Paddling’s gift

Column 125


I was an awkward, unsure 12 year old the day my dad drove in with a canoe tied to the roof of his car.

An on-the-road salesman for automotive parts, his territory included parts north of Orangeville, which made our Irish Lake cottage a handy overnight location and time with his busy family.

So, as the car slowly wound along the entrance pathway to our cottage, lashed to the top was a red, gleaming, 14 foot, Peterborough, cedar strip canoe. And two paddles.

We all ran to greet Dad and then the younger ones ran off to their next adventure. I stayed to help unlash the canoe. Dad was methodical and creative and, no doubt, had figured our storage of the canoe while he was driving. He went right to the workshed and four quick saw cuts had him walking toward the large cedar trees just outside the sleeping cabin.

Bang! Bang! In no time, a canoe rack waited. He and I carried the canoe over and put it on the rack. The paddles tucked in under the thwarts. Dad parked the car.

We stood together for a moment. “Whose is this?” I asked. He made no sound. But he pointed to his own chest and then to mine.

“A cedar strip canoe must never be left out in the sun. It should be completely wiped dry inside after every use, before it is put away,” he said. He moved underneath it to shoulder the full weight of its gunnels onto himself. And then he walked it down to the dock.

He got in and with strokes like silk, he propelled the canoe away from the dock. Silent, silent, silent it moved out into the middle of our little Irish Lake. And then it came back.

Before he let me get in, he taught me how to paddle in the bow, how to paddle in the stern. He had me practice my strokes while standing in the water beside our dock. He showed me the difference between a bow paddle and a stern paddle. And then I tipped my way uncertainly into the bow while he took the stern and off we went.

Dad was away all week serving different territories for his work, but he returned Friday nights and left Monday mornings and summer was special.

Eventually I was allowed to slip my body under the canoe on the rack, walk it down to the dock and tip it into the water. It gave me enormous freedom. Alone, I could explore every shoreline detail of Irish Lake, and I did. I could float in the middle of the lake, with a book. I could race with myself from point A to point B and always win.

In the summers of that awkward pause between child and adult, that canoe gave me a place where I felt okay. Eventually my strokes became like silk.

When my Dad died too soon, at age 67, the canoe was passed to my brother. Like Dad, the canoe was worn out. A couple of ribs were cracked, it took on water easily, the gunnels had started to split. So had the canvas.

At the end of one visit to my brother’s, when my husband and I had just purchased a cottage, I came out of my brother’s house to get in the car for the long drive home. And he had generously lashed the canoe to my car, the ultimate gift from our childhood.

I took the canoe to a restoration specialist and then with loving care, we tied it to the inside roof beams at the cottage where it hangs to be admired.

Kayakking has taken over our lives with its ease of movement, its safety and its carefree possession. But this weekend, my husband and I unlashed the 14 foot, red, Peterborough, and its paddles and slipped it in to the water off our dock. And it moved like silk across the water. It brought back the glorious summers of 54 years ago and the growing confidence of a kid.

I’m keeping it out on the kayak rack all summer. I’m paddling it often. And I’ll always wipe out the cedar strips on the inside before putting it away!

Thanks, Dad.