They didn’t set out to be rebels. They were just four ordinary guys driving station wagons and wearing brown suits while trying to raise young families at the dawn of the 1980s. One was my father and the others—Dobson, Cruickshank and Kinnear— were people I would only hear about as their annual fall canoe trip approached.
One September, they were paddling deep in Ontario’s canoe country north of Elliot Lake when they finished a portage and discovered an aluminum canoe with a faded camp logo on the bow. It had obviously fared poorly in the rapids above and been left on the rocks as a memorial to mark the spot where one camp counsellor had gambled his $300 salary for the sake of a class II thrill.
They rehabilitated it with pine gum and duct tape and carried their new canoe to the top of the set to see what this whitewater thing was all about.
After running it a few times, the canvas canoes they had always rented seemed to be fragile liabilities, and they resolved to buy a second canoe of their own.
The next summer Cruickshank heard about an Indian selling canoes for $60. Perfect, he thought. He and Kinnear collected $15 each from the other two. After work one day they parked their car at the docks and took a ferry to Toronto’s Centre Island where they were told they could find the Indian. He was at the rental kiosk. His name was Gyan Jain, a real Indian who had come to Canada with an engineering degree that wasn’t recognized so began renting canoes by the hour to tourists.
Without negotiating, they picked out the best of the bunch, a flat-bottomed, triple-thwarted, orange-trimmed, aluminum barge of a canoe, rolled up their polyester slacks and pushed off to paddle across the harbour.
It was a sunny day and the ferries and cruisers were staying clear. All was well until Cruickshank looked over his shoulder to see the Harbour Police following slowly in the patrol launch.
“Let’s make a run for it,” suggested Kinnear. With their wide, richly-textured ties swinging from their necks—this was the early 80s remember—they gave it all they had for a few minutes. The cops bore down on them and, no doubt eager for a chance to use the loud hailer, ordered them to put their paddles down.
The police were preparing to confiscate the apparently-stolen rental canoe and take it back to the island when Kinnear pulled the receipt out of his pocket and proudly proclaimed that the canoe belonged to him.
After a curt warning about the dangers of canoeing in open waters, the police motored away.
It would be easy to say the police were just doing their jobs, or were concerned about public safety. But I suspect something more sinister was at work. For the last 27 years that canoe has taken men and women away from their offices and jobs, out of service as productive members of society. Not everyone can be happy about that.
As Kevin Callan notes in this issue’s Butt End column, in this society we are working harder and canoeing less. There must be something driving this unnatural trend, a dark force that would rather have us at our desks boosting the GDP instead of punching new waypoints into our GPS.
We haven’t yet uncovered how shadowy business organizations like the Canadian Council of Chief Executives pull levers of power to enlist the police in their fight against canoe purchases and the leisure time that follows, but we have our best freelancer on the case. That will be an issue you won’t want to miss.
In the meantime, I’d like to dedicate this, our sixth canoe buyer’s guide, to Cruickshank and Kinnear. Two men who faced state-sponsored harassment of canoe buyers and came home with a canoe to call their own.
This article first appeared in the Early Summer 2007 issue of Canoeroots Magazine. For more great content, subscribe to Canoeroots’ print and digital editions here.