In the very early days of the North Country Men’s Club, when the founders all lived in Buffalo, the signature outing was a spring canoe trip to Algonquin Provincial Park northeast of Toronto.
In the minds of the NCMC, a spring trip meant few other campers and no bugs. The “no bugs” part of the equation meant a trip in early May, before black flies and other biting insects came to life in search of blood.
The NCMC had its own camping gear for these trips, but would rent Grumman aluminum canoes, old mildewed life jackets (we did not call them vests or PFDs back then) and heavy, banged-up wooden paddles with beaver tail blades from an Algonquin outfitter.
These spring trips to Ontario’s paddling mecca were usually colder and grayer than the NCMC would have liked, but they certainly beat the bugs. Jack’s fellow scientist, Patrick, gave the three founders the fourth they needed to man two canoes on a couple of these trips. Patrick, whose last name was Vanrooey or something close to that, was from Belgium, and he called Jack “Jock” and Billy “Beely.” He was a good guy, although Tom expressed consternation once when Patrick, on a particularly soggy trip, when the woods were dripping wet and the sun never shone, made them put out a dismal smoky fire one night before they retired. Tom had wanted to let the modest fire be so that there might be a few embers remaining the next morning that they could coax into a blaze under the wet and cold conditions.
One spring trip on which the weather proved mild and dry included Mike Maghran, who paddled with Jack while Tom paired with Bill. At one point on the voyage, Jack persuaded the group to bypass a portage between two lakes and navigate the watercourse that connected them. His notion was that the high water of spring would make an otherwise impractical plan a prudent one.
“Jack is always trying to do the impossible,” Bill muttered as they watched Jack’s and Mike’s canoe head to the outlet of the lake. They paddled on, until their course got so narrow and shallow that Bill got out of the canoe and began to haul it by a rope in the way that Humphrey Bogart pulled the African Queen. Turning back at one point toward Tom, who remained in the boat, Bill queried, “Which way, Bwana?”
The NCMC editor does not have much more information about the portage, although it is probably safe to say that the time and effort required to get from one lake to the next was probably equal to what the portage would have entailed. With that in mind, it was probably a good idea on Jack’s part.
The spring Algonquin trips, circa 1980, were eventually replaced by memorable summer canoe trips to the park, during which the NCMC discovered that “crowded” is a relative term. The NCMC spring canoe trip has lived on, however, in the form of outings to Adirondack lake country (There are reports on this web site about spring Adirondack trips to the Bog River Flow and Weller Pond in Middle Saranac Lake).
The slide show that accompanies this look back at early NCMC Algonquin history features photos from the trip on which Mike joined the founders. The presence of head nets indicates that a black fly or two must have strafed the group.
Gallery: Early Algonquin Park