Mountain Life – Blue Mountains - Summer 2024

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Photo: P.Platzer Please make no attempt to imitate the illustrated riding scenes, always wear protective clothing and observe the applicable pro visions of the road traffic regulations! The illustrated vehicles may vary in selected details from the production models and some illustrations feature optional equipm ent available at additional cost.
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P. 13 Neditorial

P. 14 Zeroing In

P. 16 Hogg’s Falls Improvements

P. 23 Mending the Line, Mending the Mind


P. 24 Tripping Temagami P. 30 Animal Vision


P. 39 Biophiliac: Outmusseled

P. 45 Epic Trip: Paddling Home

P. 50 Wheel Well: Deep Mud and Drenched Toes

P. 55 Athlete Profile: Olivia Shreds

P. 59 Wheel Well: Biking Nirvana

P. 65 Mountain Home: A Barn Revived

P. 68 The Beta

P. 70 Gallery

P. 75 Gear Shed

P. 80 Back Page: A Lasting Hope

ON THIS PAGE Kacy Wilson on Mystery of a Lost History (5.12a), Devil’s Glen. MIKE PENNEY ON THE COVER Paddling beneath the keyhole, Lion’s Head. DEAN HELIOTIS

Mountain Life Blue Mountains operates within and shares stories primarily set upon the traditional lands and treaty territory of the Anishinabek Nation. We acknowledge and celebrate the past, present and future People of the Three Fires, known as the Ojibway (Chippewas), Odawa and Potawatomi Nations, who lead us in stewarding these lands and waters, and we honour their knowledge and cultural ties to this region.


Glen Harris

Jon Burak

Todd Lawson


Kristin Schnelten


Amélie Légaré


Ned Morgan


Allison Kennedy Davies

Colin Field

Scott Parent


Noémie-Capucine Quessy


Krista Currie


Brendan Thompson


Leslie Anthony, Feet Banks, Jessica Carnochan, Melanie Chambers, Sarah Chisholm, Geoff Coombs, Matt Cote, Dave Coulson, Alain Denis, Taj Field, Kath Fudurich, Jenna Kitchings, Paulo LaBerge, Maxime Légaré-Vézina, Benny Marr, Ethan Meleg, Conor Mihell, Carl Michener, Ryan Osman, Michael Overbeck, Heather Plewes-LaBerge, Nicola Ross, Richard Roth, Dan Rubinstein, Wilson Taguinod, William Tam, Tom Thwaits, Leslie Timms, Kyle Wicks, Jody Wilson


Glen Harris 705 441 6334

Bob Koven 416 721 9940

Stephanie Martinek 705 441 3684

Mike Strimas 416 779 7908

Andy Lansdale 705 446 6450

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Code Red: The Moon Island Trapper

I lie motionless in my sleeping bag. Something is walking outside our tent, snapping twigs. The night is suddenly quiet—the frogs and crickets take a long pause as if they’re listening, too. As I wait for the next twig to snap, I’m sure the five other 11- and 12-year-old boys packed into the tent must be just as terrified. Or are they asleep?

It’s the first night of my first-ever group canoe trip, during a three-week session at Camp Hurontario. Founded in 1947, the boys’ summer camp on Georgian Bay prides itself on its long wildernesstripping tradition.

Part of the tradition is campfire storytelling. Our counsellor, an affable, fair-haired Australian named Andy, is a skilled storyteller—a little too skilled, as it turns out. As we sat or slouched on the smooth Canadian Shield rock around the campfire after dinner, the daylight faded and an owl hooted as if on cue. Andy told a frightening origin story about the Australian folk song "Waltzing Matilda." Then he told us about the Moon Island Trapper, a tale he had learned that summer from a local old-timer. Short version: Back in the pioneer days, the Trapper plied his trade on nearby Moon Island, where he lived in a cabin with his young son. He was showing his son how to chop firewood when the boy cut himself and later died. Distraught, the Trapper lost his mind and to this day stalks the woods wielding an axe and looking for boys to steal as replacements.

Boys like us. As I peer out the tent screen and see nothing but a shadowy void, I imagine our orange tent as a beacon for the Moon Island Trapper in this labyrinth of rock and pine.

Andy can’t help us. He’s snoring in his solo tent a few metres away, oblivious to the terror he sowed. But someone in our tent, I learn with relief, has a plan. James (whom everyone calls Potato, for unexplained reasons) is awake in the sleeping bag next to mine. He hisses my name and I’m startled, then instantly glad someone else is awake. “There’s something outside!” I hiss back. He nods solemnly, then holds up his flashlight.

I already know about this device. Potato showed it off earlier as we were all settling into the tent for the night. It’s “army issue” and boasts a feature none of us had ever seen: a red strobe light built into its base. “It’s an emergency beacon!” Potato had explained, demonstrating on the tent roof, where it flashed at a rate of roughly twice per second. One of the boys said it made him feel dizzy, so Potato turned it off. Now as he brandishes the flashlight like a lightsaber ready for battle, he whispers: “If you flash the red light into the eyes of a ghost or a monster, it will scare them away. Guaranteed.”

Just knowing someone else is awake and ready to rumble with the Trapper gives me a huge lift. Still, I roll over onto my stomach; if the Trapper rips our tent apart, I don’t want to watch it happen.

Then the wind comes up, catching the upper branches of the surrounding pines, filling the night with a sustained gentle roar. The rain starts, first with single heavy drops echoing on our tent roof and soon in a continuous deluge.

Towards dawn I awake, hearing birdsong. I feel a cold sensation under me: The tent floor is soaked through. I don’t mind too much. It’s almost morning, and it feels unlikely that the Trapper will attack when birds are singing.

In any case, I feel safe from future threats thanks to Potato and his flashlight. I glance over. In the gloom of the tent a faint red light escapes the top corner of his sleeping bag, lighting up his peaceful sleeping face. –Ned Morgan


Zeroing In

In the summer of 2019, Georgian Bay paddling guide and visual storyteller (and ML contributing editor) Scott Parent paddled tandem with his then 9-year-old daughter Acadia from Bootaagani-minis (Drummond Island), Michigan, to Penetanguishene, Ontario. The nearly 500 km SUP journey followed the route of their ancestors through Lake Huron’s three bodies of water.

They collected deepwater samples along the route that were later analysed for microplastics. They also collected (and hauled out) a shocking amount of plastic trash.

“It was hard to excuse the mess of plastic out in these remote areas that, in many cases, isn’t being left behind by people. It is carried there by the water itself,” says Parent.

Following the voyage, Parent produced the documentary film Three Waters, an homage to the beauty of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay—but also a warning of the scale of the pollution crisis.

Parent and a small group of fellow paddlers recognized the need for organized action and Three Waters Foundation (TWF) was born.

TWF is a nonprofit charity organization founded in 2023 and dedicated to removing anthropogenic debris from Lake Huron, Georgian Bay and the North Channel, particularly on remote islands and shorelines where plastic, foam and other contaminants are accumulating, posing threats to ecosystems—especially bird colonies and spawning areas used by native fish, reptiles and amphibians.

“More than 1.3 million pounds of plastic end up in Lake Huron every year,” Parent says. “We all have to do more to curb this at the source for sure, but meanwhile the saturation of debris in the water is washing up on islands and coastlines and impacts the wildlife that depend on these wild spaces.”

TWF recently joined together with Beausoleil First Nation’s (BFN) education department to create Ga Biinaagmin Nibi (“We Will Clean the Water’’ in Anishinaabemowin), a pilot program focusing on cleanups and monitoring of the water and lakebed within BFN territory and southern Georgian Bay.

“I’m elated to see this team come together.” Parent says. “Our members are committed to the core—to giving back to the Lake. We don’t have all the answers to the problems but this is our learning journey.”

Parent is also the recipient of the 2024 Trebek Initiative in support of his upcoming film about aquatic birds and plastic pollution. The National Geographic Society and The Royal Canadian Geographical Society launched this grant-making partnership for storytellers, researchers, conservationists and educators in 2021, reinvigorating their long-standing collaborative efforts.

“It is a tremendous honour to receive this support and be able to bring this story to the world,” Parent adds. “Colonial birds, especially cormorants, act as a barometer of sorts on the health of the water. Research has found the presence of microplastics in the digestive tracts of fledgling cormorants in the Great Lakes—a strong indication that the fishmeal served up by the parent bird was contaminated. This further indicates that plastic has found its way into the food web, through trophic transfer. The interesting thing about cormorants in this research is that they are the deepest divers among Great Lakes piscivores—a possible indicator of just how far beneath the surface the problem is.”

Learn more about Three Waters Foundation at and @threewatersfoundation.

Three Waters Foundation focuses on plastic pollution in Lake Huron A Three Waters Foundation cleanup mission on Lyal Island, Lake Huron. SCOTT PARENT
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Improvements Come to Hogg’s Falls

Volunteer labour and public funds work together on monumental effort

words :: Ned Morgan

photos :: Kristin Schnelten

In 2008, a new 28 km extension of the Bruce Trail took the footpath deep into the upper Beaver Valley. For more than five years, volunteers door-knocked and cold-called landowners, scrambled through tough terrain and built boardwalks, stairs and footbridges to secure what became known as the Falling Water Trail.

Besides adding a significant length of what the Bruce Trail Conservancy (BTC) refers to as “Optimum Route”—the trail’s ideal path, as close as possible to the natural features of the Niagara Escarpment—at its southern limit, the extension brought hikers within a stone’s throw of Hogg’s Falls. Not nearly as high as nearby Eugenia Falls, Hogg’s is a nonetheless impressive cascade on the Boyne River, easily accessible from the road (and a short drive from the town of Flesherton).

Hogg’s Falls was always a popular sightseeing stop and the extension made it more so. As a result, the provincial Crown

A revolving team of volunteers, often working amid clouds of bugs, hauled and winched the lumber and steel down ravines steep enough to give a hardened hiker pause.

land surrounding the falls was beginning to show signs of overuse. The trail captain for the Hogg’s section, John Burton, alerted Bob Hann (the Beaver Valley Bruce Trail Club’s director of trail development and maintenance) to the deteriorating state.

“People were randomly making their own trails near the falls,” says Hann. Some were also leaving garbage behind and making impromptu scrap-wood bridges through the wetland—all of which posed a major threat to the nearby land and river environment.

The BTC has a small army of volunteers, but building new trails and fixing the issues associated with a high-traffic area owned by the province was clearly outside their

normal mandate. “The fact that this was also a wetland and any changes would require approvals from multiple public agencies meant trail building was much harder—and more costly,” says Hann.

In 2018 he spoke to Craig Todd, resource management coordinator at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF), who acknowledged the problem and admitted his agency didn’t have any funds to fix it, but suggested that an organization of volunteers could make progress.

This led to the formation of the Hogg’s Falls Stewardship Group, comprised of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, Ontario Parks, The Bruce Trail Conservancy, Grey County, the Municipality of Grey Highlands, Niagara Escarpment Commission, Grey Sauble Conservation Authority and RTO7 (the Regional Tourism Organization). The Stewardship Group supported the Beaver Valley Club’s work on what became the Hogg’s Falls Trail Network Improvement Project (TNIP).

The group’s first task was to formulate a project design that both better protected the environment and created a more enjoyable visitor experience for residents, hikers and tourists. That design—a year in the making—envisaged complex reroutes of the Bruce Trail off the nearby roadway to create shorter loop trails, all of which would require bridges, multiple staircases and more than 200 metres of raised boardwalk through a wetland. The design also proposed more user-friendly signage throughout the trail network and an enhanced information kiosk in the Hogg’s Falls parking lot.

The next step was to acquire permits— and find the considerable funds necessary to implement such an ambitious undertaking.

With the support of the Stewardship Group, Hann (a former management consultant), Cliff Kachaluba (a fellow volunteer, newly retired from the construction industry) and BTC staff joined forces to apply for a federal government grant—but were rejected.

“When we had more time to realize the insanity of what we were promising to try to do, there was a considerable amount of relief

on our part,” says Hann. “But those feelings were replaced by a mixture of elation and fear in early 2022 when we learned we were successful in the second round.” The TNIP received a sizable federal grant with an equally sizable name: the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario Canada Community Revitalization Fund. The BTC, Grey County and the Municipality of Grey Highlands kicked in more funds.

“The good news was, we got the funding,” Hann adds. “The bad news was, we had to do the project.” Because the work was happening on environmentally sensitive land, the use of machines had to be kept to a minimum, so human power alone transported most materials to the riverside or wetland worksites. The 15-metre galvanized steel bridge trusses (three per bridge) weighed a tonne and a half each. A revolving team of volunteers, often working amid clouds of bugs, hauled and winched the lumber and steel down ravines steep enough to give a hardened hiker pause.

I was there in May 2023 when volunteers lowered one of the trusses just downriver of Hogg’s Falls. The winch system on display—a network of ratchet straps crisscrossing the forest—was doubly impressive due to the presence of tree protectors. And when the truss was in place, you’d never know a work party had suffered, cursed and sweated here, apart from some churned-up leaf litter.

“We kept the salamanders happy,” says Hann.

Last July when the TNIP officially opened—thanks to more than 2,800 hours of their labour—the Beaver Valley Club volunteers were perhaps the happiest of all. The presence of numerous dignitaries at the opening ceremony in the Hogg’s Falls parking lot, including the federal Conservative MP, suggested this accomplishment has a broad, nonpartisan appeal.

Hann adds, “I think the project shows that the BTC can accomplish things over and above its mandate. The volunteers who made this happen were working for more than just the trail. They came out because they’re also residents in the community.”

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Building an ace career at Blue Mountain Resort

In 2001, Adam McCutcheon was a high school student with a passion for golf. He had been swinging clubs since he was in kindergarten, and by his senior year he decided to make his career on the golf course, as well. A school program led him to the greens at Monterra Golf at the base of Blue Mountain Resort.

“I ended up at Blue Mountain as a happy accident really,” recalls McCutcheon. “I came for a co-op in golf maintenance and got addicted to working on the course. The position grew and expanded and gradually I took over the front of house for golf, then the operations side of Monterra and eventually I became the director of golf. I was green behind the ears when I first arrived, but Blue saw the potential in me and I just kept working my way up.”

While Blue Mountain may be less known for its golf than its ski slopes, that’s where McCutcheon found his opportunities. “I sort of came in the side door, rather than the front,” he laughs.

More than 24 years later, McCutcheon is now the senior director of planning and development for Blue Mountain Resort.

“I’m involved in all future plans, and I am constantly asking the question, ‘Where do we want to be in five, 10 or 15 years, and what do we want to build to make that happen?’” He credits Blue Mountain for helping him advance to a senior

“I was green behind the ears when I first arrived, but Blue saw the potential in me and I just kept working my way up.”

management role. “The biggest thing for me,” admits McCutcheon, “Is that I didn’t know I had these skills. They were sort of hidden from me as I grew up in the golf

McCutcheon at the site of the Canopy Climb expansion project. The multi-story attraction includes new obstacles, suspended rope-net trampolines, slides, towers and bridges. KRISTIN SCHNELTEN
“We go for a walk, we look at the logistics of making this happen, we work out all the permits and we get the work done… It all starts with a dream."

world. But I’ve learned that I’m extremely detail-oriented. I’m a perfectionist and I like to see things through to the end. My leadership skills have become really strong and Blue helped me develop these hidden traits. The teams we work with and the thought process behind everything is amazing. The amount of effort required to get something built is huge.”

For a time, when McCutcheon started overseeing construction projects on the resort, he was also still working at Monterra. “The staff used to call me Superman,” he says. “I’d be in my golf clothes, I’d get a phone call and I’d close my office door and then emerge in blue jeans, steel-toed boots and a hard hat and then go over to the project site. I’d come back a few hours later,

change back into golf clothes and then work with golf customers. I was literally wearing two hats all day, every day.”

McCutcheon recalls a pivotal day with Blue’s president and chief operating officer Dan Skelton at the top of Orchard: “‘Hey Adam,’ he said. ‘Come and take a walk with me, I have an idea.’ There was Dan Skelton and I walking through the bush with orange flagging tape, getting whacked in the face with branches and trying to bring Dan’s vision to life. That’s really how Woodview Mountaintop Skating started. We go for a walk, we look at the logistics of making this happen, we work out all the approvals and we get the work done. Months later we have an extremely successful and extremely busy skating trail. It all starts with a dream.”

“We have many exciting projects coming to Blue Mountain in the coming years,” says Dan. “They range from updating buildings with new looks to large-scale capital growth projects. There’s just so much on the horizon.”

More than 20 years after he first tied on his steel-toed boots at Monterra, Adam McCutcheon still drives to work at Blue Mountain Resort every day. His commute is the same, and he considers himself lucky. “It means a lot,” says McCutcheon. “I’ve always loved the community, and the fact that a big company like this will support someone born and raised here in Collingwood and help them develop a lucrative and promising career is amazing.”

– Allison Kennedy Davies

McCutcheon lends a hand installing the Elevate | Mbin'ge art installation, a monumental work created by Indigenous artist Kathryn Corbiere, located at the top of Blue Mountain. BLUE MOUNTAIN RESORT



Join Flyfishingbob (FFB) for an introductory session

“Primer” includes:

• 2 hours session length (suggested)

• Land training

• Essential fishing knots

• Maximum of 4 people

• Rod, reel and waders supplied

• Takeaway manual provided

• Photo opportunity

• FFB swag

For more information, contact Bobby at or 416 721 9940

NEW Golf Academy

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For specific Junior Golf Programs and Kids Camps for kids as young as 4 years old:

For extensive adult programs and social sessions:

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Mending the Line, Mending the Mind

Fly fishing offers a path to mental health

words :: Bob Koven and Wilson Taguinod

photo :: Colin Field

As fly fishers, we attempt to emulate nature.

By using natural feathers, furs and other materials, we craft flies that mimic the insects we see around us. But it’s more than meticulously tied flies that allow us to entice a fish. Using appropriate lines and leaders, and mending the line to produce a drag-free drift, are important parts of the equation.

By mending the line, you allow the fly to sink to the appropriate depth and drift speed, maintaining a natural appearance as it passes the fish.

Fly fishing is an art form, a passion that will never be perfected; it is an exercise in mindfulness, where hours turn into minutes. Mending the mind has many of the same attributes. You don’t need fancy equipment—just you and your mind. Using the same patience, persistence and practise as fly fishing, it’s possible to approach a Zen state and discover yourself.

While bonefishing in Cuba, I was fortunate to get to know Wilson Taguinod, a Vietnam veteran who discovered the sport years before when his Marine Corps buddy set him up with a funky set of

waders, put a fly rod in his hand and showed him the basic casting stroke. Half an hour later, he landed a nice 16-inch rainbow trout and fell in love with the sport.

Over time, as Wilson dealt with the effects of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), he discovered fishing and tying flies offered a respite from his daily struggles. Fly fishing in pristine and remote environments allowed him to immerse himself in an activity, which blunted the effects of PTSD. Others have noticed the same effect, including groups that promote fly fishing to aid with everything from breast cancer recovery to general mental health.

With world-class rivers in our backyard—including the Nottawasaga, Beaver, Bighead, Grand, Saugeen, Rocky Saugeen and Maitland—practising the art of mending the line and mending your mind is just a few steps out your door (no flight to Cuba required).

Bobby Koven, aka Fly Fishing Bob, is a local fly guide and environmentalist. He teaches casting and promotes catch-and-release to keep our rivers vibrant. Koven is also the host of the podcast What’s in Your Toolbox, an honest discussion on mental health. Hear Koven’s interview with Wilson Taguinod at and learn more at


Tripping Temagami

Finding connection in the heart of Ontario’s ancient pine forests

words & photos :: Kristin Schnelten

Tethered to the creaking dock, belly filled with gear, the tiny float plane bobs on gentle waves. Before ratcheting a canoe to the portside pontoon, our pilot slides a confiscated can of bear spray inside its cavity, telling us, “If it explodes in the cabin and gets into my eyes, we’re basically all doomed.”

I’m not nervous at all. I love flying. Really.

Silently repeating this mantra, I climb on board and click in for the 15-minute shuttle flight. The propeller spurts to a start and we skim across the dark waters of Lake Maskinonge, rising gently over endless pine trees to make a sweeping, banked return past our runway.

That’s when it hits.

Perhaps it’s the bone-rattling shuddering of the fuselage; the deafening wind through my open window; the pilot’s nonchalant habit of controlling the plane with his forearms while texting; or maybe it’s the continual, gut-dropping sensation of freefall—in every direction, simultaneously. The panic attack is fierce. All-consuming. Hyperventilating now, my eyes dart quickly about in their sockets and my hands frantically search for something—anything—stable to grasp. I make brief attempts at squinting through my camera, hoping the once- (trust me, once) in-a-lifetime view will snap me out of it, but it’s an exercise in futility.

When we splash to a pause on McConnell Bay and wade to shore, I’m still struggling to right my swirling psyche. Setting up the tent, slumping into a comfy camp chair and cracking into a lukewarm smuggledin beer, my breathing finally returns to normal and I consider the absurdity of that earlier involuntary response. The journey ahead promises a long list of firsts; sighing into the sparks of an early evening campfire, I resolve to tackle each with a tad more grace.

Curated by the startup tour operator karibu adventures, this week-long paddle officially kicked off yesterday with our overnight stay at the historic Temagami Outpost. The boat-access lodge began its life as a fishing camp, later acting as a paddling centre for youth; new pandemic-era owners have revamped its century-old main building and scattered cabins, giving it a refresh while retaining its well-worn character.

Last night was a whirlwind of gourmet food, sauna escapes and flat-water swims. Another night of rustic luxury will cap our trip, but first we’ll need to earn it: For the next three days, we’ll canoe 50 km back to the outpost, across myriad lakes and portages, with two guides leading, feeding and entertaining nine (mostly) strangers.


Each of us is scattered along a spectrum of canoeing competence, from seasoned adventurer to first-timer, and I’m grateful to find I lie somewhere in the middle. Mike, our youthful yet wildly experienced guide, offers a refresher course in paddling and I’m one of only two who take him up on the extra-credit soloing lesson—which becomes a rescue mission when I strand myself 150 metres from shore, struggling in the wind.

Back at camp, Mike and Laramie (second guide and fitness guru) spoil us with what we deem an aggressive amount of chicken, grains and fresh greens, filling our bowls again and again while introducing us to one of many trip-isms: Better in your belly than on your back.

The hearty dinner proves an indicator of what’s to come: pancake breakfasts, multi-course dinners, sandwich lunch buffets that span the length of an overturned canoe. All that cooking, all that cleanup. I am at first uncomfortable with the pampering—isn’t work part of the camping fun? Well, sort of. Maybe. I finally resign myself to the cushy treatment. There really is a particular pleasure in standing in awe of a sunset, listening to the loons chattering across the water, while the guides quietly scrub pots out of earshot.

And if I really want to raise a paring knife in assistance, I can. Or fill the water bladder. Try my hand at backcountry log-splitting. Learning is an integral part of the experience, and Mike and Laramie

are just as happy to instruct and accept help as they are to leave you be, sipping tea and chatting by the fire.

After breakfast we repack dry bags and bear barrels, climb into canoes and settle into the rhythm of tripping (we’re picking up the paddling-culture nomenclature): secluded campsite swims; slow, satisfying meals; long nights in breezy tents; sunny days on the water.

For the next three days, we’ll canoe 50 km back to the outpost, across myriad lakes and portages, with two guides leading, feeding and entertaining nine (mostly) strangers.

If I’m lucky enough to share a canoe with Liz, I’m serenaded with French campfire songs, her voice lilting and twirling with each deliberate stroke. More often, I’m listening and learning from other trip mates about their lives and loves; with no cell service or to-do lists, sitting together for hours, we open up and make connections. But long spaces of silence are fair game, too, with nothing but the sound of paddles gently bumping into Kevlar hulls and a warm breeze rippling over the water.

Sharing laughs and leftovers at Wolf Lake. KATH FUDURICH

These quiet moments, sequestered from everyday life, have been calling visitors to Temagami for generations. Inhabited for thousands of years by the Teme-Augama Anishnabai and Temagami First Nation, the 10,000-sq.-km area known as N’dakimenan saw its first European settlers in the mid-19th century. Trading, and later mining, gave way to forestry and eventually tourism: More than 100 years ago, Temagami established a reputation for its isolated yet accessible canoe routes, and outfitters and lodges dotted the vast wilderness.

A well-publicized fight to save the old-growth red and eastern white pine forests of Temagami in the mid-90s led to the formation of the Friends of Temagami, an organization whose current mission includes advocating “for the conservation and restoration of wilderness values” and promoting sustainable economic development.

Although we don’t encounter any Friends on our tour, we benefit from their large-scale conservation efforts and their on-the-ground work, including pristinely clean portages and the construction and installation of some of the most picturesque and airy latrines in the province.

Those thunderboxes—or, if you’re of the Irish persuasion like fellow paddler Claire, tunderboxes—are part of the slowly-evolving paddling culture here, one coddled by the centuries of guides who’ve shared their love of this place, its waters and its towering stands of pines.

Temagami is a place where handmade paddles are still the norm. Where a treasured wannigan (wanni if you’re a cool kid)—stacked with pots, pans, cutlery and foodstuffs—receives pride of place in a guide’s canoe, crossing every portage atop his bent back. (Mike swears the leather tumpline leaving deep lines across his forehead is the most efficient carrying method, but we have our doubts.)

Resting by the fire as Laramie muscles a stubborn blueberryscone dough on the overturned wannigan lid, we marvel at her patience—and our luck. It’s dusk on the third night, and we have yet to encounter swarms of bugs. Or scorching afternoon temps. Not a drop of rain has fallen. And we can count on one hand the other canoes we’ve encountered.

Andrea Mandel-Campbell, no ordinary trip mate but the founder of karibu adventures, brandishes a knowing smile. She can’t take credit for the lack of rain, but the rest? It was all by design. Her decades of experience on these canoe routes led her to schedule our departure on the Chiniguchi Waterway for bug-free mid-August, hit that three-tent-nights sweet spot and pair us with these seasoned guides; of course it’s been perfect. She wouldn’t have planned it any other way. (That she’s accompanying us this week is no anomaly; Andrea runs trips all over the world, and takes the same hands-on approach with each.)


Even the portages—I eventually lose count of them—are easy. The longest is maybe 500 m, and we stop midway for an hours-long swim in a deep lagoon. Most, though, are less than half that distance, and a “carry what you can, it’s all good” attitude reigns. Some grab PFDs and paddles, stumbling with the awkward, if light, load. Others dive in for the heavy stuff: huge dry bags stuffed with food and gear. Guides shoulder the biggest burdens, including Mike with his nonchalant one-handed canoe-carry.

Laramie, ever the eager instructor, pauses to teach the art of the canoe hoist. Demonstrating an underhand lift, the swift move seems effortless. But it clearly isn’t, as one after another struggles to

We have yet to encounter swarms of bugs. Or scorching afternoon temps. Not a drop of rain has fallen. And we can count on one hand the other canoes we’ve encountered.

master the sequence. A few are successful, and we whoop and cheer at their accomplishment. They take off down the path beaming with pride—and I wonder how the dismount will go.

By the time we reach our last campsite, perched high atop a Wolf Lake granite cliff, we’ve learned volumes about backcountry canoeing, ourselves and one other. The rites of passage were many: having to double-back on a longish portage for a dropped shirt (oops); learning to stake a tent on solid rock with Georgian Bay pegs

(aka meticulously wedged stones); digging a personal tunderbox (and shamelessly handing the shovel to the next waiting customer).

Filthy, exhausted and more than a little slaphappy, we pass a leftover container of half-burned, half-raw brownie goo around the fire, gleeful with the super-sweet, drippy mess. Claire ditches her fork to dive in with a marshmallow, and we erupt with the laughter of old school pals finishing off a two-four.

Inching toward the end of that 50 km three-day paddle, the wind picks up. Whitecaps abound, lapping at gunwales, and our flotilla is slowed nearly to a halt. At the final portage, our guides make an executive decision: We’re calling it. Hoping to end on a high note, not a four-hour slog that almost certainly will lead to a swamping or two, they break out the satellite phone to summon power boats.

Tails between legs, we pile ourselves and our gear into pontoon boats as provincially ranked paddling whippersnappers jump out and into our empty canoes. After a short putt-putting tour back to the outpost, we unload packs and crack open some cold ones. Just as we’re overcoming our embarrassment, we hear a howl—and around the bend come the racing kids.

We beat them, at most, by ten minutes.

Our cackling laughs are tinged with just a hint of lunacy as we clink drinks and shake our heads. Hell, I don’t care. Rescue me a hundred times—just never (and I mean never) in a damn float plane.

Temagami’s vast and fragile ecosystem is again under threat, particularly from mineral exploration. Visit and to learn more.

Canoes rest at Silvester Lake while the most adventurous among us fling ourselves from rocks into Paradise Lagoon. KRISTIN SCHNELTEN
The passionate eye of wildlife photographer Maxime Légaré-Vézina
words :: Feet Banks

Picture this: You’re hunkered down in your “hide,” a camouflaged tent the size of an outhouse but with a much lower ceiling. It’s midwinter in Canada, a freezing time to just be sitting perfectly still. At your feet is an expensive metal Thermos with a couple mouthfuls of still-warm tea; beside it, a plastic bottle to pee in.

You’ve been here more than eight hours, shuffling incrementally from side to side to keep the blood pumping, clenching fingers to keep them nimble. Probably 95 per cent of the time the only things moving are your eyes, scanning the outside world through a 15-cm window in the hide. It’s cold, your joints ache, your stomach rumbles and you

feel another piss coming on. By almost any metric, everything sucks.

And then the bald eagle you’ve been watching for hours turns its head in just the right way. Piercing yellow eyes stare directly at you and its snowy head feathers raise up a fraction to signal at another incoming bird. Your focus is crisp, and the silent push of a button fires up the motordrive on your mirrorless camera, capturing 30 frames in little more than a second. For a brief, frozen moment you’re the happiest person in the country.

You’re wildlife photographer Maxime Légaré-Vézina, and you just got the shot.


Saying patience is the key to wildlife photography is like proclaiming the sun an important part of daylight. Patience is a baseline necessity; it’s passion that makes a difference.

“I would say it’s [like] a disease,” Maxime says. “A lot of photographers have it, especially wildlife photographers. That fear of, What will I miss if I don’t go out this morning?”

It could be a baby and mother raccoon peering from their den in a hollow tree trunk, a photo Maxime captured in his home province of Quebec that was a finalist at the prestigious Montier Photo Festival in 2023.

Or it could be a woodland caribou trotting majestically through a winter forest, a tiny loon chick riding on its mother’s back, a pouncing fox, a wary lynx, a great horned owl, a moose, a cedar waxwing, a grizzly bear, a grey wolf. Name a Canadian animal and chances are Maxime has searched, waited, found and photographed it.

“For the first few years it was pretty intense,” Maxime says. “Photography was the only thing I wanted to do. My friends would ask me to go do things with them and it was always, ‘No.’ Now that I do it full-time, I’m more relaxed. If I don’t go out every day, it’s OK. I think that’s more reasonable.”

Born and raised in Quebec City, the now 34-year-old was a typical Canadian kid who spent weekends canoeing or hiking with his family. “As a teenager I had the same interests as pretty much all the young guys,” he admits with a hint of gentlemanly restraint. “We weren’t getting out into nature as much, you know? But when I turned 22 I just reconnected to it and that still drives my photography. Sure, I’m trying to capture what I see, but really I’m just finding a new way to connect to the natural world around me.”

Why do people love photographing animals so much? “It’s a good question,” Maxime ponders. “Why do I love them so much? Because they’re not human, maybe? I don’t know, but I feel like we get a glimpse into another world with animals. Some are fierce predators, some are super-cute. They can be graceful, powerful, and they all have their specific behaviours. It’s another reality.”

Since 2019, Maxime has been sharing insights and techniques on how to visually connect to animal worlds through photography workshops and tours. In 2022, he quit the security of his bank job (though he credits the hours—noon to 8 p.m.—as hugely beneficial, allowing him to shoot photos every morning) to become a full-time professional wildlife photographer, chasing images and mentoring others throughout the year and around the globe.

“I haven’t met anyone who learned wildlife photography by going to school,” he says. “It’s the kind of thing you learn in the field, usually by yourself. So, if I can help someone get started in the right direction, I enjoy that.”

“My best photos come from Canada because it’s my home. I know the animals, the landscapes, and it’s a huge country.”

Part of starting that journey on the right foot means understanding the rules of the trail ahead. These days, photographers are expected to be as non-impactful on animals and ecosystems as possible, and many competitions disqualify photos taken in a manipulated situation. Gone (for the most part) are the days of tossing chicken gizzards into a field to attract red foxes, or sinking a dead fish (or a live one in a glass tank) just below the surface of a lake to lure a diving osprey or torpedoing kingfisher.

Working at what he calls “the worst job I ever had” (selling insurance for a bank), Maxime’s photo career launched in 2014 after an argument with his then-girlfriend. “She had a camera and we’d both use it when we went out on trips, then argue about who had taken which photos. So I realized, OK, I should get my own camera. And then, quickly, taking photos was my entire life.”

These days, wildlife photography is the act of visually documenting animals in their natural habitats. And while people had been photographing birds and captive animals since the mid-1800s, National Geographic didn’t publish its first wildlife photos—whitetailed deer in Pennsylvania photographed by George Shiras III—until 1906. (Keep in mind that until the late 1800s a photograph required the subject to stand absolutely still for up to 30 seconds while the image developed on a metal or glass plate.)

Times have changed. In 2023, almost 55,000 photos were submitted to the Natural History Museum’s global Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, up from 38,570 images the year prior.

“Even when I started, just a decade ago, you would see photographers in Quebec feeding mice to snowy owls,” says Maxime. “I think it was more common here in the east than in BC, but either way, it’s an old way of thinking. The new generation tries to get more natural shots and be more respectful of the animal and their space. It’s much more rewarding when you get a photo because you waited for hours rather than threw the animal a live mouse.”

Part of the appeal of capturing images in the most natural way possible is that it requires a much closer understanding and respect—a bond, even—with the animals and the landscapes they inhabit.

“It started early for me, just learning the difference between bird species. For most kids, a bird is a bird—but for me it was a chickadee, a junco or a tufted titmouse. I still use what I learned when I was young. If I know a bird by its sound, or what ecosystems it likes to inhabit, or its behaviours, the mating season… all this knowledge is going to help me or the people I’m guiding to get the photos we want.”

In recent years, this knowledge expanded internationally as Maxime’s love of wildlife led him to toucans in the jungles of Costa Rica, flamingos in the highlands of Chile, wild horses in the south of France, and to Spain, Austria, Colombia and Alaska. On an annual

PREVIOUS SPREAD Black bear, Vancouver Island. LEFT PAGE, CLOCKWISE STARTING TOP LEFT Pine marten, Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario; bald eagle, Homer, Alaska; great horned owl, Vancouver Island; common loons, Quebec City.

Tips for New Wildlife Photographers

Exhibiting his photography two to three times a year in Canada and Europe, Maxime Légaré-Vézina’s Instagram account (@maxime_lv_photography) showcases more than 1,200 photos. A portfolio that deep makes the following tips certified gold for anyone keen on getting into wildlife photography:

Camera: Start off shooting in AV—aperture priority—mode. Many people want to shoot full manual, but don’t really understand how shutter speed, aperture and everything work together to manage the exposure. Full auto mode is no good because the camera doesn’t know what you want to shoot, so go with AV and the widest aperture (lowest F-stop) possible. You get a nice, blurred background with maximum light coming in, translating to the highest shutter speed, which is what you usually want for wildlife.

Winter in Switzerland workshop, he leads a group into the forests, plains and mountains in search of ibex, chamois, ermine and more. But most photographic adventures still occur in his homeland, whose animals, according to Maxime, are as impressive as anywhere—and more laid back.

“Our wildlife seems a lot less skittish than in Europe. Even when animals are aware of me, they don’t care as much. A nervous animal stops acting natural—you see photos of a fox with his ears flat and you can tell that whatever is happening just isn’t right for him. I’m not after those kinds of shots. I prefer when an animal is relaxed, or accepts that I’m around. That’s when good stuff happens.”

Whether it's because Canadian wildlife possesses a built-in national chill factor, or simply due to sheer numbers, Canada is a global leader in wildlife photography. A recent study analyzed more than 70 million user-uploaded Flickr photos and ranked Canada number two in the world for the ratio of national photos tagged “wildlife.” (Kenya—home to Africa’s quintessential lions, giraffes, elephants, rhinos, leopards, etc., took top spot.)

With 80,000 known species and 20 major ecosystems including tundra, boreal forest, grasslands, temperate rainforest, the world’s longest coastline and a healthy amount of mosquito-infested muskeg and bog, Canadians have more than enough wildlife to fill a career in their backyards. “My best photos come from here because it’s my home,” Maxime says. “I know the animals, the landscapes, and it’s a huge country. There are so many species in the mountains of BC and Alberta we don’t have in Quebec, but we have stuff here that’s unique, too. And I love shooting in winter conditions because

Framing: When you get your first big telephoto lens, it’s natural to want to zoom in to the max—but be careful. I was so excited, I zoomed so far in on a mink that I cut its tail out of the frame. I wanted the animal so bad I didn’t think about composition. I learned to calm down pretty quickly.

Weather: Animals know more than we do—like when a big storm is coming. Birds will often be out feeding more than usual before a storm because they know it might be a day or two before they get another chance. Think like an animal and watch the weather.

Parks: City parks are a good place to find animals, especially owls. You can go 100 kilometres into the wild but it may be harder to find an animal because they have so much more space. In smaller habitats like parks, they can be easier to find. They’re also used to seeing people around, which helps.

Snacking: Be careful. For instance, don’t eat apples in the hide—the crunch can scare animals.

ABOVE Cross fox, Anticosti Island. BOTTOM RIGHT Maxime in Parc National de la Jacques-Cartier, Quebec. SANDRA BOURGEOIS

of the frost and the snow. You can also get a good night’s sleep in winter. I can wake up at six—which is reasonable—and still be out in the field before sunrise. Many of the birds are gone, but I think winter delivers better photos.”

Regardless of season, success is never guaranteed. Maxime once went out every morning for three weeks without capturing a photo he liked. “I was like, Oh god, should I sell my camera? But I know it will always get interesting at some point, so I just keep going. If it was easy, everyone would do it.”

It’s predawn on a crisp March morning. Maxime is outside Quebec City at a spot he’s visited hundreds of times before. There’s still a bit of snow on the ground, but his attention is focused skyward. Northern hawk owls will soon begin their northerly spring migration, and Maxime hopes to get a photo of one with the moon setting in the background. With wildlife such a wildcard, incorporating celestial elements like the moon or northern lights takes time and work.

Perched atop a dead, lichen-covered tree, even in dim blue-hour light, its yellow eyes stare from a perfect half-dome head of brown and white. A cluster of sharp tail feathers juts down below the branch. Just 40 cm or so from head to tail tip, an adult northern hawk owl will eat several small rodents (or birds) a day. Maxime is just hoping it doesn’t spot one before moonset. The silence, the stillness—it’s all-encompassing.

“I’m crazy about owls,” he’d explained on the 40-minute drive out. “I’m always looking for them, and it’s not easy because they’re nocturnal, but owls have their own attitude that often feels like emotion. Like they’re angry you woke them up, or curious, or just focused on the hunt. Do animals have a soul? I’ll never know. But look into the eyes of an owl and there’s certainly something enigmatic there.”

Patience is a baseline necessity; it’s passion that makes a difference.

“The moon is supposed to set at 5:42, right over there,” Maxime says in a hushed voice. “I came yesterday and saw some whitewash [a polite way of saying “owl shit”] on that tree, and look—there’s an owl right there now.”

The owl stays in position. To shoot in such low light, Maxime stops breathing and stays completely motionless as he depresses the shutter.

“I don’t use tripods,” he says after a few dozen frames. “I have enough stuff to carry around.” He captures about 600 images before it’s time to leave, but the mission hasn’t been a success. The moon (but a crescent sliver) set in the exact spot where the sun rose. The new day had washed out Maxime’s vision—this time.

He’ll try again tomorrow.

PAGE, CLOCKWISE STARTING TOP LEFT Raccoons, Quebec City; white-tailed deer, Parc national des Îles-de-Boucherville, Quebec; black bear, Vancouver Island; American kestrel, Utah. BELOW Great blue heron, Quebec City.

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Invasive species trigger a cascade of calamities in the Great Lakes

words :: Leslie Anthony

photos :: All Too Clear

I first heard the term “invasional meltdown” from an old Royal Ontario Museum colleague, Dr. Nicholas Mandrak. Downing beers in a musty New Orleans bar with other former labmates at a 2006 conference, our conversation wandered the scientific map. When, as always, invasive species came up, Mandrak—then an aquatic ecologist at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and these days a University of Toronto prof—took over. Setting down his glass, he described with great animation the phenomenon in which two or more invasive species combine to have a greater effect than either would on its own. Though the concept was new to me, I was intrigued enough to eventually pen a book* on the subject. At the time, however, I was simply gobsmacked by his descriptions.

Mandrak’s frightening tableau began with the accidental introduction to the Great Lakes of the zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha). Flushed from the ballast tanks of transoceanic cargo ships, this native of Eastern Europe and the Ponto-Caspian was first reported in 1988 from Lake St. Clair (the basin briefly interrupting the river that connects lakes Erie and Huron). Only two years later it was found in all five lakes. A reproductive dynamo whose females produce 40,000 eggs per breeding cycle and up to a million each year, the fingernail-size mussel rapidly multiplied out of control, wreaking havoc on ecosystems and infrastructure in the Great Lakes; by 1993 the itinerant mollusk had made its way down the Mississippi to where

we now sat discussing its dubious success.

Meanwhile, a deeper-water relative, the quagga mussel (D. bugensis), had also tumbled into the lakes from ballast alongside a small Ponto-Caspian fish, the round goby (Neogobius melanostomus), for whom young dreissenid mussels were a favoured snack back home. With a fast-growing preferred food source paving its new environment, the equally prolific goby (females lay some 5,000 eggs several times each season) also took off, outcompeting native bottom-dwelling fish and scarfing not only mussels, but other fishes’ eggs. While it first seemed the consumptive relationship between goby and mussel might be a fortuitous brake on the latter, in some areas it simply lapsed into a classic predator-prey cycle of boom and bust. But as with anything in ecology—a science noted for revealing hidden complexities and context-dependent relationships— it wasn’t quite that simple, said Mandrak, winding up for the finale.

Not only were dreissenid mussels prolific breeders, but also prolific filter-feeders, each processing a litre or more of water a day (we’ll come back to this), a proclivity with a momentarily welcome effect: Notoriously turbid water bodies became preternaturally aquamarine, an illusion of health recalling the spooky-but-appealing clarity of acid-rain-affected lakes in the 1970s. As the lakes cleared, however, increased light penetration supported invasion by an exotic aquatic plant, Eurasian watermilfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum), sending nearshore ecosystems back in the direction of the weed-choked 1960s. In some areas, the newfound limpidity combined with agri-runoff and climate change to facilitate massive blooms of cyanobacteria

The mussel-encrusted steamship Africa lost on Lake Huron in 1895 and discovered by filmmakers Yvonne Drebert and Zach Melnick in 2023.

(aka blue-green algae) which produced toxic microcystins, chemicals harmful to animals—including humans—if ingested. When the algal blooms died off, their decomposition burned up oxygen, encouraging the growth of anaerobic bacteria like Clostridium botulinum, the source of deadly botulinum toxin.

Concentrated through bioaccumulation in the food chain, avian botulism caused unprecedented bird die-offs around the lakes. At the same time, the mussels’ tendency to anchor on any hard surface or substrate was putting native bivalves out of business—up to 10,000 mussels could coat the shell of a single indigenous freshwater clam. Another Ponto-Caspian transplant, the hydroid Cordylophora caspia, fed on plankton like free-swimming mussel larvae—or veligers—using mussel shells as an anchorage. Given such facilitation, invasive hydroid populations expanded dramatically after extensive beds of mussels formed in the lakes, but they were eating more than just mussel larvae. Indeed, the entire invasive-mussel filtering machine and its symbiotic cabal was now starving out the lakes’ plankton-and-bacteria-eating macroinvertebrates, food source of baitfish like alewife. Though alewife was itself a no-love-lost invader, its now rapid disappearance was impacting the lakes’ top predators like salmon and trout.

That, Mandrak had said, catching his breath, was invasional meltdown. World-weary biologists all, well-studied in myriad tippingpoint ecological cascades, we sat in stony, contemplative silence. At last someone spoke. “Another round?”

Only in hindsight did I register that query’s potential doubleentendre—an allusion to either more beer or the introduction of another invasive species. Actual meaning mattered little, however, since by that point the entire Great Lakes ecosystem was tipping as quickly into befuddlement as we were. And no one has been more aware of the ensuing ecological chaos than those who fish the lakes. With a $7 billion recreational and commercial fishery focused on top-of-food-chain species, an 80 per cent decrease of preyfish biomass in the past 30 years is nothing short of cataclysmic. Reasons initially pointed to a combination of impacts from introduced Pacific salmonids and the compounding effects of sequential explosive expansions of dreissenid mussels and other invasives. The only bright spot was the Lake Superior preyfish community, where, despite some biomass loss, the proportion of native species in the mix rose, supporting recovery of wild native lake trout (with water chemistry less conducive to shell formation, Superior isn’t as badly plagued by mussels). A 2015 chart of the preyfish symphony, however, revealed one particularly sour

note: Commercially important lake whitefish were dropping in lockstep with preyfish like bloater, alewife and rainbow smelt. Why?

A coldwater species found throughout the Great Lakes, lake whitefish live 30 years and grow to six kilos, their previous abundance (~100 million) helping shape a freshwater ecosystem on which humans

The fingernail-size mussel rapidly multiplied out of control, wreaking havoc on ecosystems and infrastructure in the Great Lakes.

depended for millennia. Adult whitefish traditionally preyed heavily on amphipods of the genus Diporeia, which, along with opossum shrimp (Mysis relicta), formed the basis of a deep-water food web in the vast proglacial lakes spawned by retreating Pleistocene ice sheets that eventually became the Great Lakes. But Diporeia suddenly disappeared in the early 2000s as preyfish and whitefish began their simultaneous decline; some posited whitefish switched to eating quagga mussels, shifting schools away from areas where commercial fishermen and researchers originally found—and counted—them. Again, however, things proved not so simple. Because ecology.

Fish movements had little heuristic value in explaining the crashing numbers: While many First Nations and family-owned fisheries shuttered in Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, those remaining had a front-row seat to a more than tenfold decline in annual catch— from 1,000,000 lbs. to less than 100,000. Because whitefish were never overharvested, and breeding seemed successful enough to sustain stocks, this suggested a recruitment problem—getting from baby fish to adult. Yet even in an upended ecosystem, with smoking guns on all sides, precise reasons remained opaque. A glimpse of the extent of this enigma can be seen in the abstract to a comprehensive 2021 Great Lakes Fisheries Commission white paper: “A mechanistic understanding of factors important to Lake Whitefish recruitment has been elusive, likely owing to the dynamic interactions of biological and physical processes and the modifying effects of climate change and invasive species. Despite a century of research on… whitefish life history and recruitment, many fruitful research questions remain unanswered or even identified.”

In other words, the whitefish life stages scientists knew least about seemed most vulnerable to the depredations of invasional— and climactic—meltdown, leaving the species “struggling to survive in a world that has been utterly transformed by a single invasive

Quagga mussels. Left, filtering staggering amounts of water and right, covering every centimetre of the Africa.

species—quagga mussels,” as a new documentary from Tobermorybased Inspired Planet Productions avers. In “The Last Whitefish,” the first episode of an upcoming three-part TVO series All Too Clear: Beneath the Surface of the Great Lakes, stunning underwater footage gets to the bottom (sorry) of what scientists—who largely work from the surface, sifting through dredged and netted samples— have struggled to understand.

Sophisticated underwater drones allowed filmmakers Zach Melnick and Yvonne Drebert to be James Cameron at a fraction of the cost, capturing in high definition the story of how mussels gained control of nutrient cycling in the Great Lakes. The tale picks up in the new millennium as quaggas begin expanding into deeper waters; though they predictably covered most hard objects, unlike their zebra cousins, quaggas also colonized sediments. Today, beginning 50 metres down, the soft bottom of Lake Huron supports beds of up to 20,000 mussels/m2 and 30,000-40,000/m2 on attachable surfaces like the 19th-century steamship Africa the filmmakers discovered at 80 m; with barely a centimetre of exposed wood, the ship is perfectly outlined in a mussel crust.

Even in an upended ecosystem, with smoking guns on all sides, precise reasons for the population crash of lake whitefish remained opaque.

With water now three times clearer than pre-mussel days, even without lights the Africa footage is phantasmagorical, which brings us back to the idea of mussels conservatively filtering a litre of water each day. With quadrillions carpeting the Great Lakes, says Dr. Ashley Elgin of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the film, every drop of water in Lake Michigan could pass through a mussel in a week’s time. With that would go many of

the lake’s nutrients, diabolically concentrating these in mussel beds and leaving little in the water column for microbial, planktonic and macroinvertebrate food chains that support baitfish and the young of larger species like whitefish. As dramatically noted by biologist Jason Smith of the Sault Tribe of Chippewa in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, zooplankton density has fallen from roughly 700 per litre of lakewater in the 1970s to a ghostly 1-3 per litre today; larval fish that encountered a meal every 2-5 centimetres a century ago now swim thousands of body lengths for the same bite. Indeed, growth rates for larval whitefish are now 50 per cent of historical measurements.

My long-ago conversation with Mandrak taught me there’s always more, and so, as we learn in “The Last Whitefish,” there is. With nutrient drawdown (e.g., phosphorus levels have now dropped below baseline targets set by the surprisingly successful Great Lakes Clean Water Act), spring algal blooms that previously fed zooplankton, which, in turn, fed whitefish hatching in synchrony with the bloom, are on the rocks. Indeed some 40 per cent of zooplankton are now mussel veligers, with nowhere near the nutritional value. And of course, it gets worse: Clearer water may also be facilitating the death of larval whitefish via exposure to UV radiation, which now penetrates deeper and more strongly.

I won’t play spoiler and tell you everything, but there are ecological slivers of hope lodged amidst this messy poster-child of invasional meltdown. Invasive mussels may have changed the lakes’ physical, chemical and food environments, but they haven’t changed nature’s ability to heal itself. You’ll want to tune in to find out how.

*The Aliens Among Us: How Invasive Species are Transforming the Planet—and Ourselves. Yale, 2017.

Follow @alltooclearfilm to keep the upcoming release on your radar. The much-anticipated series is coming to TVO this fall.

Lake whitefish gathering to spawn during a late November night in Lake Michigan.
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Paddling Home

Circling 1,900 km of waterways in a months-long solo SUP journey

words :: Dan Rubinstein

photos :: Kath Fudurich

On my map, it looked like a fairly simple two-day passage. A 50 km paddle northwest from St. Catharines to Burlington on the first day and the same distance northeast from Burlington to Toronto the next. The wind forecast was decent: blowing lightly from the southeast for the first leg and a little stronger from the southwest for part two.

I’d been warned repeatedly about Lake Ontario. But it was early August, the humidity and storms of July had abated and it seemed I’d be more or less pushed where I wanted to go. Setting off from a St. Catharines beach on gentle swells just after dawn, I could see the tempting silhouette of the Toronto skyline due north, but I knew that if I stuck to the plan and edged around the tip of the lake, very little could go wrong.

I was feeling confident because I was already three-quarters of the way through a long paddleboarding journey, navigating a circular route from my home in Ottawa via Montreal, New York City and Toronto. Setting out in June, I’d followed the Ottawa and St. Lawrence Rivers and Lachine Canal into downtown Montreal; the Richelieu River, Lake Champlain, Champlain Canal and Hudson River to Lower Manhattan; plus a couple of outings in the choppy ferry-and-tour-boat tumult of New York Harbour. After lugging my inflatable SUP and three drybags by bus up to Albany, I’d paddled more than 500 km west along the Erie Canal to Buffalo, then a fast, current-assisted run down the Niagara River back to Canada, where I pulled off the water above the falls and was picked up by friends who dropped me off at Lake Ontario this morning. (The final stretch would trace the north coast of Lake Ontario to Kingston and then up the Rideau Canal to Ottawa.)

My expedition was more journalistic than adventuresome. I wanted to immerse myself in blue space—the aquatic equivalent of green space—and explore its ability to boost our mental and physical health as well as our sense of stewardship toward the natural world. I had arranged interviews with dozens of people along the route, from fellow paddlers and freshwater researchers to environmental activists and non-profit leaders dedicated to carving out access to rivers and lakes for people from marginalized communities. These conversations will inform a non-fiction book I’m writing about our collective relationship with water—but just as importantly, the people I met provided crucial support.

Former Olympic sprint canoeist turned SUP racer and coach Tamás Buday Jr. joined me at a lock station west of Montreal, and recommended that I camp on nearby Dowker Island—a tiny, uninhabited patch of rock and trees in the St. Lawrence with a perfect tenting spot facing the twinkling lights of the city. Lisa Cline, the executive director of the Hudson River Maritime Museum in Kingston, NY, inspired me by explaining how the museum had broadened its mandate from historical preservation to include ecological awareness and social justice—then she drove me to a supermarket so I could restock on peanut butter and instant oatmeal and let me sleep in their air-conditioned boat-building school on a sweltering July night.

A few weeks later in Buffalo, I spent a morning with Joe Stahlman, a member of the Tuscarora tribe (one of the six nations of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy). Stahlman is a consultant on a project that’s building a replica of the first boat to transit the Erie Canal in 1825, with plans to revisit that voyage in 2025. The original boat was called the Seneca Chief, which raises troubling questions about celebrating a feat of colonial engineering and the attempted erasure of Indigenous peoples whose traditional territories the


canal plowed through. Yet while Stahlman feels everybody should understand what their forebears did, he’s more interested in looking ahead. “We’re talking about what’s next, about doing something beyond the bicentennial,” he told me. “We have to find a new purpose for the Erie Canal. We need to help it grow in different ways.”

The work and words of Stahlman and others put my trip in perspective. Sure, I covered more than 65 km some days and paddled for 14 hours a few times, but I was navigating the densely populated heart of North America. My biggest challenge was attempting to look (and smell) somewhat presentable when I stumbled away from the water and into a small-town restaurant.

Everywhere I paddled, the kindness of strangers mitigated the risks I faced: They gave me food and water and encouragement and love and hugs and restored in me the belief that when we unplug and drift into one another’s spheres, there is an opportunity for connection across lines that typically divide us.

The octogenarian owner of a marina near the bottom of Lake Champlain offered me the use of her car, unprompted, so I could drive into town for supplies. Patricia Finnerty, a member of the Beacon Sloop Club—an organization founded by folk singer Pete Seeger that offers free evening sails on the Hudson River—let me crash in her spare room for a couple of rainy nights. And after witnessing a drug deal and getting some hostile glares at the scrubby downtown landing of the small city of Albion, NY, a local woman phoned her brother, who let me camp in his backyard on the other side of the canal for the night. Why were these strangers so generous? The response, when I asked, was usually the same: “I’d like to think that somebody else would do this for me.”

When I departed St. Catharines, cumulative fatigue was my main concern. Then the wind picked up, shifting to a direct easterly, which meant the waves had nearly all of Lake Ontario’s 300 km fetch to develop. Within a couple of hours, they were three, then four and then five feet.

After lugging my inflatable SUP and three drybags by bus up to Albany, I’d paddled more than 500 km west along the Erie Canal to Buffalo, then a fast, currentassisted run down the Niagara River back to Canada.

Staying far enough from shoreline to avoid getting slammed into the rocks, I paddled hard on my left side for eight hours. For the first time since leaving home, I dropped to my knees frequently for extra stability but still fell off half a dozen times. Whether standing or kneeling, I had to focus on each wave as it crested, digging in with my paddle to keep the board’s nose pointed in the right direction. By late afternoon I had made nearly 35 km and was alongside Hamilton Beach, a park on the sandbar that spans the western end of the lake. A short canal halfway up the sandbar led to my goal: the sheltered water of Burlington Bay and a marina a few minutes from a friend’s house.

Earlier, I had spotted two places for pit stops—a protected inlet and a yacht club behind a breakwater. Deciding to rest and refuel one last time, I turned left and aimed for the beach. It was a holiday weekend, and the sand was packed with families admiring the crashing waves. Shuffling toward the nose of the SUP to shift my weight, I caught a swell as it peaked and rocketed down the face, enjoying the ride—and then wiping out as the board flipped over. Dragging my drybags from the surf, I saw a police boat hovering just offshore.

Realizing that I couldn’t get back onto the lake—it would have been impossible to reload my SUP in the shallows, let alone get past the breakers—I began to shuttle my gear toward a bench. When I had finally gathered everything, I was trembling with exhaustion, adrenaline and a small dose of trauma.

That’s when I saw the police officer approach.

“Do you know that boat is out there because of you?” he asked.

“I was kinda assuming that,” I replied.

“People called us. They saw you fall in.”

I explained that I was leashed to my boat and wearing a PFD, so falling in wasn’t a big deal, but conceded that conditions were indeed difficult.

“Should you be out there today?” he asked.

“I’m not sure.”

“What’s the plan now?”

“Call a friend.”

“Good idea.”

After I had showered and eaten, my friend said maybe it was a good thing I had been pummelled: It’s a reminder that we’re not really in control. Which is one of the main reasons why paddlers and other outdoorsy types do all sorts of dangerous things. We want to be humbled and awed and learn once again that the universe doesn’t care about what we want. But the water, despite all the danger and destruction it can unleash, also remains a place where people watch out for one another.

To learn more about Dan Rubinstein’s SUP journey and book project, visit

Dan Rubinstein loading his battered SUP with gear and provisions for the final leg.

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Deep Mud and Drenched Toes

Navigating a bikepacking adventure into the unknown

John Duffett playing “whose line is best?”

words :: Heather Plewes-LaBerge and Paulo LaBerge

photos :: Paulo LaBerge

When my friend Derek mentioned he’d heard of an abandoned World War II prisoner of war (POW) camp near the western edge of Algonquin Park, my interest was immediately piqued.

Some quick internet research yielded an old article about the 1940s-era camp not far from the town of South River where about 40 German prisoners of war were held. At Camp 10, men performed manual labour such as cutting logs and cordwood to supply a local chemical plant and sawmill. The ongoing war caused a labour shortage, and these low-risk prisoners from a larger POW camp volunteered to live and work at Camp 10, where they received nominal compensation for doing so.

The camp has been abandoned for seven decades, but we understood the site would still offer evidence of its prior use, including a log cabin in some state of disrepair. The allure of visiting a seldom-seen piece of local history was irresistible; Derek and I set about charting a route for a weekend bikepacking loop with a few friends.

As far as we knew, the camp was only accessible by boat. But, being optimists, we hoped we could ride as close as possible then bushwhack the rest. To make things a bit more interesting, the planned 125-kilometre two-day route included a diverse selection of rugged dirt roads and ATV trails that went deep into the eastern region of the Almaguin Highlands backcountry, skirting the Algonquin Provincial Park boundary. Much of this route consisted of trails neither Derek (a Huntsville local) nor I had ever explored before, which was a great source of excitement for us both.

The allure of visiting a seldom-seen piece of local history was irresistible. We set about charting a route for a weekend bikepacking loop.

The mood was light that sunny Saturday morning in July when five of us, full of energy and optimism, loaded up our bikes with gear and rolled out.

The forest roads and ATV paths proved to be impressively rugged; from boulder fields to hike-a-bike climbs and steep descents, the terrain varied widely. And long sections of our path were under water. Sometimes we played “whose line is best,” trying to ride through wet sections without soaking our feet, while other times wet feet were inevitable. At one point we came across a large lake buoy, marking what proved to be thigh-deep water. (While wet feet are one thing, wet underwear is quite another.)

After a fun but exhausting first day, we found an ideal campsite overlooking a pristine lake, set up camp and ate a simple meal while daylight waned.

Our second day of riding (and pushing!) featured similarly varied terrain and incredible views. Wildlife tracks from moose and bear reminded us we were never really alone in the woods. The going was tough, and our progress slower than we’d hoped. The path gradually narrowed, then all but disappeared. The dirt and rocks we’d been riding gave way to swamp and dense brush. It was already mid-afternoon, and we had to concede it would not be possible to reach Camp 10 that day and still manage to cover what remained of our route before darkness fell.

Although we all felt a tinge of disappointment, I took comfort in knowing we could return and try again. The mission wasn’t impossible—it just wasn’t possible in the time we had. I hadn’t been certain we would be able to reach Camp 10 on the trip, so I felt we had done some valuable reconnaissance for future exploration.

For me the key to enjoying these adventures lies in savouring every aspect of the experience, both the joys and the challenges. Exploring nature with friends and making memories is greater than the achievement of reaching that destination.

If you make the journey the goal, you’re sure to achieve it—wet feet and all.

A second Camp 10 attempt is on the horizon for Paulo and his crew. He’ll chronicle the soggy, buggy details in a future issue of Mountain Life.

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Olivia Shreds

Miniature athlete has monumental aspirations

words :: Allison Kennedy Davies

While watching the X Games on television with her dad, a tiny 3-yearold Olivia Watson saw Chloe Kim for the first time. Kim, an American two-time Olympic gold halfpipe medalist and a seven-time X Games gold halfpipe medalist, mesmerized Olivia, who turned to her dad and said, “I want to do that!”

With no real on-snow or action sports background, Olivia’s dad headed to Google and YouTube to confirm with Olivia exactly what she wanted to do. The answer was definitive: Olivia wanted to snowboard.

Five years later, Olivia’s resolve has not diminished. Backed by the support of her parents, Richard and Melissa, and a growing team of coaches, supporters and fellow riders, she’s now a highly successful snowboarder and wakeboarder, competing in both provincial and national competitions.

I sat down with Olivia after a day on the slopes at Alpine Ski Club, where she rode halfpipe for the very first time. Tired and eating everything in sight, Olivia looks me dead in the eye and says, “I want to win gold at the Olympics and I want to learn how to do a double backflip off a rail.” And as I watch her smile her toothy grin at me, I feel pretty sure that if Olivia wants it to happen, it very likely will. How can you be sure an 8-year-old kid knows what they want?

Olivia sending it off a wakeskate feature at the 2023 Provincial Wakeboard Championships. Bluestone Wake Park, Clinton, ON. JESSICA CARNOCHAN Olivia took home dual medals at the 2023 Provincial Wakeboard Championships: first place, girls 9 and under, and third place, amateur women wakeskate. JESSICA CARNOCHAN

Olivia’s coach, Jordan Sullivan of Our Team coaching, offers some insight. “I first remember meeting Olivia at wakeboard camp a couple of years ago,” he recalls. “There are a lot of kids, and at first it can be hard to tell which ones are just there because their friends are there or because their parents want them to be. It didn’t take long to realize Olivia is different. She’s there because she loves it.”

Like all Canadian winters, good things must come to an end. And with Olivia hooked on snowboarding, some of the older girls at The Senders snowboard program suggested she give cable wakeboarding a try. Olivia was immediately hooked, now declaring, “I’m sad when snowboarding ends, but I’m excited because wakeboarding is starting. I wakeboard all summer so that I can go right back to snowboarding without forgetting my tricks.”

Sullivan says it’s a common path for competitive board sports athletes in Canada now. “With the level of top riders these days, it’s not enough anymore to just snowboard and then take the summers off. If you look at Liam Brearley and Cam Spalding, unquestionably the two best snowboarders to ever come out of Ontario, they both spent their summers riding just as hard on a wakeboard. And the two sports transfer seamlessly. Olivia can do it all, plus she can skateboard. When you’re starting that young, riding a board 365 days a year, there’s no doubt that she’s on track to be one of the best in the world.”

Beyond the cross-training appeal of wakeboarding, the Watson family has found a supportive environment on the water. “Our entire experience with this community has been one of an extended family who nurtures and supports each other,” says Richard. Olivia has been able to return that support by attending the recent town hall meetings alongside her instructor, Brennan Grange, in support of his application to build a cable park in the Town of the Blue Mountains.

Last year, Olivia started attending the Sisterhood Sessions, run by wakeboard coach Leslie Sparks at The Rail Yard Wake & Aqua Park in Mount Albert, and the Watsons have been pleased by her success there. “This environment seems to be where Olivia thrives the most,” says Richard. “Being mentored by and sharing the handle with such an amazing group of women who are all so supportive of each other and their progression in the sport.”

“Sisterhood Sessions is a women’s-only cable wakeboard

program designed to bring girls together to learn and grow as riders. We help provide one-on-one coaching, assist in contest-pass [a run through the course] development and have become an all-around cheer squad,” explains Sparks. “Olivia takes advantage of the coaching and is sure to ask lots of questions about her future contest passes and sneaks in as many laps as she can (looking as stylish as

“I want to win gold at the Olympics and I want to learn how to do a double backflip off a rail.” – Olivia Watson

ever, I might add). Her progression over the summer was nothing short of remarkable, putting her at the top of the podium and dominating the season in her age group. Olivia is always a pleasure to watch, especially when she finally commits to a new trick.”

And for Sullivan, any day on the slopes with Olivia is a sunny one: “Olivia is the best because you’ll never have a boring day with her. Whether it’s silly games on the chair lift or sharing snacks with everyone, she’s always making sure everyone else is having a good time. And then when it comes down to focusing and learning a new trick she can instantly change gears and make it happen.”

“When it’s time to try a new trick, I feel nervous inside,” says Olivia. “But my brain is also thinking that it’s fun. When I don’t get it right away, I just go back and try it again. I am always willing to take on the challenge and try new things.”

If it all sounds like a lot for an 8-year-old, it only takes a quick chat with Olivia to see how much she loves what she’s doing. The joy shines through as she talks about the secret handshake she has with her fellow riders (no, she won’t show me). With a grin, she looks at her mom and asks if she can have another cookie—and maybe hit the trampoline when they get home.

Always moving and always smiling, it would be hard not to root for this kid. The sky’s the limit for this super shredder—on water, on snow and in life.

Follow Olivia’s journey on Instagram: @olivia_loves_to_shred.

L-R: Rockin’ that killer positive attitude and launching at provincials. ALLISON KENNEDY DAVIES AND JESSICA CARNOCHAN

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Biking Nirvana

Bentonville promises and delivers an epic MTB experience

words :: Colin Field

From the high point of the Castle Hub, we drop into Uwabami, one of the newest trails in Bentonville, Arkansas. It’s smooth and flowing, with mellow lips and landings and wide berms, and it all trends in my favourite direction: downhill. It’s the kind of trail anybody could enjoy. We just met the trail builders up top, listening to Real Life’s “Send Me An Angel” on their DEWALT radio. They were locals. They grew up here and now had full-time, year-round jobs making mountain bike trails. I asked if they hated how much Bentonville has changed over the years.

“Nope,” they replied unanimously. “It’s busy, but we still love it. I mean look at this place.”

And it’s true. We were on a massive deck-like structure and, scanning the surroundings, we saw nothing but trails flowing downhill. These guys were just finishing Uwabami, and suggested we try it. It was designed for riders on three- or four-wheeled adaptive

bikes and that’s the kind of place Bentonville is: There are trails here for everyone.

As I rolled down behind my son and wife, I marveled at the trail system. Surrounding Uwabami were other trails including Medieval and Dragon Scales that looked more like theme-park rides than mountain bike trails. Massive rolling bridges shot riders over huge jumps that seemed impossibly large, but local 12-year-olds sailed over them effortlessly. I envied how fast the locals progressed here. I watched my son flying over the smaller tabletops on Uwabami and heard my wife whooping with delight around the berms. It made me happy.

As a family that loves to ride bikes, we’re always looking for off-season adventures. And in the shoulder seasons, when Ontario is a bleak grey-brown, the not-too-hot, not-too-cold Bentonville is an almost perfect destination—almost perfect because the drive’s a big one: about 18 hours from Collingwood. Even longer in a 40-year-old Westfalia, but it’s worth every minute of driving.

The author riding the steel-and-stone work of art that is the Masterpiece trail. TAJ FIELD

By self-proclaiming itself “the mountain bike capital of the world,” Bentonville has manifested exactly that. Riders and towns will forever debate who gets the title (Moab and Whistler would put up a good fight), but while you’re here it’s hard to dispute: Bentonville is absolutely addicted to bikes.

Prior to its foray into the cycling world, Bentonville was known as the home of Walmart. And that was about it. Sam Walton started the retail behemoth in 1962 in nearby Rogers, and the company went on to world domination. But their headquarters was always in Bentonville, and the company required all suppliers to have a brickand-mortar operation in town, so the place flourished.

The history of how the town got into mountain biking varies depending on the teller, but every local has their version. Your bartender may tell you the town invested $10 million into trails. The waitress will say it’s all because of Sam Walton’s grandsons. Our version came from a retiree volunteering at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (a gallery funded by—you guessed it—the Waltons).

“Ten years ago there was a meeting and the two guys, I think they were the Walton grandsons, said, ‘We’re going to become the mountain biking capital of the world.’ And they did it within seven years.”

It’s true the Walmart grandsons were the impetus. Tom and Steuart Walton had become avid mountain bikers in college. When the Walton Family Foundation decided to invest in footpaths, the grandsons made sure a chunk of that money went to mountain bike trails.

Bentonville is like Disneyland for cyclists.
It’s exactly what you would draw as a kid if you were asked to draw the perfect town.

They went from zero km of singletrack in 2006 to eight km in 2007, and from 2008-2018 the Walton foundation donated $74 million to trail building in the region. And at the end of 2023, the town boasted 110 km of trails running throughout the city, seamlessly connecting with more than 600 km of trail systems throughout northwest Arkansas.

As we got to know the town (by bicycle of course), we learned that riding around downtown Bentonville is incredibly safe, but strangely annoying: You constantly have the right of way. I’d pull into a four-way stop, staring at Google Maps on my phone like a kooky tourist, then decide to do a u-turn mid-intersection. Lines of cars waited patiently for me to decide what to do. They never honked.

And it’s rare to see a bike locked up in Bentonville. A $10,000 electric Santa Cruz outside a coffee shop? No lock. An $8,000 carbon Specialized right beside it? No lock.

From the downtown square we dropped directly into the All American trail. A ribbon of machine-made trail, complete with rollers, berms, skinnies and features, it leads down into the heart of the Slaughter Pen trail system. We immediately started lapping Moo Moo, Choo Choo (this trail glows in the dark!) and Boo Boo. While my son and wife loved Choo Choo, I loved Boo Boo; both were downhill, zig-zagging trails that any human being would enjoy. We’d split up at the top and reconnect at the bottom, our shouts of joy and laughter echoing through the surrounding forest.

My son and I built up the courage to ride Berm Creek, a recreation of YouTube star Seth Alvo’s (@SethsBikeHacks) backyard trail. The roll-in was intimidating but tons of fun. Lapping this trail for about an hour, we hung out with some locals who were on an afterwork 35 km ride. That’s just a Tuesday afternoon for locals.

Then we rode the Bone Yard just to see what the most extreme city-built trail could possibly look like and it is officially gnarly; we walked the majority of it. Massive jumps, huge cliff drops and scary bridges flowed down the hillside. How a city can build such dangerous trails in a country where you can sue a restaurant because their coffee is too hot is beyond me, but I digress. It’s rad as hell that these trails exist. Just be sure to heed the signage: pre-ride, re-ride, free ride. We spent all day in the Slaughter Pen area, clocking more than 20 km. While there was definitely stuff beyond our skill level, we all ended the day excited and thrilled with the riding.

Over seven days we rode everything we possibly could. The town funds an app called Flowfeed, which keeps an updated list of trails and what condition they’re in, so we knew where we could ride and which trails were too wet or closed for maintenance.

Bentonville is more than bikes, though. The previously mentioned Crystal Bridges Museum is fantastic and free. While we were there we saw an exhibit by photographer Annie Leibowitz and an incredible outdoor immersive light installation.

Local riders are the best source of knowledge. Brandan Licatino at Railyard Bike Park, Rogers, AR. COLIN FIELD

Then there’s The Momentary, a live concert venue and another beneficiary of the Walton Family Foundation. This place is constantly bringing in world-class acts; we saw Wu-Tang Clan while we were there. And Wilco played the day after we left.

We stayed at the Bike Inn just outside downtown Bentonville. A former nondescript roadside motel, the property has been converted into a bike-friendly mecca with the motto “Bike. Sleep. Repeat.” Out back are four pull-in spots for campers. That’s where we stayed, and we loved it. It’s a hub for cyclists from all over the country, and a great place to warm up by the fire and meet other riders.

Bentonville is like Disneyland for cyclists. It’s exactly what you would draw as a kid if you were asked to draw the perfect town; there would be dirt jumps right past the coffee shop, berms in the sidewalks and your route to school would feature some super-fun downhill dirt jumps. It feels almost cult-like in its perfection. Everything is connected by trail. And if you show up at one of the many Airship Coffee shops on a bicycle, they’ll knock ten per cent off your bill.

On our final day in Bentonville we traveled to Rogers, home of the first Walmart and the Daisy Airgun Museum. It’s not far from Bentonville, and it’s like the difference between Etobicoke and Toronto; you wouldn’t even know you were in a different town.

We rode The Railyard here, which is an absolute work of art.

Built by the master builders at Velosolutions, this is a downhill pump track-style asphalt course with jumps, berms and other incredible features. We soon befriended a local who showed us some transfer lines and assured us that yes, this place never gets old. He’d moved here from Dallas and was starting a bicycle-themed barbershop—get a haircut while your bike gets tuned. We spent six hours riding here and I watched as my son’s jumping skills improved and my wife’s cornering got better and better. We met hardcore riders and absolute newbies all sharing the trail and congratulating each other on their progression. It was a beautiful example of how pump tracks build community, and we were reluctant to leave.

Bentonville is an inspiring slice of Utopia I could visit yearly for the rest of my riding days. And according to the Center for Business and Economic Research at the Sam M. Walton College of Business, biking is doing more than engaging a few riders; trail systems in northwest Arkansas generated $159 million USD in economic impacts from cycling-related jobs, tourism revenue and taxes in 2022 alone. There is a method to the trail-investment madness.

Now if only some Ontario towns could see the light (I’m looking at you, Collingwood and the Town of the Blue Mountains).

One of the best tracks on earth, even in the off season. Railyard Bike Park, Rogers, AR. COLIN FIELD

Want to mountain bike more this summer? Join the club!

If you love spending time shredding single track and discovering new trails (and new friends), it’s time to join the local mountain bike club. Collingwood Off-Road Cycling—better known as CORC—isn’t a club that’s solely focused on building trails. The community aspect that comes from having well-maintained, fun to ride mountain bike trails is the real payoff… though the GREAT TRAIL NETWORKS that are popping up around the Collingwood/Blue Mountains area in large part due to the work of CORC members and volunteers are a pretty big benefit.

Since CORC began six years ago, the club has helped to mark, maintain, and build several trail networks. CORC members can RIDE DAILY through the summer at Highlands Nordic, Duntroon Highlands, and Craigleith Ski Club—another great reason to visit Simcoe County! In addition to additional places to ride, CORC offers THURSDAY SOCIAL RIDES that are organized and marked at the three main venues as well as a few public and private venues from May through August. Social rides end with food, drink and a great community atmosphere thanks to the local bike shops that support each night!

CORC members can also access TRAIL WORK NIGHTS, which for some members is the highlight of the club. These nights working in the forest are a great way to spend time in nature, help out the local trail and meet new friends.

CORC is also increasingly PERFORMING ADVOCACY to preserve access to trails, notably the recent closures at Pretty River Provincial Park (3-Stage) and working to help increase cycling infrastructure in the Collingwood area. A pump track is an exciting opportunity they are hoping to help make happen in the coming years. The mission of CORC is Connecting our community through trails, and all efforts are focused around this mission.

Hoping to get started mountain biking this summer, or maybe just looking to meet some like-minded people in the area to make a few riding buddies? CORC is the way to make that happen.

How to maximize your fun on the trails

• Make sure you HAVE TRAIL MAPS on your phone or cycling computer before the ride starts. Because service can be spotty in some of the more remote parts of trail networks like Three Stage and Kolapore, make sure you have trail maps from TrailForks downloaded if you don’t know your way around, and attend CORC’s social rides to help learn more routes and trail systems on Thursdays to make sure you don’t get lost.

• LEAVE NO TRACE… and we’re not just talking about your trash (though seriously, don’t drop gel packets or anything else on the ground in the woods!). We’re also talking about not riding trails if they’re wet and muddy enough that your tires are leaving tracks. If you start your ride and notice that your wheels are sinking into the ground, today isn’t a good day to ride the trails. We suggest hitting one of Collingwood’s many rail-trails and multi-use paths to get a pedal in and save our trails (and your bike!). The soil in Collingwood can take 1-2 days to dry out after a rain (or more in the spring and fall).

• Carry some basic FIRST AID SUPPLIES as well as a multitool and anything you need to fix a flat tire on your mountain bike. Extra snacks and water are never a bad idea either!

• SAY HELLO to other trail users. Mountain bikers, hikers, runners and bird watchers all use trails in our area, and it’s a lot more fun for everyone if every person you pass is greeted with a smile and a wave. Biking should create connections and build communities!

• Get a bike TUNE-UP if you haven’t had one in a while. We are lucky to have so many great bike shops right in Collingwood that will have your mountain bike tuned and in perfect shape! If you haven’t had a bike mechanic look over your bike recently, you may find that you ride much faster, safer and happier with a tuneup that includes new cables, new brake pads, new tires and a general checkover to make sure everything is in the right place. The LOCAL BREWERIES are very supportive of CORC and we encourage you to support CORC sponsors.

• Volunteer with CORC. If you’re new to the area and want to make some cycling friends, join CORC. If you want to make friends even faster, VOLUNTEER with us! We’re always looking for help at all levels of the club. Event day help, organization, trail build nights and for social ride events and trail maintenance. Come to any of our trail maintenance days and help keep the trails in great riding shape while meeting other local mountain bikers. It’s a win-win-win!

Learn more and register for the 2024 season at

An award-winning community nestled between Blue Mountain Resort and the tranquil Scandinave Spa. A neighbourhood proudly connected by parks, ponds, trails, and nature preservation areas. At the heart of Windfall is “The Shed,” a vibrant gathering place available year-round, features outdoor pools, and serves as the perfect community hub. The essence of Blue Mountain living – a lifestyle of luxury, leisure, and natural beauty. SEMIS BUNGALOWS TWO STOREYS
Windfall GEORGIAN COMMUNITIES Another project developed by: Save BIG with Our New Builder Collection Homes!
is Your

A Barn Revived

Timeless timbers blend seamlessly with modern energy efficiency

words & photos :: Kristin Schnelten

Sometimes persistence—and a bit of patience—pays off.

From their previous hillside home, Martin Mansikka and his young family had a bird’s-eye view of a fallow field across the valley: a centuryold farm with rolling topography and dense stands of trees. They dreamed of building their next house there, overlooking the escarpment—but the owner wasn’t selling.

“I called once a year, every year, to ask,” says Mansikka. “Finally, on the fourth or fifth try, he said yes.”

A homebuilder and designer with his company Talo Green Build, Mansikka spent months meticulously planning a modern house for a broad knoll in the centre of the property. Poised and ready to pull permits, he received a surprise call: Would he be interested in the frame of a 19th-century barn?

“I drove to Kitchener to tour the barn, and within 15 minutes I knew,” he says. Scrapping the modern design, the couple quickly embraced what Mansikka calls “the original prefab”: a 150-year-old handhewn timber frame with a soaring 30-ft.high peak and a 4,000-sq.-ft. footprint.

After securing an engineer’s stamp of approval, a team painstakingly disassembled the barn, labelling each beam with cattle tags and stacking them on a single trailer. The frame sat for a few months during site preparation, then the task of reassembling the puzzle—including the original pegs—took a crane and crew a single day.

Talo (the Finnish word for “house”) focuses on energy-efficient builds, and for his own home Mansikka sited the barn, with its long wall of floor-to-ceiling triple-glazed glass, facing southeast for maximum solar gain in the winter, with a covered porch on the southwest end for summertime shade. He chose air-source

The couple quickly embraced what Mansikka calls “the original prefab”: a 150-year-old hand-hewn timber frame with a soaring 30-ft.-high peak and a 4,000-sq.-ft. footprint.

heat pumps and hydronic floor heating, adding photovoltaic (PV) panels that enable the house to generate the majority of its own energy. The battery-aided PV system produces, at times, more energy than it consumes, using net metering to feed (and sell) those extra watts back to the grid.

Exterior walls are clad with new barn boards inside and out, sandwiching thick insulated panels; interior walls, standardbuilt with drywall, are painted a simple white and sparsely adorned, helping to disperse the ample light. A large section of square cubbies in the main room keeps things tidy but accessible, and the custom feel belies what’s become a signature inclusion for Talo builds: “They’re just stacked IKEA shelving, built into the recess of the wall,” Mansikka says.

The full bed masonry fireplace is finished with two layers of escarpment stone, Guelph and Algonquin, intermixed with rubble and distressed mortar, creating the appearance of a barn foundation weathered over time. At the opposite end of the airy space, a crisp modern kitchen leads to a large butler’s pantry with additional storage—keeping a busy family’s daily clutter out of sight.

A chief tenet of efficient home design in a cold climate is protecting the northern façade, and this barn home follows suit, with a long, windowless hallway spanning the length of the house on that colder wall. Natural light spills in from the glassed-in breezeway connecting home and garage, which is protected from winter winds by the mature maple forest just through the doors.

In those woods, Martin has set winding trails for the family, including a path that leads out of the property and along the escarpment, connecting to his parents’ farm just a few concessions over.

This efficient barn reconstruction wasn’t the first for Mansikka, and it won’t be his last. Another stack of labelled beams sits tucked away in storage, awaiting the next project. But that frame will be for clients—the Mansikkas are no longer yearning for another property. They’re content in their new space.

“It’s just such an incredible feeling to be surrounded by these old timbers,” says Mansikka. “Just to think that these trees began their lives as saplings almost 400 years ago is pretty amazing.”


Wherever that may be


Born from a passion for biking and a desire to give back to the community, the first Grey Highlands Gran Fondo was a resounding success. Riders from all over North America took part in the 2023 event, which raised funds for the new Markdale Hospital.

“Close to 300 cyclists participated that day,” says Darlene Lamberti, executive director of the Centre Grey Health Services Foundation. “We had excellent weather and quiet roads, which made for a great ride. And the event raised more than $215,000, far surpassing our goal.”

This year’s fondo is set for Sunday, September 8. Anticipating an even larger crowd, organizers have tweaked the three routes (which clock in at 26, 77 and 135 km) and added more prizes, food, entertainment and vendors throughout the day.

Learn more and register early as a rider or volunteer at


On Saturday, July 6, Blue Mountain Resort plays host once again to one of the province’s biggest trail runs. At Summit 700, nearly a thousand racers ascend all 700 feet of the escarpment while raising funds for Beaver Valley Outreach.

Climbing the Cascade Trail immediately from the starting gate, participants crisscross the expanded trail system at Blue, sidestepping roots, traversing streams and padding down forest paths. A post-race BBQ and live music up the ante on podium goals.

“The finish line is the best place to hang out, because the energy is so good,” says race organizer Bob Miller. “Everyone’s relieved and happy, and they’re looking forward to celebrating.”

With 5 km, 10 km and 21 km options, there’s a course—and a challenge—for everyone. “It’s about setting a goal and achieving the goal while having fun with your friends,” says Miller.

There’s a cap on registrations, so sign up early for this perennial local favourite at


With a lineup of 25 artists performing on two stages at a 136-acre property near Durham, the Four Winds Music Fest promises a full weekend of entertainment. But for local show organizers Ariana Dalie and Craig Smith, the experience is about more than music.

“It’s really a unique location; the grounds are beautiful and there’s so much to do,” says Dalie. “You can swim in the river or jump in a hot tub or sauna. And we’re offering a musician workshop as well as African drumming and yoga.”

The festival’s successful 2023 inaugural year was a bit of a coup for the team, who managed to organize the event in just a few short months. With a full year to plan this time around, they’ve upped the ante with more musicians, additional food vendors and workshops.

Four Winds takes place July 12–14 on the Riverstone campus of the nonprofit Elephant Thoughts. Check out the lineup— including Bahamas, Joel Plaskett and Great Lakes Swimmers— and get your weekend or day tickets before they sell out at and @fourwindsmusicfest.



After a decade focusing on her series of Southern Ontario hiking guides, Loops and Lattes author (and ML contributor) Nicola Ross has taken a few steps from the beaten path for her latest publication, 40 Days & 40 Hikes.

“This book is not a guide, but a travelogue,” says Ross. “It’s really my internal journey, walking the Bruce Trail. It’s about how much I love it.”

Ross breaks her months-long experience from Niagara to Tobermory into day-length loops along the famous trail she knows so well, recounting the adventure with recurring themes of responsibility and protection. “I’ve lived on the escarpment all my life. I often say the Niagara Escarpment is in my DNA, and the Credit River


Toiling for years to establish a nonprofit offering both childcare and alternative education outdoors, Hundred Acre Wood has always maintained admirable goals. Operating now at multiple locations across Southern Georgian Bay, the team has a new target: adding additional childcare spaces to meet a significant area need. And they need your help to get there.

To raise funds for the additional spaces, Hundred Acre Wood is hosting a Concert Under the Stars at Spy Cider House & Distillery on September 1, featuring River Glen and Band. The event showcases Glen, a local singer-songwriter with Iowa roots and a lifetime of music under his belt, with dinner and beverages available at Spy’s four-season patio.

“We are so excited to facilitate new music onto the Blue Mountains/Grey Bruce scene,” says Joanna Zycki, co-director at Hundred Acre Wood. “We hope this is the first of many concert initiatives we take to support our community and new musicians.”

Purchase early bird tickets now for $30 per adult at www. After May 31, tickets are $35 for adults or $15 for youth, and kids under nine are free. Learn more about Hundred Acre Wood and their initiatives at

runs through my veins,” she muses. “So I discuss my responsibility to protect that, to protect this precious landscape. And I ask myself the question throughout the book, Am I doing enough?”

Walking sections of the main trail combined with side trails to create freeform loops, Ross meanders her way up the escarpment. Woven with her footsteps and thoughts are tidbits of history and geography, accompanied by sketches of flora, fauna and human-made objects discovered along the way.

“The drawings are something new for me, something I’m learning. It’s all part of the journey,” she says.

Learn more about Nicola and 40 Days & 40 Hikes at


Carlin Val has conquered the crux of his climbing gym build in Owen Sound: A zoning appeal that stalled his project was thrown out in February. After five months in limbo, he can finally proceed with construction.

Located at 1580 20th St. E. (near Benjamin Moore), the 6,900-sq.-ft. space, called The Climbers Crush, will feature a 100-ft.-long bouldering wall and three 20-ft.-high climbing walls with auto belays.

Val’s no stranger to climbing gyms, or to the outdoor world. He’s worked at multiple gyms as an instructor, route setter and manager; he owns the outfitting and adventure company At Last Adventures; and he runs a dozen At Last Forest Schools with his wife, Debbie.

Val is confident this new climbing gym is the right fit for Owen Sound. “Bouldering is so inclusive, and creates a strong community,” he says. “I find there are so many benefits of bouldering, both mental and physical, and it’s a great opportunity to introduce people to the sport.”

With the Montreal-based climbing wall manufacturer OnSite currently working on the build, Val hopes to open before summer hits—when his At Last Adventures summer camp will clip in for their first sessions. He’ll also offer a climbing-focused camp for kids, with three days in the gym and two days climbing some nearby Niagara Escarpment routes. –Colin Field

To stay informed on the project, check out The Climbers Crush Facebook page or

Jared Nelson on Big Kahuna (5.13d), Lion’s Head. SHAWN ROBERTSON
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Laura Tombolini at Wasaga Beach. JODY WILSON

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RE/MAX is the No. 1 name in real estate* thanks in part to decades of extensive advertising. At just about every turn, potential clients find RE/MAX ads – across TV, radio, print, outdoor signage, the Web and social media. Chances are, you would have a hard time finding someone who has never heard of “RE/MAX.”

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List your home with a RE/MAX at Blue Realty sales representative Call 705-445-0440, visit our website or visit our o ice in Blue Mountain Village, next to Starbucks.
Kelly Cain Sales Representative 519-872-1356 Gerry Wayland Owner/Broker
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Newton Sales Representative
15 Balsam St., Collingwood 705-444-5488 Fast, Friendly Sales and Service PROUD SPONSOR OF COLLINGWOOD OFFROAD CYCLING 705.606.0867 Over 25 years of fun! Providing tours in Southern Georgian Bay • paddling • kids camps • caving • forest therapy • wild edible experience • group events

1. Light and fast with multi-sport versatility, the all-new OSPREY TALON VELOCITY 20 ups the ante on speed and efficiency—be it PR-setting, bagging peaks or linking quick laps on the snow. With a running-vest-inspired harness, flexible back panel and lightweight design, it provides access to essentials without skipping a beat. And it’s a bluesign-certified product. // 2. The YETI SIDEKICK DRY GEAR CASE is the worry-free way to carry your keys, wallet, fishing license and phone in the wild. Featuring interior mesh pockets, a waterproof seal and RF-welded seams, it’s designed for use on its own, attached to a belt or with the Sideclick Strap to create a crossbody bag. Available in 1L, 3L and 6L sizes. // 3. Mountain biking, trail running or spring skiing but don’t want to overheat? The FLYLOW DAVIS JACKET is the answer. It’s a lightweight, air-permeable (22.8 CFM), year-round windbreaker treated with a PFAS-free durable water repellent. Adding a layer of defense with supreme breathability, you won’t have to take it off even when your temps go up. // 4. Step into the future of hiking in the revolutionary MERRELL MOAB SPEED 2 MID. Lighter, grippier and more comfortable, this next-gen hiker embodies 40 years of trail innovation into Merrell’s most tech-savvy Moab yet, built with a Vibram TC5+ outsole and recycled materials. // 5. Planning cool-weather treks and travels? Check out the insulated JACK WOLFSKIN TEXTOR JACKET for men and TEXTOR COAT for women. Breathable Texapore Core Light Crinkle fabric provides protection from wet and windy conditions on the trail or a city sidewalk. Multiple pockets stash your phone and other essentials, and an adjustable hood tucks away inside the collar. Available at Sail: // 6. Check out the GLOBBER GO•UP ACTIVE LIGHTS ECOLOGIC

SCOOTER: This all-in-one eco scooter with a seat for ages 1 ½ to 9 is made with 100 per cent recycled plastic and bio-sourced wheat straw. It easily converts from ride-on to walking bike to scooter without tools or screws and is available in pistachio green or berry pink.

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Chestnut Park’s® affiliation with Christie’s International Real Estate opens doors to global connections in 50 Countries, over 32,000 Real Estate Professionals, 2 Million Social Media followers and 3.5 Million unique Instagram users reached. All above data based in 2022 | Christie's International Real Estate

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7. The BLACK BELLOWS LITTLE BUCK SESSION IPA is a fresh, juicy and bright little IPA that gets you all the hop flavour in an easy-drinking package. This sessionable brew clocks in at 4.5 per cent ABV. // 8. The ARC’TERYX BETA AR JACKET is created to deliver performance versatility with packable, breathable and durable waterproof protection across the spectrum of alpine environments and activities. The GORE-TEX PRO Most Rugged Technology delivers maximum durability, the helmet-compatible DropHood has an internal collar for added protection and an embedded RECCO reflector improves searchability in emergency situations. //

9. The FJÄLLRÄVEN KEB AGILE TROUSERS are all-around trekking trousers for adventures where freedom of movement, durability and protection are paramount. Made of a double-woven stretch fabric that dries quickly, the trousers boast zippered leg pockets and knees reinforced with G-1000 Lite Stretch. The low-profile design, tapered legs and articulated knees will make these a go-to favourite. // 10. The ROCKY MOUNTAIN FUSION POWERPLAY 10 is an affordable, efficient hardtail electric bike for cruisey harbourfront trails or punchy singletrack. The 480 Wh battery and Dyname 4.0 drive system deliver an adaptive and powerful ride on tight switchbacks and steep climbs. Demo one for a day at the new Skiis & Biikes Electric Demo Centre, 445 First St. in Collingwood (beside The Beer Store). // 11. THE NORTH FACE LIGHTRANGE SUN HOODIE is designed for maximum protection from the sun’s harmful UV rays with ultra-breathable technology and an impossibly light and comfortable design you can take anywhere. Accredited by The Skin Cancer Foundation, this hoodie is made to keep you cool and dry during high-output activities.

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12. BLU WAVE NEPTUNE SERIES foil boards feature a sandwich construction of carbon-Innegra and PVC, resulting in a durable, lightweight board. The Neptune 7.2 is a downwind and light-wind wing foil board, ideal for Southern Georgian Bay. Reach out to Blu Wave in Wasaga Beach for lessons, demos and help choosing the right gear. // 13. Get in more rides and make the most of every minute with the lightweight NORCO FLUID VLT Featuring the next-level Bosch Performance Line SX drive system and 140 mm of precision-tuned suspension, this e-bike with uncompromising components has integrated mixed wheels for optimum weight balance and handling. //14. Crafted for post-adventure enjoyment, RALLY TRAIL BLAZER is the original Rally ale. It's brewed with artisanal sea salts and blackcurrant for refreshment at the finish line. Go ahead, you’ve earned it. // 15. Dirt riding starts here. The GASGAS MC-E 2 is designed for the youngest possible riders (90-130 cm tall). Trail ride, motocross or explore the neighbourhood in comfort with adjustable ergonomics and three power modes. Battery power means it's quiet and inexpensive to run, and a full charge lasts up to 100 minutes (with a ridiculously quick recharge). Find a dealer at // 16. The FOX UNION BOA CLIPLESS shoes are rugged and trail-ready, with a grippy and durable Ultratac outsole. The dual BOA Li2 system provides a perfect fit and the molded cap design protects against rock strikes. Check them out at Kamikaze in Collingwood. // 17. A beer of substance, THE COLLINGWOOD BREWERY DOWNHILL PALE ALE is well-hopped with American and European varieties and backstopped with a perfectly balanced robust malt character. The result is a full-flavoured ale with distinct citrus notes, packaged unfiltered for optimal flavour. Kick back and relax—it’s all Downhill from here. // 18. The ARC’TERYX BETA JACKET is made with a durable 80D face fabric and a GORE-TEX membrane that’s light, strong and PFC-free, delivering lasting waterproof, windproof, breathable protection with a reduced carbon footprint. The C-KNIT backer adds comfort and breathability. Available at Red Devil at Blue Mountain Resort.

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188 MARSH STREET, CLARKSBURG JOIN US ON JUNE 22 FOR CLARKSBURG CHILDREN’S FESTIVAL AND ON JULY 6 FOR ARTS WALK New Patients Welcome 186 Erie St Suite 202, Collingwood Phone: (705) 445-2470

A Lasting Hope

Honouring the wisdom and determination of an adventure-filled life

words & photo :: Colin Field

“I just can’t sleep in a tent anymore,” said my buddy. He was getting older. Crawling around on the ground was too much hassle, so he was done with it. Then another friend proudly proclaimed, “I’m never sleeping in a tent again.” She got rid of her tent and bought an RV. These are my peers. We’re not that old, are we?

Anytime I wonder if I’m too old to do something, I remember paddling the Lower Magnetawan River in 2018. I had my usual buildup of pre-trip jitters: I worried about throwing my back out, wondered if I was strong enough to carry everything, pondered the integrity of my aging gear. The river has a mean reputation. The motto among paddlers is: “Everyone swims on the Magnetawan.”

One of my trip mates was 80 years old. At first, Christopher Hope seemed like a liability. He looked his age, with thin grey hair and sunken eyes. He was slow. He couldn’t carry his heavy pack and he often held his paddle incorrectly. Plus, he was new to whitewater paddling—he was using this trip as a training run for an arctic Coppermine River expedition in six weeks.

With record-high water levels, everything on the Magnetawan was more intimidating than usual. But the old man wasn’t concerned. He insisted on sterning the canoe—the more difficult of the two canoe positions—because he wanted to improve.

The river’s prophecy came true that year; we all swam sections of the Magnetawan. The hotshot Black Feather guides floated downstream beside their capsized boats. I swam multiple times, my canoe so full of water my gear just floated away. Hope went for a swim too, but his enthusiasm couldn’t be squashed.

“Show me some Class V rapids! I want to swim them,” he claimed as he emerged, sopping wet from the frigid waters onto the river bank. “It’s the only way to learn!”

As we got to know Hope, it became obvious he was an exceptional man. He’d climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, trekked to Everest Base Camp, scuba-dived through shipwrecks and windsurfed seemingly everywhere. Not once did he complain about sleeping on the ground. He didn’t complain about the bugs, either. In fact, he didn’t complain about anything. Respecting this elder was easy.

Sure, he was the weakest paddler on the trip, but we all looked up to him. We helped when we could. We carried his pack, helped him over difficult terrain, offered paddling tips and patiently waited for him. Spending time with him was an honour.

I haven’t seen him since that trip ended. I tried to call him last week, but his phone was out of service. Turns out he passed away in the summer of 2023. Christopher Hope went for a swim in the ocean near West Vancouver and never returned. He was 85.

I was saddened to hear the news, but I continue to find inspiration in how he lived his life, right up to that very last breath. He never gave up. And it’s because of Christopher Hope that I am certain about one thing in my life: Getting rid of my tent is not an option.

A rare
capture of Christopher Hope in the bow.

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