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.

The voyageur canoe is designed for safe, efficient travel on Lake Superior.

 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.