In the summer of 1996, on a beautifully calm day, with white puffy clouds floating by, I loaded my twin two-year olds in my old Chestnut cedar-strip canoe and paddled off to visit some neighbours across Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park. Little did I know that this afternoon excursion would lead to a ten-year effort to uncover and capture the human heritage of Ontario’s oldest and well-known provincial park. What began, as a simple afternoon picnic became a voyage of discover and then a passion. A passion to give voice to the histories and life stories of the 300+ families who have summered since 1905 on a few lakes that hug the route of two long-gone railway lines. These little cabins are for the most part, modest in size, and are designed to blend in with their forest surroundings, to ensure that their environmental impact is kept to a minimum. Very few have comforts like electricity and generally are quite primitive, with unlined walls, uncurtained windows, wood stoves and kerosene lamps that provide heat and light. Water is pumped by hand with refrigerators and cooking stoves powered by propane. For some families it’s the fifth generation who are now learning to appreciate the Park and its beauty.
These residents of course aren’t the only ones who play a custodial role in looking after the Park, but they live and breathe Algonquin, care about its health and its welfare dearly and know it better, longer and more intimately, than just about any other group of Park users. Mostly occupied on weekends from ice-out to ice-in, and for a few weeks in the summer, it is estimated that this small but vibrant community extends to some 9,000+ family members.Most of the time, you’d hardly know they were there. At least that is, until you run into trouble while paddling on one of the lakes, lose your way, need medical attention or get caught in a storm or a heavy north wind. Then they miraculously appear to provide help and guidance and occasionally save your life.
Over the course of the last ten years, I have interviewed a great majority of resident families, spent hours in the Ontario and Algonquin Park Visitor Center Archives and read just about every book written about the history of Algonquin Park. This has resulted in an enormous collection of stories, which have been edited and reworked into the series of narratives , which are now available for your reading enjoyment on this site.
Also available is a historically accurate murder mystery party game, designed to resolve in an amusing but educational way, once and for all, who or what lead to the disappearance and death of famous Canadian artist Tom Thomson, on Canoe Lake in 1917. Having lived on Canoe Lake each summer lived under the shadow of his legend for more than 50 years, my speculations are probably as good as just about anyone else’s. I’ve also added some specialty gifts for those interested in supporting efforts to continue to record and publish Algonquin Park’s human heritage.