Canoe Trip With Grandpa

When I was a kid, camping was a favourite past time for my family.  Like many people, I can remember summer days spent by the lake doing all the fun stuff you do while camping.  The fishing, the swimming, playing with other kids you knew or just met, late nights roasting marshmallows and listening to the adults chat around the fire.  One of the things I remember is when my grandparents would join us on a camping trip.  As fun as camping was, seeing my grandparents made it that much more special.

Unfortunately, as people do, I grew older, moved on with my life, and packaged those days into memories in my mind that I would pull out every now and then and smile.  My love of camping grew into a love for canoe tripping, and many miles passed under my keel, adding to the memories in my head.  One year my brother and I were planning a canoe trip into Butt Lake (now known as Ralph Bice Lake) and it was decided that maybe we should talk to our grandfather, then 72 and retired, and see if he wanted to join us.  He would not be required to paddle or carry gear or anything else that may cause too much exertion, he would be required to sit in the front of a canoe, enjoy the scenery, toss out a fishing line when he felt like it, and walk from one end of a portage to the other. No stress involved.



My brother, Greg, and his buddy would be in one canoe while Grandpa and I would be in my canoe.  He had been in my canoe before and I knew he was comfortable in it as it was a wide, stable canoe.  Everyone at home was a bit wary that we would be taking an ‘old man‘ on a canoe trip, but it was his decision to go and his eyes lit up like a kid at Christmas every time we would talk about going.  When we got to Algonquin, we unloaded the canoes and gear, got everything ready to go and I had a chat with him about what was expected of him.  Being the man he was, I knew he was going to overdo things, but it was the job of my brother and I to make sure he didn’t do more than he needed to and keep a watchful eye on him for the week.  Oh, how the tables turn in the course of a life.  One day Grandpa is in the back of the boat making sure I am alright and the next I am keeping an eye out for him.

Secretly, I love the fact that my two kids love canoe tripping because it means that when I get too old to carry my own canoe, I will get the kind of trip my grandfather did.  He was waited on hand and foot; he wanted to go fishing, we took him, he wanted to sit and relax, we pulled up a chair for him, he was tired, we made sure he was comfortable in the tent and let him have an afternoon snooze.  The man must have thought he had died and gone to heaven.  It was like a back country all-inclusive resort, and to tell you the truth, I loved every minute of it.  To be able to give back to Grandpa a part of what he gave to me was very rewarding in ways that words cannot express.  If you were to ask Greg, I am sure he would agree one hundred percent.



What was supposed to be a nice trip into Algonquin’s interior for a relaxing week turned out to be so much more.  To me, it became a passing of the torch, so to speak.  We were no longer the little kids that needed Grandpa to put the worm on our hook or help us reel in the fish.  We no longer needed to be taught the skills or shown the proper way to do things like start a fire and cook a meal over it.  There was no time over the week that our grandfather needed to step in and say ‘No, this is how you do that”.  As I look back, I see this trip as a milestone in my life, as the final exam, if you will, in my camping journey.  Seeing Grandpa smile as he ate the lake trout we caught and prepared, hearing him laugh as we told jokes around the fire, and seeing him relaxed lets me know that Greg and I passed the exam.



They say all good things must come to an end, and so it was with the week on Butt Lake.  After breaking camp, we had an enjoyable paddle out to where we had parked the vehicles and a good drive back to St. Catharines where I dropped my grandfather off at home, chatted with my grandmother for a while, letting her know he had a great time, and then made my way home to see my wife and kids.  About a month later, we made the trip down to see my grandparents and I was told that I was not to take my grandfather on another canoe trip.  When I asked why not, I was told it was because he had not shut up about the trip we had taken him on and he was already trying to plan one for the following year.  He had been telling everyone that would listen about his trip and all the things he had done and seen and all the fun we had.



When we asked him to come on our trip, we thought it would be great to be able to spend time with our grandfather.  It would not be till much later that I found out he had always wanted to do a canoe trip like the one to Butt Lake and he was very happy that we had made it possible.  That makes me happy.  For a man that spent so many years giving to us, we finally were able to give a little something back.

I have been to Butt Lake a few times since that week, and every time I am there, I think of the time spent on the north shore campsite and it brings a smile to my face.  I look at various spots around the lake and remember being there with Grandpa.  With all the books of memories tucked away in my mind, this book is one of my most precious.  It has been a few years since Grandpa passed away now, but when Greg and I are together and talking about him, we both smile, mention something about Butt Lake, and we miss him.


~Sean Rowley


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