of geological time: bare marks on the rocks note where pieces the size of large trucks have broken off and crashed into the waters below. A look down to the crystal-clear bottom shows exactly where these chunks have fallen. They may have tumbled centuries ago but the fresh marks look like it could have just happened.
The towering cliffs of Talbot. Photo: Brittany Moore
Reading into the perilous history of lightkeepers on the island will amplify that feeling.
The “St. Ignace Lighthouse” on Talbot Island was home to the first lighthouse on Lake Superior. Built in 1867, a white wooden tower on the east end with three lamps served as a beacon to ships passing through the shoal-filled, often foggy waters of the archipelago. The lighthouse was short-lived, abandoned in 1872. The tragic stories of the individuals who maintained it during its lifetime earned it the name “The Lighthouse of Doom”.
In its brief operating existence, the St. Ignace light claimed the lives of all three keepers. In mid-December of 1867, the lone keeper William Perry closed up and left his post in an open-sailboat. He headed west, towards the Hudson Bay Company post in Nipigon to wait out the winter. Lake Superior is notorious for its early winter storms and Perry never arrived. The following spring, his boat and body were found washed ashore.
Thomas Lamphier and his Ojibwe wife filled Perry’s vacancy. In most recent writings on the topic, his wife is referred to nothing further than “Mrs Lamphier”. To avoid meeting the same fate as Perry the couple brought sufficient supplies to bunker down and remain at the light station for the winter. Tragedy struck when Thomas Lamphier suddenly dropped dead. With the ground frozen, his wife had no way to bury his body. It was too late in the season to leave the island, so she wrapped her husband in a canvas cloth and tucked the body into a crack in the rock. She survived the winter and was picked up by a passing group of Ojibwe travellers that she desperately flagged down. Her hair had been jet-black when she was seen the autumn before; the stress and grief of that desolate winter caused to turn snow-white.
Andrew Hynes took over as the final lightkeeper on the doomed island. He managed it until autumn of 1872 when he packed up to sail west for Fort William, one half of what is now Thunder Bay. Like many men before him, he was deceived by a window of clear weather. Once on the water, an autumn storm kicked up, sending him off his path. A 90-kilometre journey took 18 days, and when he washed ashore at Silver Islet, he was delusional; he died shortly after landing. After Hynes’ death, the Canadian Coast Guard decommissioned the deadly lighthouse.
Across the Great Lakes, lightkeepers’ jobs were eventually rendered obsolete as automation technology advanced and GPS systems became more common. Many of the lights remain but the buildings are being left to fall back into the earth.
The only evidence of the lighthouse’s existence on the island is the faint outline of a rough and decaying foundation. Thomas Lamphier’s grave is still marked at the end of a rough footpath on nearby Bowman Island, behind the abandoned fishery.
It has been hinted that part of the seemingly cursed history of the keepers could relate to the decision to build on an island which is sacred to the local Ojibwe. Many spaces where dramatic cliffs meet the water have been identified as sacred. Examples of this include pictograph sites at along the Nipigon River and at Agawa Rock. Talbot Island also bears a striking resemblance to “Devil’s Warehouse Island”, a name christened by missionaries in an attempt to dissuade First Nations from participating in traditional ceremonies and practices at the site. Cursed or not, a tobacco offering at sights such as these acknowledges those who travelled the waters before us.
Glucose-fueled Greatness: The Dog River Day Trip
From Traci-Lynn Martin continuously paddling all Great Lakes to the Jamie Sharp and Jillian Brown’s tandem descent of the Grand Canyon, 2017 saw some sea kayak expeditions that would make the average person question the expeditionists’ sanity. I guess this trip could be considered one of those.
On July 31st, as the sun began to peek up over the bluffs of Michipicoten Bay, three tandem kayaks slipped into the water and pointed west. The kayaks were jammed with inflatable pool toys and enough sugary snacks to give Willy Wonka a toothache. Sophie Ballagh and Ewan Blyth in one boat; Peter Moule and David Wells in another; and Vincent Paquot and myself in the third. We had one goal: To get to the Dog River and back to Rock Island Lodge before sundown.
The Dog River Day Trip (DRDT) is Vince’s dream. When proposed to the other guides, it took very little persuasion for a commitment. The date was set, snacks were bought, and boats were packed: the team was ready.
The morning started off beautifully, with flat waters and clear skies. The temperature warmed up quickly as the group rounded Perkwakia Point. The first stop happened just after Minnekona Point on a secluded beach. Layers were dropped and the Jujubes made their first appearance. It was approximately 8:00.
We continued to paddle on, with the tandem kayaks coasting effortlessly along the Superior Highlands shoreline. Sophie and Ewan’s boat began to push ahead, Sophie’s full-face whitewater blade dipping furiously into the water. In an effort to reduce drag, Vince and I lifted the rudder, exchanging control for speed in their Passat G3. David and Peter’s boat continued on its course,
By 11:30 the group reached the mouth of the Dog River. They paddled up as far as they could, pulling off on a gravel bank and unloading the boats. The middle hatch of Vince and I’s boat opened to reveal a soft cooler with lodge leftovers and PB&J wraps, but more importantly Hostess brand Ding-Dongs and Ho-ho’s. With 42 grams of sugar in each 72-gram serving, these cake-based treats fuelled this mini-expedition, mailed in a surprise package from friends across the border.
The group had made it to the Dog, but now the crux of the journey was facing them. The high water allowed for a chance to do something which has not occurred in recorded history: float the lower section of the river from the foot of Denison Falls back to the boats in blow-up pool toys. The arsenal of vessels included two Explorer 100 single man rafts and their sister vessel, a raft christened as the Tropicana 100. The larger, packraft style Explorer 200 came complete with oars and would serve as our mothership. Completing the quiver were a large inflatable swan and lounge chair. They were packed into a daypack and the team began to hike. Remembering to always be prepared, I put one white fudge Ding-Dong in my PFD and one more in my mouth.
On reaching the falls, all members took some time to explore the cascades while reflecting on the journey, and mentally preparing for the descent which loomed soon. Ewan and I swam to cool off and calm our nerves.
After scouting the drop at the foot of the falls, Ewan found a line. He blew up his Tropicana 100 as the film crew got into position. Vince and I set up safety as a summer camp group who happened to be hiking the falls looked on with excitement and confusion. Ewan’s descent started off promising, but the boat was no match for the rushing water and he slipped out mid-drop.
The safety crew worked quickly and efficiently, pulling Ewan and his boat in before they drifted into the impending swifts and flat water below. Impressed by his bravado but aware of the hazards, the rest of the group decided to put in below the drop.
The afternoon sun was now beating down on us as we pumped up our rafts. Peter and I took the Explorer 100’s, with Vince manning their big brother, the 200. Dave took the inflatable lounge chair and Sophie would lead the pack in the inflatable swan. With a cheering send-off from the summer camp, one by one we floated down the Dog River.
The river steepened as the toys bounced through the swifts. Vince’s packraft performed quite well, but we were all amazed at the agility and versatility of both the lounge chair and the swan. Shallow in some parts, we had to take care to not bounce our tailbones off the river rocks while running the lines. Sophie and the swan led the charge, finding lines to navigate the 1300 metres of swifts. My heart was pounding as adrenaline and riboflavin surged through my veins.
The end of the river run found us facing a 2-foot slide with a standing wave at the bottom. Each team member ran it on their vessel before trading off to try other ones. After many attempts members managed to surf the lounge chair and swan, indicating potential for future whitewater playfloating.
It was now nearly 3:00 and the group needed to begin to head back. We loaded ourselves into the tandems and pointed east with the white swan strapped to Ewan and Sophie’s kayak. We happened to be passing NSA friend Joel Cooper, who snapped a picture from his motorboat.
It may have been the dopamine levels dropping but the paddle back was wearing on the group. Sensing this, Vince pulled out a tub of fuzzy peach rings. I made a mental note to book a dentist appointment after the trip. We continued on, racing the sun as it inched its way toward the horizon.
By 19:00 we were at Perkwakia Point, and sugar levels were dropping rapidly. Four kilometres away from Rock Island, Vince called the three tandems together to raft up. Tears welled up in his eyes as he thanked us for making his dream a reality, and with great honour he bestowed us a token of appreciation for the soon to be completion of the inaugural DRDT, Ring Pops.
We paddled into the Michipicoten River mouth to be greeted by the staff who graciously covered for us while we took a day off at the height of the season for this ridiculous journey. The tandems touched the beach at 8:00, completing the 50 kilometres of paddling, 3 kilometres of hiking, 1300 metres of floating and endless amount of silliness in around 14 hours. The team kicked back and enjoyed a glass of Speckled Hen Christmas Ale and recounted the day.
The participants of the first annual DRDT would like to thank the following unofficial sponsors: The Wawa Bargain Shop, Young’s General Store, Hostess, and Judy Moore for providing the Speckled Hen that she found in her garage.
By Jake O’Flaherty
Spirit of Superior Photography Workshop
There’s good reason that some of the finest early Canadian art was inspired from the view from a voyageur canoe. These historic watercraft were a key component of the country’s early development with the fur trade, and the voyageur route from Montreal to the Canadian interior captured the grandeur of the wild New World. Two centuries later, a new photography workshop means makes it still possible to become immersed in the legendary scenes of Frances Anne Hopkins and Paul Kane—on the north shore of Lake Superior in a replica voyageur canoe.
Naturally Superior Adventures and award-winning photographer Ariel Estulin have teamed up to develop a unique fusion of photography instruction and adventure. The Spirit of Superior photography workshop combines active learning with a professionally guided and fully outfitted 5-day voyageur canoe trip. The route retraces the journey of the French Canadian voyageurs on the wilderness coastline of Lake Superior Provincial Park—a magical place of sand beaches, towering cliffs, mysterious islands and spectacular sunsets. Whereas early artists Hopkins and Kane captured these timeless scenes with oil and canvas, you’ll record your own masterpieces in pixels.
Estulin’s career was inspired by the work of legendary landscape photographer Freeman Patterson. On this trip, Estulin will share the fundamentals of composition and offer tips on how to make the most of a digital camera’s capabilities. Each evening, he will facilitate a critical review of the day’s images on iPad tablets—imagine doing that in the days of the fur trade! Registration is capped at 10 participants to allow one-on-one instruction.
The course complements Naturally Superior Adventures’ suite of photography workshops hosted at Rock Island Lodge, and targets more adventurous photographers. The huge capacity, stability and efficiency of the voyageur canoe means participants can pack all of their photographic gear, travel safely on Lake Superior’s big water and even record images from the boat. Gourmet meals and high-quality outfitting equipment round out the experience, which is scheduled to take advantage of the best weather of the summer.
On the Rocks
An unusually calm summer made for some mysteriously slimy rocks on Lake Superior’s north shore. Frustrated with clogged water filters and slippery launches, Naturally Superior Adventures senior guide Jake O’Flaherty investigated the gross but (thankfully) normal phenomenon of “rock snot”
This year, paddlers on Lake Superior may have noticed an abundance of gooey algae in the waters lining the cobble shoreline. Some who have spent years on the lake have noted seeing this “goo” or “scum” in areas which were crystal clear in previous years.
Upon seeing the above pictures of rock scum found off Simpson Island, Pam Anderson of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) suspects it may actually be what is referred to as a “typical epilithic nearshore algal community”. The word Epilithic originates from epi- meaning “upon”, and lithos meaning “stone”. That makes sense; we can conclude that this algae prefers to grow on rocks near the shore.
MPCA Researchers have noted scums west of Thunder Bay to be primarily Diatoma ehrenbergii. Diatom are a type of algae and one of the most common types of phytoplankton.
Evidence of these unicellular organisms have been dated back to the early Jurassic period. They are the base of food chains in aquatic environments, and it is not uncommon to find shorebirds snacking on the smaller organisms such as larvae that gravitate towards diatom patches.
Diatoma ehrenbergii has been observed in the Great Lakes since the 1840s. This is an invasive species, which can also be found in Europe and polar regions. It likely arrived in ballast from ships. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, this specific diatom does not pose an environmental or economic risk to the lake.
One diatom of international notoriety is Didymosphenia geminata, commonly referred to as “didymo” or the much more evocative “rock snot”. Didymo is likely native to Lake Superior, found intermingled with other diatoms in nearshore communities. In other areas of the world this diatom runs rampant, altering the water quality and local ecosystems as well as clogging recreationalist’s water filters. New Zealand is taking measures to mitigate the spread of this invasive species.
Why paddlers may be seeing more rock-loving algae on the lake may be attributed to what is referred to as an “algal bloom” These blooms are caused by an abundance of nutrients in a water system, sometimes caused by agricultural runoff. Anderson believes that a large contributor to the seeming excessive amount of algal communities could be due to the relatively calm conditions we’ve experienced on the lake this year.
Our guides have been irritated with the algae clogging water filters, and some may think twice about swimming along Superior’s cobble beaches; however, this specific goop we see is just a part of the natural ecosystem. We are truly lucky to be able to spend time in regions which are relatively untouched by pollution, although we should be aware and vigilant of non-native organisms that can pose a risk or indicate a water quality issue.
Voyageur Canoe Culture
This year, as part of Canada’s 150th birthday celebrations, Ontario has launched the #paddleon campaign to highlight the canoe as an icon of Canadian heritage. Ontario Tourism developed The Canoe, a cinematic film by videographer Goh Iromoto that explores the various ways this humble watercraft represents Canadian values. “If it is love that binds people to places in this nation of rivers and this river of nations,” concludes the film’s narrator James Raffan, a distinguished author and past director of the Canadian Canoe Museum, “then one enduring expression of that simple truth is surely the canoe.”
What better way to take part in this intriguing and uplifting vision of Canada then to set off this summer on a journey by canoe? Better yet, make your trip in a voyageur canoe, the historical vessel of the Canadian fur trade, in which individual paddlers come together in one boat to achieve a great goal. Naturally Superior Adventures is excited about the 2017 Voyageur Canoe Brigade as a means to recreate the voyageur experience and commemorate Canada’s cultural heritage on Lake Superior’s wilderness coast.
The fur trade was Canada’s first industry, starting in the mid-1700s and lasting nearly a century. It relied on trading posts scattered throughout the north country to gather fur from trappers. The Northwest Company recruited young paddlers to pilot brigades of big 26- to 36-foot birchbark canoes across the country. The voyageurs were like long-haul truck drivers, delivering trade items like beads, metal pots and muskets to trading posts and returning to Montreal at summer’s end with canoes brimming with valuable furs. For their exploits they emerged as early Canadian folk heroes.
Our voyageur canoe is a 36-foot fibreglass replica of a canot-du-maitre, the fur trade canoe traditionally used on the Great Lakes. It’s about the length of a school bus, propelled by 10 to 16 paddlers and designed to be stable and seaworthy in waves. Most importantly, in the fur trade days and now, it’s capable of holding up to four tons of cargo—a valuable asset since the five legs of our journey from Agawa Bay to Thunder Bay range from 5 to 10 days of wilderness paddling.
Ultimately, the voyageur era ended before Confederation. Fur lost its fashion appeal in Europe in the 1840s, just as the construction of locks on the St. Lawrence Seaway made freight canoes obsolete in favour of large ships. But the image of hardy, wilderness travellers—the voyageurs—remained as a pillar of Canada’s vibrant canoe culture.
This summer, Naturally Superior Adventures is honoured to wear the badge of Ontario’s Canadian Canoe Culture program. We believe in the canoeing’s values of personal challenge, wilderness exploration, making real connections, sharing knowledge and being proud to be Canadian. Pick up a paddle and share your experiences on Ontario’s myriad waterways with the #paddleon hashtag.
In the Wake of the Voyageurs: Celebrating Canada’s 150th Birthday on Lake Superior
A nation emerged in the wake of birchbark canoes, the engines of the fur trade—Canada’s first industry. The canoe epitomizes our history. What better way to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary than to paddle the voyageur highway?
Naturally Superior Adventures’ Lake Superior Voyageur Canoe Brigade consists of six guided, all-inclusive wilderness adventures by 36-foot replicas of the North West Company’s “canots de maître.” These canoes are seaworthy and easy to paddle for all levels of outdoor enthusiasts. Each leg of the journey will consist of up to 12 participants (“milieu” in voyageur speak) and experienced guides. Starting July 2nd in Lake Superior Provincial Park, each brigade will travel 5- to 10-day legs, finishing August 19 at Old Fort William Historical Park, near Thunder Bay.
This is your chance to commemorate Canada’s rich canoeing history on The Great Trail. You’ll experience the same rugged shoreline that mesmerized the French Canadian voyageurs two centuries ago. Artist Frances Anne Hopkins immortalized this unknown wilderness and hearty lifestyle; 200 years later, you’ll paddle into scenes that have remained virtually unchanged.
Here’s are three highlights we’re looking forward to on this year’s trips:
#1 Paddle with the Happy Camper – Celebrate Canada Day with a voyageur canoe trip on the wonderful coastline of Lake Superior Provincial Park—with popular canoeing personality and author Kevin Callan (aka The Happy Camper). This 6-day trip has a little bit of everything: Stunning sand beaches, rugged headlands, great hiking and secluded coves.
#2 Becky Mason on the Pukaskwa – Join the daughter of legendary Canadian canoeist, filmmaker and artist Bill Mason on this 10-day journey into the heart of Lake Superior’s greatest wilderness. Becky is an acclaimed canoe instructor, painter and environmentalist who carries on her father’s legacy.
#3 En Route to the Great Rendezvous – We couldn’t think of a better guest than Thunder Bay-based singer-songwriter and historian Rodney Brown for the final leg of our journey, which ends at enchanting Fort William Historical Park—a recreated fur trade post where time stands still.
Each leg of the brigade has its own appeal, from the austere landscapes of Lawren Harris Country on the North Shore, the mystical Rossport Islands and the lonely island lighthouses of the remote waters of the Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area. Join us this summer—each trip promises to be an experience you’ll never forget.
Lake Superior Weather
You can’t get away from watching the weather if you paddle on the Lake Superior coast. When I guide sea kayak trips or take pleasure trips by canoe, I am constantly observing the clouds, the wind, the texture of the water, and the colour of the sky. I’ve lived on Lake Superior all my life, yet more often than not I am at a loss when it comes to predicting the weather. About the only failsafe mantra I know is a familiar one amongst sea kayak guides: It’s better to be on shore wishing you were on the water than on the water wishing you were on shore.
That being said, there are some great online resources and reference books we use while teaching Paddle Canada sea kayak skills courses. But first, here are some basic observations that hold true most of the time.
- Wind shifts – In general, a backing wind (shifting counterclockwise) foretells deteriorating weather and intensifying winds; a veering wind (shifting clockwise) predicts improving weather and decreasing winds.
- Barometric pressure – A barometer is a valuable tool in predicting the weather. Unfortunately, Environment Canada no longer reports air pressure in its marine forecast, however sometimes you can catch it on land-based forecasts, which are occasionally available on VHF marine radio weather bands. If barometric pressure changes more than three millibars in a span of three hours, expect strong winds and changing weather. Note, 1013 mb (or 101.3 kpa) is the dividing line between high pressure (generally fair weather) and low pressure (generally foul weather).
- The sky – A ring around the sun indicates rain in 12 to 24 hours; high, wispy clouds indicate strong winds and rain in 24 to 48 hours. On Lake Superior, “red sky in the morning” is a more accurate predictor (of imminent rain) than “red sky at night.”
- Water – A good last-minute predictor of strong winds is the presence of a dark blue band of water along the horizon line. Usually this means it’s time to get to shore and batten down the hatches.
Our No. 1 source for marine forecasts:
NOAA National Weather Service – Lake Superior
A few online resources for learning about meteorology:
Our favourite weather books:
Wind, weather & waves: A guide to marine weather in the Great Lakes region (out of print) A PDF version is available online.
Navigation, Sea State and Weather: A Paddler’s Manual by Michael Pardy, JF Marleau, Andrew Woodford and Piper Harris. Available for purchase from SKILS.
A Brief History of the Rock to Rock
Like any good legend, the Rock to Rock challenge has obscure origins. Best guess is that it was dreamed up in the early 2000s by a few Naturally Superior Adventures’ sea kayak guides looking to test their paddling stamina against the prowess of the fur-trading voyageurs. In good weather, a 90-kilometre run from Agawa Bay to Michipicoten on Lake Superior’s eastern shore would be a reasonable day for a 36-foot canot du maître. The modern equivalent—a sea kayak marathon from Naturally Superior’s Rock Island base to the towering granite canvas of Agawa Rock—become a few crazy sea kayak guides’ holy grail.
This year, Naturally Superior director David Wells, along with guides Brendan Kowtecky, Jake O’Flaherty and Paul Whipp completed the fifth-ever Rock to Rock and set a new speed record in the process. Graced by a friendly tailwind, Brendan and Paul touched down after 11 hours and 16 minutes and David and Jake finished in 11 hours, 21 minutes.
Here is a synopsis of Rock to Rock challengers:
June 2003 – Conor Mihell and Sebastian Fallu
Celebrating the summer solstice, Conor and Sebastian launched from Naturally Superior around 7 pm and paddled through the night, stopping several hours to cook a hot breakfast of spaghetti on Devil’s Warehouse Island. The prolonged rest only extended the suffering. They landed near Agawa Rock approximately 16 hours after setting out.
June 2005 – Conor Mihell and David Wells
In another overnight solstice epic, Conor and David departed Rock Island around 5 pm and paddled through the night. Fuelled by cans of cold baked beans, they reached Agawa Rock at 7 am the following morning, passed out on a rocky island for several hours and then completed the journey to Agawa Bay by noon. Quotable moment: “If you tip over, don’t expect me to rescue you.” (Wells to Mihell, 4:30 am.)
June 2006 – Conor Mihell, Kim Whitmore and Virginia Marshall
Conor paddled solo (with a recently broken foot) and Kim and Ginny piloted a Seaward Passat tandem on this mission, which launched at 2 am in a misty late June night. The threesome followed compass bearings in darkness and fog to Old Woman Bay, snacking on red liquorice and Mars bar sandwiches. A strong northwesterly wind picked up around noon, creating perfect conditions for open water surfing and a new Rock to Rock speed record of 12 hours, 6 minutes.
June 2011 – Conor Mihell and Ray Boucher
Conor and Ray set off at sunrise on the summer solstice, and discovered that combining Ibuprofen tablets with fresh Lake Superior water on regularly-scheduled nutrition breaks eliminates most of the pain and suffering of an 80-kilometre-long paddle. In glassy calm conditions, the friends completed their mission in a record-setting 11 hours and 40 minutes.
July 2016 – David Wells, Brendan Kowtecky, Jake O’Flaherty and Paul Whipp
Another dawn departure and a beautiful tailwind pushed a foursome of paddlers to a new Rock to Rock record. Rounding Baldhead, after 60 kilometres of paddling, David urged his younger companions to venture offshore. The group skirted the Lizard Islands directly to Agawa Rock, making the most of the following sea. Brendan and Paul finished in 11 hours, 16 minutes and David and Jake landed five minutes later.
Michipicoten Island Unplugged
Few places on Lake Superior have the same mysterious appeal as Michipicoten Island. Maybe it’s the “floating isle” chimeric tendencies, appearing and disappearing at the whims of the weather. Ojibwa revered the island for its shiny lodes of copper and abundant populations of beaver and woodland caribou, and feared the fickle gulf of water that separates it from the mainland. When the swell rhythmically collides with the red gravel beach on Michipioten Island’s western tip, there’s a palpable sensation of being close to Lake Superior’s beating heart.
The lucky paddlers who have explored Michipicoten Island will tell you that sheer isolation is at the core of its intrigue. Making the 16-kilometre crossing to Michipicoten by sea kayak isn’t for the inexperienced. Naturally Superior Adventures self-supported Michipicoten Island expedition puts this enchanting place within reach of strong intermediate sea kayakers, or experts who prefer travelling in the safety of a group. We’ll take a boat shuttle to Michipicoten Island’s East End lighthouse, circumnavigate the island and then cross back to the mainland and follow the Superior Highlands coast to Michipicoten Bay.
Do you have what it takes? Paddlers should be comfortable paddling in one-metre seas (3-foot waves) and winds of 20 kilometres per hour (15 mph); have refined and well-practiced group and individual rescue skills (an eskimo roll is an asset; and have the stamina to sit comfortably in their boat and paddle up to 20 kilometres without a shore rest. You’ll also be responsible for your own menu planning and meal preparation, so be sure to polish these skills in advance. It follows we assign this trip to our most skilled and knowledgeable guides—veteran Paddle Canada instructor-trainers with extensive open water experience. The result is paddling skills mentorship, great camaraderie and a one-of-a-kind experience in some of the most isolated coastlines on the entire Great Lakes.
The Song of the Paddle
Two hundred years ago, when dozens of 36-foot birchbark canoes plied the water of Lake Superior, the paddler with the best set of lungs and a musical ear held a place of honour. Leading the crew in French Canadian folk classics like “En roulant ma boule” and “A la claire fontaine”, le chanteur—the singer—was responsible for setting the paddlers’ steady pace that carried the voyageur brigade to the trading post at Fort William, stroke by stroke. By dint of his musical ear, this canoeman often earned a higher wage.
As paddlers, hikers and highway drivers, we all know the benefit of song in making hours of repetitive activity pass by. For days, I’ve timed my sea kayak stroke to the tempo of Dire Straits and Bachman-Turner Overdrive, the lyrics of “Walk on by” and “Taking care of business” looping endlessly through my mind. Author and canoe historian James Raffan notes that most of the voyageurs’ chansons are set in six-eight time—a fast tempo that mirrored the paddlers’ 60 strokes per minute pace.
You need not maintain such a blistering stroke rate to join a voyageur canoe trip with Naturally Superior Adventures. In fact, our replica 36-foot canot du maître is suitable for all ages and experience levels. Fast and seaworthy, the voyageur canoe cruises effortlessly even with a crew of novices (and an experienced guide).
For an authentic voyageur experience, sign up for our annual five-day all-inclusive, guided journey to the Red Rock Folk Festival. You’ll share the canoe with Canadian folk music icons, such as Ian Tamblyn, Rodney Brown and Katherine Wheatley. Not only will our musical guest set the perfect paddling rhythm, they’ll also entertain with intimate campfire performances as we trace the wilderness coastline of the Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area in northwestern Ontario.