Algonquin Voices: Selected Stories of Canoe Lake Women
Canada’s Algonquin Park, located about a 3-4 drive from Toronto, was first created in 1893 as a wildlife sanctuary and to conserve the headwaters of the rivers that flow out of the park. Located on the edge of Canada’s “shield” or wilderness, it is Ontario’s oldest and largest park.
From the time of its existence the Park’s astounding beauty has attracted many worldwide artists, including Canada’s famous Group of Seven. This group comprised seven Canadian artists whose speciality was the drawing and painting of landscapes. It has also been the backdrop of many of the paintings of another great Canadian artist, Tom Thomson. Unfortunately, Thomson died mysteriously in 1917 in a canoe accident at Canoe Lake located in the Park.
Author Gaye Clemson has for the past forty-eight years vacationed at Canoe Lake situated in Algonquin Park. When I asked her why is she so attracted to the Park, her reply was, “it is my summer home and is deeply imbedded in my soul. I love its wilderness, its tranquility and being close to nature. Being there brings me spiritual strength and peace and an opportunity to get back to the basics of life.”
Clemson was fascinated with the history of the early settlers and more particularly the women that inhabited the Park and Canoe Lake. Over a span of several years, with the help of her two children and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Clemson conducted meticulous research pertaining to these first leaseholders. (It is to be noted that the land where the dwellings sit on are not owned but rather leased from the Ontario Government. The present day leases will expire in 2017)
Her findings culminated in an interesting compilation of essays and black-and-white photos entitled Algonquin Voices: Selected Stories of Canoe Lake Women. These writings describe a variety of topics such as the impacts of weather, animal experiences, family traditions, interesting characters, means of transportation to and from the Park, the first buildings, hotels, and businesses. However, what is unique and refreshing about these essays is that many of these narratives are from a woman’s perspective.
Clemson best sums up the predominant qualities of these women when she quotes from one of the inhabitants, a Mary Percival, who stated: “We were gems-of-all trades, not Jacks-of-all-trades. We coped alone. Did every job and fixed every problem with no help most of the time. It took ingenuity, that’s what it took, courage and ingenuity.”
Perhaps, that in a “nutshell” sums it all up and when you read Clemson’s essays you walk away in wonderment as to how these pioneers survived under such harsh conditions.
There is no doubt that Clemson’s findings will be of immense benefit to those of us who have travelled to Algonquin Park or are planning a trip in the near future. It will also serve as a valuable resource in the understanding of the paintings of Canada’s Group of Seven.