I’ve lived in Canada very nearly my entire life and am a self professed patriot.
Canada has always had a problem defining itself. The fall back position is to define ourselves in contrast to our American cousins but, that is both lazy and somewhat untruthful.
To many newcomers, Canada is that final haven from conflict, discrimination, famine and disease.
To most citizens, Canada is a socialist democracy with free speech, a free press, free health care and guaranteed human rights.
Which is why even naturally born Canadians almost never experience the quintessential Canadian experience – because they either don’t know it, or have forgotten it after a poor experience learning Canadian history in school.
I found myself on Friday afternoon right after work traveling 300 km north of Toronto to take part in the 3 day/2 night annual Algonquin Moose Safari. This would also be my first real excursion since the pandemic and hopefully a harbinger of a return to normalcy.
Canada is paradoxically, a small country. Toronto might share global familiarity with the likes of New York City, London, or Paris but unlike those cities, venturing only 300 km north of its center allows the thin veneer of civilization to crack and collapse. Algonquin Provincial Park is a massive protected wildlife preserve with no WiFi, no cell service, no electricity and no plumbing. Every single item we needed we had to carry in and every piece of garbage we generated, we had to carry out. And not by horseback. The park is home to thousands of discrete lakes making passage by canoe the best option. Which meant the occasional dreaded portage. In my case it was three in and three on the way out. I hated them with a vile passion.
Privileged Canadian children briefly learn skiing and canoeing as part of their school experience. When I moved to Vancouver for a decade and had easy access to the world famous Whistler ski resort, I had to basically relearn how to ski all over again. After nearly 12 hours in the canoe this weekend, I can say I’m well past that stage. I had to learn how to paddle with no sound so that we could stealthily creep up to our moose targets. I had to acclimatize my shoulder and arm muscles from cramping up so that I could paddle tens of kilometers and at speed to power through head winds and because I never wanted to be in the last crew back to camp.
So what did I bring to shoot the moose? I was obsessed with the idea that I would capsize my canoe and lose my camera so I went with my older Olympus E-M1.2 body and the 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO with MC20 since 300mm (equivalent to a 600mm lens field of view on a full frame sensored body) was the minimum focal length I felt necessary. As a spare body I brought along the Lumix GX8. I also brought the Lumix GM1 with the Lumix 14mm pancake lens because it’s so small that it fits easily in my bug coat pocket and provides that wide field coverage. I also brought several extra batteries, USB chargers, two lithium power banks and my 11” Macbook Air.
After making camp on an island in Craig Lake, we had lunch and made our first excursion to look for moose. We were all grateful for the wonderful weather since it had rained heavily the night before. The dull one dimensional light of an overcast sky would have made it difficult for photography and paddling in the rain is always a miserable experience. The third wave of the pandemic had also delayed reopening the provincial park by two weeks allowing the hordes of voracious black flies and mosquitoes to die out and we encountered relatively few bugs. This was also driven by the dry climate causing lake levels to drop and beach areas to expand.
Moose often lie down in the cool, sun shaded depths of the forest for an afternoon nap so we decided to return to camp and then try closer to sunset. Since the summer solstice was approaching on Monday, this far north the sun was not going to set until well after 9 PM. The guides wisely decided that we should not make an excursion after dinner since they fed us extremely well (dinner was marinated BBQ pork loins, poached lake trout with lemon, and stir fried vegetables with quinoa) and provided abundant cans of Moosehead beer so we tried again at 6:30 PM and returned for dinner at 8:00.
We all agreed to wake up at 4:30 the next morning and leave by 5 hoping to catch some moose activity in the safety of twilight. I went to bed early thinking that I would awake tomorrow immobilized, with every muscle and joint stiff and unyielding. I was surprised to find myself in a functional state.
And so I did see seven and a half moose, I’m more than satisfied and extremely grateful at how well this trip turned out. My thanks to John and his great team at Voyageur Questfor a true Canadian experience bar none.