The other day, I placed a canoe on top of my car, balanced it perfectly, and watched it settle on the roof racks. Then, after I turned my back on it in order to pickup a length of rope to tie it on with, I spun around just in time to see the canoe slide off the roof of my car and land its nose on the front quarter panel of my friend’s car.
Some people would call this an unfortunate accident. But those of us who know canoes, understand it was merely a canoe doing what canoes do.
As Canadians, we have this idyllic image of the peaceful, ever faithful, obedient canoe. It is the icon that helped build Canada as we know it. It carried native peoples to their hunting, gathering, and fishing grounds. It moved them to their seasonal homes and allowed them to wander. Much later, it helped the coureurs des bois delve into the wilderness to explore and trade furs. And, over the years, the canoe has become a symbol of Canadian recreation and adventure. I doubt there is a human-inhabited lake or river in Canada that hasn’t seen one.
Books have been written about them. Movies, magazine and newspaper articles, and documentaries have featured them. I’m sure a song or two and a poem or three have also mentioned them prominently.
But what these romanticized images of the canoe always fail to mention is their one dark secret. Every canoe is continually trying to escape.
Some canoes are worse than others, of course. When I was younger, I had an old fibreglass 17-footer that would leave me the minute I set foot on shore. If I recall correctly, it left me stranded in a duck blind or two and on more than a few beaver dams as well. Once, it escaped with me in it and the paddles on shore.
The canoe I mentioned at the beginning of this column clearly has a wild streak in it too. But the incident was also not too unusual. Canoes will just as readily escape on land as they will on water. If you don’t believe me, ask yourself why those taut ropes you tied a canoe atop your car with are dangerously loose by the time you hit the corner? Or why that canoe leapt off the car in front of you when there was 400 yards of rope tying it down. Canoes are the Harry Houdini of the boat world. That’s why.
In my experience, the two places you can expect a canoe escape attempt most are at a dock and in white water. The former is for those canoes who want a slow dramatic goodbye. The latter for those that want a clean break.
The point is a good canoe can make Houdini look like an amateur.
You can’t actually blame a canoe for this. I mean what do they get out of the relationship?
We drag them across gravel, mud and beaver dams, we sit in them, we make them carry us across lakes and down rivers and rapids. We make they go where we want to go, without once asking their thoughts on the matter.
I guess a little escapism keeps them sane. Which is good. I mean, no one wants their canoe to flip out.