Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Trudeau's Birchbark Canoe

One of the earliest memories I have of seeing a birchbark canoe was a photo of Canada's 15th Prime Minister, Pierre Elliott Trudeau (October 18, 1919 – September 28, 2000) paddling one. Recently I came across the same photo again on the net.

Trudeau in 1974

Trudeau was by no means the only world leader to comprehend the joys of paddling. I've already posted about young Franklin Delano Roosevelt's bark canoe. Intrigued to know more, I started investigating. Trudeau's canoe was apparently built in 1968 by Patrick Maranda of Lac Rapide (Quebec). It was commissioned by the Maniwaki Chamber of Commerce as a wedding gift for the Prime Minister.

Maranda Canoe built circa 1968

Not sure if it is still there, but on my way to the High Arctic in '07, I noticed a beautiful bark canoe on display at the Ottawa Airport Canoe. Turns out it was Trudeau's canoe on loan from the family.

Ottawa International Airport

In 1944, many years before his career in politics, Trudeau wrote an essay entitled, Exhaustion and Fulfillment: The Ascetic in a Canoe. Here's a selected passage
"What sets a canoeing expedition apart is that it purifies you more rapidly and inescapably than any other. Travel a thousand miles by train and you are a brute; pedal five hundred on a bicycle and you remain basically a bourgeois; paddle a hundred in a canoe and you are already a child of nature.

For it is a condition of such a trip that you entrust yourself, stripped of your worldly goods, to nature. Canoe and paddle, blanket and knife, salt pork and flour, fishing rod and rifle; that is about the extent of your wealth. To remove all the useless material baggage from a man's heritage is, at the same time, to free his mind from petty preoccupations, calculations and memories. "

I find the last line particularly poignant as my life lately has been inundated with such "petty preoccupations" as he put it. In my mind I've already started fantasizing about my solo canoe trip planned for this summer.

To check out Trudeau's 1944 essay in its entirety, click here or for a bit of comic relief, check out this little Parody Skit (RealMedia Format) about the late Prime Minister promoting his memoirs. Loaded with a lot of inside jokes that probably only Canadians would understand, but comical nonetheless even if you are a Trudeau hater/lover.


Scott Schuldt said...

Excellent post! Trudeau's essay was very good stuff. thanks

Mike said...

Pierre Trudeau wrote a great essay....there is a display on him at the Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough.

Dumoine Watershed said...

Great site.I pass this canoe every time I'm going north and it sets a great tone for a trip.I took Trudeau down the Petawawa and enjoyed talking to him about this canoe and his inspiring essay.He did a lot to propel recreational wilderness canoeing into the spotlight.
I currently writing a book on the history of mans travels in the Dumoine Watershed due out fall 2015.( rough notes.
If you see any historical pictures of paddlers in this area could you send them my way

Anonymous said...

According to an airport press release, the canoe is a copy "rare traditional birch bark canoe built by the master craftsman and Algonquin leader who created an identical one for the late Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau."

Post a Comment

Newer Posts Older Posts Home Page