Two timber wolves, trotting in tandem, cross the lumber trail ahead of us and melt silently into the bush. From our canoe we note the submerged snout of a swimming beaver as it pushes an arrowhead of ripples toward a sticks-and-mud lodge in the centre of the wilderness lake. Somewhere in the forest the hollow hammering of a woodpecker is heard as he searches for his lunch. This is the Canada of the voyageur.
For people who live in southern Ontario the most accessible place to enjoy the wilderness experience is Algonquin Park, just three hours north of Toronto. If you are a back-to-nature family or group you can enjoy a basic yet comfortable holiday at a log cabin lodge on the edge of the park. Ideal for nature lovers, the cabin is run like a little wilderness hotel and can accommodate 12 guests. Groups of eight or more can get it all to themselves. The lodge is a two-storey structure made out of huge pine logs and located on Surprise Lake close to the northern tip of Algonquin Park. It is simple but comfortable. Each bedroom is equipped with single bunks and a skylight.
Beaver lodges abound in the area. There are moose, deer, timber wolves, mink, fox, lynx, black bear, porcupine, grey owls, great horned owls and great blue heron. In the many lakes you can catch rainbow trout, speckled trout, splake, pike and bass.
There is no electricity, no television and no telephone to interfere with the peacefulness of the surrounding lakes and forest. But there are indoor toilets, a stone fireplace, propane light, candles and Coleman lamps, plus a cook who produces barbecued venison and garlic bread that will make your mouth water. (He even produced apple crisp with a candle in it for a guest who was celebrating her birthday.)
With the cabin as base camp you set out on canoe trips, hiking jaunts overnight camping trips in the bush, interpretative walks or shore lunches. Or you can just settle quietly in at the lodge to enjoy the silence and to swim in Surprise Lake. The lodge is operated by Voyageur Quest whose director John Langford has been providing guided nature adventures in Ontario for about 10 years.
Guests can enjoy a three-day stay with brief forays on foot or on water into the forest. They can book guided tours or function independently. Or they can involve the family in longer camping adventures. The camp runs all year with cross-country skiing, snowshoe trails and dogsledding in winter. Parties are led by teams of guides and support staff.
A typical five-day package includes hiking and canoeing with the chance to fish and swim in pristine waters as well as opportunities to see wildlife. The last one or two days allow guests to use the cabin as a base camp for nature hikes, to lunch in the bush and enjoy the experience of handling a big eight-metre, traditional voyageur canoe. Evenings are spent over dinners of beef stew and wild rice plus corn bread and maple syrup, followed by twilight excursions into the bush to observe wildlife and, if youčre lucky, to communicate with timber wolves in the still of a northern night. Cost of a three-day package starts at $375.
For more information, contact Voyageur Quest at 599 Millwood Rd., Toronto, Ont., M4S 1K7, or call (416) 486-3605; fax (416) 486-3604; toll free, (800) 794-9660.