For Armchair Adventurers

 Stepping into the Wilderness Canoe Symposium is like joining a jamboree.

At Toronto’s annual can’t-miss paddling event of the winter season, old friends and new come together to celebrate a shared passion for the outdoors.  There is a lot of laughter, music and storytelling—and more than a few tin cups hanging from belt loops. 

The two-day event is an armchair adventure series for winter-weary canoeists, inspiring attendees with presentations on recent expeditions, rediscovered routes and paddler-relevant research. At times spine tingling and shiver inducing, and at others laugh-out-loud funny or sentimental, the two-dozen presentations were always captivating and thought provoking.

At the 2014 event, which took place over February 7 and 8 and celebrated the event’s 29th anniversary, topics ranged from author Ken McGoogan’s thrilling account of arctic explorer John Rae to Ron Tozer’s informative talk on the changes in Algonquin Park’s birdlife. The incredibly talented and celebrated Juno Award winning musician and adventurer, Ian Tamblyn, shared photos and song from his impressive northern escapades and performed, among others,  “Chasing the North,” about a trip to Ellesmere Island, which was particularly haunting and beautiful.   

While the majority of the 500 paddlers in attendance were seasoned trippers, the younger generation was well represented. In particular, Katie Tanz, a first time presenter, gave an impressive account of a seven-week canoe trip she co-lead through Keewaydin Camp, from Windigo Lake to York Factory on the Hudson Bay. This lucky group of teenage girls had the experience of a lifetime culminating in a visit to the original Hudson Bay Company post and sleeping in the adjoining polar bear-safe enclosure.

One highlight each year is when symposium founder, George Luste, opens up his extensive book collection for sale. Called Northern Books, it had more than 5,000 items on display, many for sale, including rare and antique editions, as well as titles penned by past and current presenters.  

According to organizer Aleks Gusev, the majority of attendees find their way to the symposium by word of mouth and, once discovered, it becomes an annual tradition. The assembly takes place each February.


Jennifer Johnson is a freelance writer. Visit her at



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