Canexus: The Canoe in Canadian Culture | James Raffan & Bert Horwood, eds.

In November of 1987, James Raffan and Bert Horwood held a conference at Queen’s University. During the conference, a number of academics from various fields who share a love for paddling presented papers which now make up this book: Canexus.

I was thrilled to discover this while looking through the shelves in Ashley’s Books in Bancroft. I had never heard of this book edited in part by James Raffan (author of many other books on canoeing and wilderness which I’ve read) and illustrated by Bill Mason!

Mason’s sketches are the perfect backdrop to any reflection of canoeing in Canadian culture. Although there are no specific locations mentioned in any of the illustrations, they elicit memories of canoe trips taken.

There are problems with this collection. Academic arrogance and pretentiousness plagued a few of the papers. In particular, William C. James’ essay on “Canoeing and Gender Roles” was painful to read. Have you ever wondered whether the canoe resembles a vagina or a phallus? Just as James.

Thankfully, the book had enough highlights to counterbalance that drivel. “Reflections of a Bannock Baker” by Bob Henderson is a concise reflection on the simplicity of canoeing and its relationship to wisdom. George J. Luste’s “Solitude and Kinship in the Canoeing Experience” is a reflection on the deeper significance of canoe trips. The highlight, by far, was Raffan’s essay, “Probing Canoe Trips for Persistent Meaning”. His harrowing story of surviving a three day storm in the barons while simultaneously reflecting on the value of this trip was simply inspiring.

Nothing symbolizes Canadian culture better than the canoe. Canexus provides fifteen ways to reflect on its significance.

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