The beauty of Canoe Lake

Ahmek campers on Canoe Lake

Of all the fish, trout need the coldest, clearest water, the most pristine habitat. When you have trouble in the environment, trout are the first to go. But when trout are where they ought to be, all is right with the world. 

Algonquin Park  has rivers filled with colourful speckled trout and Canoe Lake itself is home to some of the most beautiful lake trout in the area. Much the same as these fish, we know Canoe Lake to be a healthy natural home and believe that Ahmek and Wapomeo are where we ought to be. When we feel the warmth of the morning sun on our faces and watch the mist dance across the water as we make our way to the Dining Halls for breakfast, all is right with the world.

For most campers and staff, winter is not a time to swim and paddle, but the morning dips and the wooden canoes are never forgotten and it is always a wonderful event when spring follows winter. There is a seasonal celebration on Canoe Lake that hasn’t changed much in almost 80 years. The ice goes out and the canoes go in. 

Every year, people from around the world “go on a journey,” either mentally or physically, to a special lake that they consider to be one of the happiest places on earth. The uninitiated wonder, “Why would you spend summers living in rustic cabins or sleeping on the cold group while out on canoe trip?” But when we woke up with our northern friends to a new day in a natural environment, it always turned into an adventure of a lifetime – and it happened every 24 hours. 

When we go back and visit the camps many summers later, we tend to pick up on the changes and react to them in different ways, some on an intellectual level and some on a purely emotional level.

At times our memories of the past butt up against the realities of the present and it is easy to fall into romantic notions about how much better things would be if this aspect or that hadn’t changed. In spite of these feelings we are still able to recall with clear detail the wonderful features of Ahmek and Wapomeo, the thousands of exploratory paddle dips on each canoe trip, and most importantly, the people we travelled and lived with that combined to create the mystique of this time spent in “Heave on Earth”.

The character of the people past and present and the stories associated with them continue to be essential and are forever being told as alive and current. The message speaks of a deeply personal sense of community and tradition and our many individual stories connect Ahmek and Wapomeo with each other, one canoe trip with another, one experience with another, one life with another. I think the entire experience of camp is about process. These stories are not about something that has happened in the past, bu about a passage of time that lives on – their meaning and influence are present and even future. 

People from all over the world arrive at Ahmek and Wapomeo and encounter a way of life that strengthens their soul. Most of our memories evolve around the physical aspects of both camps, but the true spirit comes from the people, a spirit that makes Canoe Lake a magical place – created by endless laughter, heartfelt sadness and boundless friendship.

Written by Don Standfield for the Fires of Friendship book.