The canoe carried aboriginal people for thousands of years, followed then by the explorers and the missionaries and the engineers and the surveyors….until in modern times it gives us the gift of freedom. The canoe is a vehicle that carries you into pretty exciting places, not only into whitewater but into the byways and off-beaten places….You are removed entirely from the mundane aspects of ordinary life. You’re witnessing first hand beauty and peace and freedom – especially freedom….Flirtation with the wilderness is contact with truth, because the truth is in nature….I like to identify myself with something that is stable and enduring. Although [nature] is in a state of flux, it is enduring. It is where reality is. I appreciate the canoe for its gifts in that direction. – Kirk Wipper, from CBC Radio’s  Ideas program The Perfect Machine: The Canoe.

Watercraft was humankind’s most important conveyance outside of walking. – Kirk Wipper

In its contemporary use, the canoe and kayak become a medium to experience peace, beauty, freedom and adventure. These values are of utmost significance in a world which has lost much of its contact with the profound lessons learned in nature. To travel the paths in natural places makes all the differences and in this the canoe and kayak are essential partners. – Kirk Wipper

Tho’ they rest inside, in our dreams they’ll glide

On the crests of streams of yore.

In the mid-day sun, they’ll make their run

and night on a distant shore.

The travelers are gone their unmatched brawn

Who plied the mapless ways

But their craft we keep tho the paddlers sleep.

Their stars we seek today. – from Kanawa Collection (now the Canadian Canoe Museum)

A better understanding of one’s past can only lead to better understanding of one’s present and one’s future. (Quote from slide at Kirk Wipper’s presentation in Gravenhurst in October 2010)

You have to do what you can, do your best with what you are. And you have to believe in wilderness. If you do that you can’t go wrong. –  Kirk Albert Walter Wipper b Grahamdale, Manitoba, December 6th, 1923 d Peterborough, Ontario, March 18, 2011

Kirk Wipper passed away suddenly last night….Kevin Callan posted the following on his Paddler\’s Guide To Happy Camping: Kirk Wipper, A Legend In The Canoe World, Has Passed Away :

Kirk Wipper, a legend in the canoe world, has passed away

 Posted on March 19, 2011 at 8:23 am

Kirk at home; photo from James Raffan’s email.

Very sad news. I received an email from James Raffan this morning informing me that Kirk Wipper, an absolute legend in the canoe world, has passed away. I’ll let James’ email below (and the attached video) inform you of his passing and why he was such a special man – but I’d like to add that it was Kirk who was responsible for me writing all those guide books throughout my career, as well as keeping my sense of humour during my speaking events. Years ago he came up to me after I delivered a humorous presentation to a crowd at a canoe festival I once organized in Peterborough, shook my hand with a tight grip, and said “Focus your gift at keeping them going out there; it’s the only way were going to save the wilderness we have left out there.”

Thank you Kirk. You truly will be missed.

Here’s James Raffan’s email sent to me:

I regret to inform you that Kirk died suddenly last evening. He was with Ann and friends at Elmhirst’s Resort and, apparently, choked on a piece of meat and they were unable to clear his airway. His neighbour Don White called from the Peterborough Hospital at about 11:40 to relay the sad news. Ann’s son Mike was with them, as are the friends and neighbours so she is not alone. I know you will join me in conveying heartfelt condolences to Ann and the rest of Kirk’s family.

One of Kirk’s favourite poets was 19th Century English writer William Arthur Dunkerley, who, under the pen name John Oxenham, wrote, “For death begins with life’s first breath, and life begins at the touch of death.” So ends and era. And so begins another, hard as that is to fathom at this moment.

As you may know, Kirk was honoured last fall with the Ron Johnston Lifetime Achievement Award by his peers and colleagues in the Ontario Camping Association. In conjunction with this honour, the OCA made a short film to mark the occasion. (NOTE: I have included the OCA short film from YouTube.)


Near the end of this retrospective on his life, Kirk—prophetically, as it turns out—recites a poem called “The Way” by John Oxenham.  There will be much more to be said and done to mark the passing of this life that has brought us all together, this life that has done so much for Canada  … but until we all get organized and back on our feet I leave you with these words spoken by Kirk himself just a couple of months ago and send them along with stunned disbelief, I’m sure you share, that the time has come to say goodbye to our old friend.

To every man there openeth

A Way and Ways and A Way

And the High Soul climbs the High Way

And the Low Soul gropes the Low

And in between on the misty flats

The rest drift to and fro;

But to every man there openeth

A Way and Ways and The Way (this is Kirk’s personal variant on the poet’s original line)

And every man decideth

The way his soul shall go

This past evening, sadly, a High Soul has paddled on.

Details about arrangements will follow.


“You have to do what you can, do your best with what you are.  And you have to believe in wilderness.  If you do that you can’t go wrong.”

Kirk Albert Walter Wipper

b Grahamdale, Manitoba, December 6th, 1923

d Peterborough, Ontario, March 18, 2011

Kirk Wipper has been mentioned many times on this blog….someone who was that important to canoeing and the outdoors had to be mentioned frequently. But it was Kirk’s influence….his teaching….his mentorship….and his friendship that encouraged and inspired me to get involved in not just canoeing and the outdoors….but in so many other things too. To strive to be the best I could be. For many reasons this blog is a ‘reflection’ of what Kirk taught me.

When I was a student (in University of Toronto’s Physical and Health Education program), I worked for Kirk at Kandalore. As I’ve already stated, Kirk Wipper was somebody who you couldn’t help but be inspired by. He made you get involved in the outdoors….in the whole experience of being outside….in any weather or any season….but he was most infestious when it came to canoeing. Kirk had built up a collection of canoes, kayaks, rowing craft, and skin boats that was then known as the Kanawa Canoe Museum (most of the collection is now in the Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough). Kanawa was found on the same property as Camp Kandalore was….Kandalore was a boys’ tripping camp that stressed canoeing in its programs….especially tripping throughout Ontario from Algonquin and Temagami, with the more senior trips taking routes to James Bay. The canoe was certainly a focal point to the entire Kandalore experience….whether at the summer camp or programs run in the off season for various groups. So it was a “privilege” to be hired as Kandalore staff….I hadn’t come up through the system as a camper….I wasn’t one of the “Kandalore Boys”….but I loved all that Kandalore stood for after having been up there for a week or two as a Phys. Ed. student at the required fall camp in second year. And Kirk made me feel that Kandalore was fortunate to have me as a staff member….despite that at the time I lacked many of the skills needed by either a paddler or even a camp counsellor. But Kirk was able to paint things in a very positive light most times….and it was hard to turn him down in any request….whether working at Kandalore….or picking up a canoe for the museum in some far-off province….or helping to build Kanawa’s log building by “taking” a log building course there run by Alan Mackie….Kirk had a way to get things done….and getting others involved. So I learned a lot from Kirk (or at least because of him)….learning much as I went along on an incredible journey that continues today. I have much to thank Kirk for. Through Kirk’s friendship and mentorship, I pursued a career in outdoor education.

Unfortunately, over the years I lost personal contact with Kirk. In the autumn of 2009, I decided to get in touch with Kirk as I understood he’d not been in the best of health….and I wanted to thank him for the big influence he was in my life….even at times when I was unaware of such influence. My Dad had recently passed away and he was a Navy vet like Kirk…and about the same age. I guess my Dad’s passing got me to thinking about the people in my life who have played a role in shaping the person I am….the good aspects of that person any way (I made a few mistakes of my own doing along the way….but I got things back on track eventually…especially through remembering the important things people like Kirk had taught me). And I wanted to thank Kirk for all he taught me as both a student of his and as my friend.

With the help of James Raffan, I was able to reconnect with Kirk Wipper. Despite his bout of ill health, he had recently been one of the revellers at the Beaver Club Gala fundraiser for The Canadian Canoe Museum, dressed in full Nor’Wester regalia and kicking up his octogenarian heels. Any way after getting in touch with Kirk, we made plans to get together in person. Not that easy. Kirk still kept a busy schedule….plus he and Ann were often travelling. Finally at the 2010 Wilderness Canoe Symposium (February 2010), Kirk and I had our reunion. We both shared some stories over lunch (Kirk’s were better than mine….well at least his were funny….or is that ‘punny’ LOL LOL).

Shortly afterward, I visited Kirk and his lovely wife Ann….I was welcomed into their beautiful century stone farm house just east of Peterborough. We sat and talked for a bit….it was a great visit, again sharing more stories and laughs. Well actually we didn’t sit still all that long. What I remember most out of that visit was that, despite using a walking stick, Kirk could still move faster than most half his age….he literally darted from room to room showing me his different collected treasures….many with ties to canoes and canoeing….among which were some amazing paddles on display, many beautifully decorated.

Kirk and I; photo by Barry Wallace.

As part of my tribute to Kirk Wipper, I thought I would share some things I posted on past blog posts regarding Kirk. To provide yet more insight into this amazing Canadian.

In my ongoing research on canoeing and paddling, I checked out the CBC website for previous shows on canoes and canoeing….I came across the following shows listed in their archives,, or as the CBC describes it:

A Passion for Paddling: Canoeing in Canada

The need to navigate the waters prompted native North Americans to invent the canoe. Hundreds of years later, their creation has become a favourite Canadian pastime. Many use canoeing as a means of finding tranquility in nature; others take it up as a sport. Some even view it as an art form. The CBC Digital Archives takes a look at the storied history of gliding along the water with paddle in hand.

This included a very fine TV documentary made for The National, entitled The Canoe: A True ‘Wonder’. This was an interview with Kirk Wipper by Mark Kelly….on the reasons why the canoe should be named as one of the ‘Seven Wonders of Canada’ (as the CBC listener poll did). As the website describes:

The canoe: a true ‘Wonder’

Broadcast Date: May 14, 2007

There were canoes before there was a Canada, Mark Kelley reminds us. To drive home the canoe’s great historical significance, he goes paddling on the Indian River near Peterborough, Ont. with lifelong canoeing advocate Kirk Wipper. In between strokes, Wipper says that if he could remake the Canadian flag, he’d trade the maple leaf for a canoe. In this report from The National, Wipper reminds us that “Canada’s whole history is related to canoeing … explorers, missionaries, engineers, militia … and then of course the fur trade.”

The canoe: a true ‘Wonder’

• The canoe was selected as one of the Seven Wonders of Canada in the 2007 CBC competition. • The judges chose the canoe even though it fell far short in the number of online votes, where it received 17,470 nods. Conversely, the audience’s top choice – the Sleeping Giant (Sibley Peninsula) near Thunder Bay, Ont. – garnered 177,305 votes.

• The Seven Wonders competition was sponsored by CBC-TV’s The National and CBC Radio One’s Sounds Like Canada. After viewers nominated their choice of ‘wonders,’ online voting determined a shortlist. A panel of judges then determined the winners based on geography and poetic criteria. Besides the canoe, the Seven Wonders are: the igloo, Niagara Falls, Old Quebec, Pier 21, the Rockies and prairie skies.

The canoe: a true ‘Wonder’, Medium: Television, Program: The National, Broadcast Date: May 14, 2007, Guest(s): Kirk Wipper, Reporter: Mark Kelley,Duration: 4:09

For more on Kirk Wipper, see this 1978 report from Take 30,

Danger comes quickly in a canoe, Broadcast Date: Sept. 13, 1978

A canoe capsizes suddenly and throws two paddlers into the water. It has also hit one of them on the head, knocking him unconscious. Fortunately, this is just a demonstration and the young man’s skilled partner knows exactly what to do. This 1978 report from Take 30 emphasizes the importance of using your canoe to recover from an accident, something that Kirk Wipper understands well. The canoeing expert and University of Toronto professor says that in cases of mishap the vessel is rarely to blame. “The canoe basically is very safe as the native people proved for centuries,” he says. “This was the basic mode of movement in this great continent.”

Both are great interviews with Kirk….well worth checking out for those pieces alone….

In October 2009, Kirk spoke at the Muskoka Wharf (at the Muskoka Boat & Heritage Centre – Grace & Speed Boathouse). Brian Hayden (who I have mentioned in previous posts on this blog) was present during Kirk’s talk and filmed the presentation as part of his Docanoementary. Brian was kind enough to post two segments of this on YouTube.

As Brian describes of the first clip:

Kirk Wipper founder of the Canadian Canoe Museum gives a presentation on the Canoe. Kirk has an amazing sense of humour and is a natural personality. This is a short unedited clip that is part to my Docanoementary. Mr. Wipper gave insight to the meaning and application of the Canoe thru his personal experience and life long passion for this vehicle that is so much part of Canadian culture and history.

A second piece continues Kirk’s discussion which Brian describes as:

A scene of Kirk Wipper founder of the Canadian Canoe Museum speaking about the Canoe and its significance in Canadian Culture. A second scene is Kirk Wipper talking about Pierre Trudeau and his paddling skills that the RCMP had difficulty with…lol. Kirk is really a very good story teller and the Trudeau story is great.

Brian’s short film vignettes captured the essence of Kirk Wipper….his passion for the canoe and for wilderness….and his humour. I loved his story about Pierre Trudeau….and also about his desire to go around and take the maple leaf off the Canadian flag and replace it with a canoe (probably a red canoe)….Kirk talks about the canoe being recognized by the CBC poll as one of Canada’s Seven Wonders. Although very short this is pure Kirk Wipper.

Sometime back, I started a series of photo collages geared towards folks I felt had motivated me in getting outdoors….out canoeing….sometimes directly….other times just as a kind of influence….the people I chose to do were Archie Belaney, aka Grey Owl (his stories were part of my childhood….and his involvement in Temagami was also a factor); Tom Thomson whose art definitely captured the love of the North (and an artist’s eye from a canoeist’s standpoint) and mysterious death has caught my interest too; Omer Stringer for being a paddling guru; and Bill Mason for all his books and films….he was so important to canoeing in Canada. But I hadn’t included one individual who was very much involved in my development in canoeing and as a person….Kirk Wipper. His collection of canoes which now makes up most of the Canadian Canoe Museum was very much a part of that education as was Camp Kandalore. So here is my photo collage to Kirk Wipper….thanks Kirk for the amazing adventure:

Kirk Wipper was considered by many as the father of environmental education in Canada and was a long time leader of the outdoor education movement across North America.  Among several of his international affiliations included his long time service with various Canadian camping organizations (including the Ontario Camps Association and American Camping Society), and his work as founder of Camp Kandalore.  His canoe collection provided the foundation basis for the Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough, Ontario. Kirk was very involved in environmental issues and organizations, which include being a Patron of the Canadian River Management Society (CRMS).

Kirk was also a founding member of the Canadian Recreational Canoeing Association, as well as a past president … now Paddle Canada. He was President Emeritus of Paddle Canada. Kirk received, in 2002, Canada’s highest civilian honour – The Order of Canada — for his outstanding, lifetime contribution to the field of envioronmental education in Canada.

Kirk joined the faculty of the School of Physical and Health Education at the University of Toronto in 1950, where he was an Assistant Professor until his retirement in 1987. This is where I got to know him originally as a student. One of his primary concerns was how to pass on to young people an appreciation for our natural surroundings and our colourful heritage. This led Kirk to own and direct a summer camp for boys in Haliburton, Camp Kandalore. Recognized as a pioneer in the development of outdoor education in Canada, Kirk owned Camp Kandalore for a number of years.

As James Raffan (a ‘Kandalore boy’ himself) wrote in Bark, Skin and Cedar:

After service in the Canadian Naval Reserve during World War II,  Wipper, a man of German stock from the Interlake region of Manitoba, came to the University of Toronto, where he studied physical and health education and subsequently became a professor. But, through his connection with the YMCA in Winnipeg, he became involved with the Y in toronto, which led him to Pinecrest, their summer camp in Muskoka….Wipper eventually found the wherewithal to purchase Kandalore, a fledgling boys’ camp, in the late 1950s. And, with a philosophy that embodied the character-development goals of the Algonquin camps and the best wilderness-tripping traditions of the Temagami camps, he built a leadership infrastructure that informed the lives of many Ontario boys. (pp.131-132)

Kandalore developed into one of the premier camps, especially in the areas of canoeing and canoe-tripping.

Kirk Wipper became well known as the founder and director of the Kanawa International Museum….later to become the Canadian Canoe Museum, now the largest in the world. In the 1950’s, he began collecting canoes and kayaks at Kandalore, in Haliburton, Ontario.  It all started as one old canoe from a former professor of Kirk’s that was displayed in the Kandalore dining hall. Over a 45-year period, Kirk collected more than 500 canoes and kayaks which now form the greater part of the exhibits at the Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough, Ontario (a group of interested people from the area acquired the collection from Kirk). Kirk was still involved with the Museum, acting as a volunteer resource person for the collection.

Kirk Wipper held a number of degrees: a Bachelor of Phys. Ed., Bachelor of Social Work, Master of Arts, and Master of Education from the University of Toronto, and a Doctor of Museology from Wolfe University. He also ran an excellent TV series for CBC named, ‘Walk with Kirk’.

As a retired professor of physical and health education at the University of Toronto, Kirk received numerous honours for his contributions to the University. As well he was frequently honoured for his dedication to conservation and the outdoors. Known as a man of vision and determination he helped, in his many endeavours, to bring alive the history and culture of our nation.

He was a Fellow of Explorers International and a recipient of the Government of Canada Centenary Medal and the Ontario Bicentennial Medal. He was also named to the Order of Canada. After retiring from the University of Toronto in 1987, Kirk served as President of the Royal Life Saving Society of Canada and National Director of the Duke of Edinburgh Awards in Canada.

Although he had recently celebrated his 88th birthtday, Kirk, along with his best friend, 97-year old Algonquin First Nations grand hereditary chief, “Grandfather” William Commanda, was still very active in many environmental and aboriginal issues in Canada. This past autumn, they were both paddled on the Ottawa River as part of a ceremony to promote protection of the environment.

When the canoe collection was at Kandalore, and still known as the Kanawa Collection, Kirk included an extra verse to The Old Canoe (by George Marsh) in the promotional material for the collection. Kirk wrote this additional verse himself. I have included it here:


My seams gape wide so I’m tossed aside

To rot on a lonely shore While the leaves

and mould like a shroud enfold,

For the last of my trails are o’er; But I

float in my dreams on Northland streams

That never again I’ll see, As I lie on

the marge of the old portage

With grief for company.

When the sunset gilds the timbered hills

That guard Temagami, And

moonbeams play on far James Bay

By the brink of the frozen sea, In

phantom guise my Spirit flies

As the dream blades dip and swing

Where the waters flow from#the Long Ago

In the spell of the beck’ning spring.

Do the cow-moose call on the Montreal

When the first frost bites the air,

And the mists unfold from the red and gold

That the autumn ridges wear? When the

white falls roar as they did of yore

On the Lady Evelyn, Do the square-tail leap from

the black pools deep

Where the pictured rocks begin?

Oh! the fur-fleets sing on Teraiskaming

As the ashen paddles bend, And

the crews carouse at Rupert House

At the sullen winter’s end; But my days are

done where the lean wolves run,

And I’ll ripple no more the path Where the gray

geese race ‘cross the red moon’s face

From the white wind’s Arctic wrath.

Tho’ the death fraught way from the Saguenay

To the storied Nipigon Once knew me

well, now a crumbling shell

I watch the years roll on. While

in memory’s haze I live the days

That forever are gone for me, As I

rot on the marge of the old portage With

grief for company. George T. Marsh.

The additional verse:

Tho’ they rest inside, in our dreams they’ll glide

On the crests of the streams of yore In

the mid-day sun, they’ll make their run

And night on a distant shore. The trav’llers

are gone with their unmatched brawn

Who plied the mapless way But their craft we

keep, tho’ the paddlers sleep;

Their stars we seek today. ” – Kirk A. W. Wipper.

As I’ve already mentioned several times, I was a Phys. Ed. student of Kirk’s at U of T in the 70s…. and I worked for him at Kandalore….even got involved with Kanawa with his “encouragement” (Kirk was very good at getting one involved). Kirk will be missed by so many….not just in the paddling world. He encouraged many of us to do ‘great’ things….no matter how small they might seem (or actually be). My thoughts go out to Kirk’s family….especially his wife Ann.

Kirk was a mentor and inspiration to so many of us involved in canoeing and the outdoors. James Raffan, the Executive Director of the Canadian Canoe Museum, was a “Kandalore boy”. I know Kirk was very important in my life….I have learned so much from him….he became more than just my Prof….he became my friend and mentor….from Kirk I learned to have a “quest for zest”….even to come up with terrible puns LOL LOL (or “Wipperisms”)….mostly Kirk showed me that you could do anything if you wanted it bad enough….he taught me to follow my dreams. I feel very very fortunate to have known Kirk as well as I did. To me he is among the “royalty” of canoeing and the outdoors in Canada….alongside such names as Bill Mason, Omer Stringer, Pierre Trudeau and Walter Walker. Thanks Kirk for all you taught me. Paddles up then!!!!

NOTE: I apologize if this post seems rambling or repetitive….like many of us, I’m still somewhat shocked at Kirk’s passing….and I thought it was important to offer some insight into of the man….share some memories of….and to pay tribute to this great Canadian….hopefully to give you an idea who Kirk was even if you hadn’t met him. Let me close by again saying that my thoughts and prayers are with the family….especially Kirk’s wife, Ann.