Cover photo: Grey Owl and Me


Grey Owl and Me

Stories from the Trail and Beyond

by Hap Wilson

Illustrated by Hap Wilson and Ingrid Zschogner

Hap Wilson has come out with his third memoir, Grey Owl and Me. Like its predecessors, The Cabin and Trails and Tribulations, it takes us on another passionate journey through his outsized life. There are canoe trips across the Barrens, a Hollywood cameo teaching Pierce Brosnan to throw knives, the battle against chainsaws in Temagami and a media-gig-gone-bad when angry Maritime sealers send him fleeing into a wintry night.

If you are looking for tips on bush life, he offers those too. “How do you properly cook a loon? You throw a rock in the pot with the loon, and then when you can stick a fork in the rock, you throw away the loon and eat the rock.”

Between his wilderness adventures and media profile, he has been swaddled in glamour. If there was an Outside magazine list of the most lithe and ruggedly handsome adventurers of the year, he’d be on it.

But scratch the surface and there is peeling paint. Physically he has been hobbled by his harsh outdoor life at the knees, requiring repeated surgery. There is also a tragic trail: broken marriages.

It is hard not to see all of these as parallels to the other icon of the Temagami wilds: Grey Owl, the conservationist and author.  About a third of the book is Hap's struggle to come to terms with their distant yet linked lives.

The rest of the book covers his adventures. If you enjoyed his other hilarious and jaw-dropping memoirs, you won’t be disappointed. This one, too, is sprinkled with sparks of brilliant and insightful writing.

There are pen-and-ink illustrations throughout by Hap and Ingrid Zschogner that complement the narrative. My favourite is Grey Owl riding a Harley.

I am an old friend of Hap’s and glad to be on his good side. I would not want to have taken the drubbing he gives Pierce Brosnan. For that rough and tumble tale, you will have to, no, must read the book.

Reviewed September 12, 2010 by Brian Back

Paperback: 244 pp, $26.99 CDN

Publisher: Natural Heritage Books

Availability: Bookstores and Chat Noir Books, New Liskeard


BACKGROUND: Hap Wilson bio

                        Books by Hap


Cover photo: Ontario's Old-Growth Forests


Ontario's Old-Growth Forests

A Guidebook Complete with History, Ecology, and Maps

by Michael Henry and Peter Quinby

It is not often that a book comes along that reveals the uniqueness of Temagami and deepens our understanding of it.

This is one such book. Although it is devoted to all of Ontario’s old growth forests, Temagami is in the orchestra seats.

   A must read

Michael Henry and Peter Quinby began the book six years ago with the intention of writing a hiking guide to the most interesting and most accessible old-growth stands. I was excited because people wanted to visit these newly revealed Valhallas, but there was no list or published maps to them, except to some stands in Temagami.

I was also disappointed because Henry and Quinby are two rare experts on old growth in eastern Canada. No, that’s not a good description. Their knowledge makes them national treasures. They should have been writing more than a guide book. They should have been producing the old-growth Gospels.

 Photo:  McLaren Forest giant white pine off Hwy 11
   McLaren Forest giant off Hwy 11

When Henry asked me to contribute pieces on Alex Mathias and the Red Squirrel blockades, I could see the project growing. Now, I look at the book with its colour photos, colour maps, natural history, human history, and large format, and it has exceeded my hopes. Despite the authors’ scientific pedigree, the writing is down to earth and lively.

If you want to learn about old growth — which is not just old trees, but old ecosystems with old trees — this is the book. If you want to see a new dimension to Temagami, this is the book.

Ironically, it was made possible by the Temagaminvironmental battle. The Temagami Wilderness Society was fighting the Red Squirrel Road expansion in 1987 and we were trying to learn as much as we could about the forest they planned to log. I was the executive director, but not a naturalist. So I had to learn to explore the forest in a way I had never as a canoeist.


During tours led by foresters of the pine stands designated to be logged, it became obvious that there were similarities to the old growth on the West Coast. But no one had ever made the connection. No one thought of them as remotely old growth. I did. But I got no respect.

We needed an independent scientist to say it. I went looking in the winter of 1988, but found no one who had done any research. That is how Peter Quinby, then a newly minted forest-ecology doctorate, and I met. The Temagami Wilderness Society decided to undertake the research, and were calling it the Tall Pines Project. We needed a research scientist. Quinby got the job.

After a summer of field research, he was excited by what he found and wrote the original scientific papers on old-growth forest in eastern North America. He went on to become an authority on eastern old growth and launched Ancient Forest Exploration & Research. Quinby recruited Henry to AFER 13 years ago. They have spent that time finding old-growth stands across Ontario along with their inhabitants — red crossbill, pine marten, silver-haired bat, hoary bat, little brown bat and northern long-eared bat.

Henry and Quinby found the Blueberry Lake old growth and built the trails. They found the 500-year-old cedar on an island on Lake Temagami. They found the 400-year-old white pine in the White Bear Forest off Snake Island Lake and the one near Marten River. They found a large portion of the Spanish River old growth, the Burnroot Lake hemlock forest in Algonquin Park, and a number of the oldest and biggest trees in Ontario. Their work led to permanent protection for ancient stands across central and northern Ontario.

Did you know there is rainforest in Ontario? There is, and it is boreal forest. I had thought boreal rainforest was a nonsequitur. It is rare, and normally close to oceans. Oddly this one lies on the northeast shore of Lake Superior, not on salt water.

Old growth stands are not easy to visit, and it was often this inaccessibility that saved them from the saw. But if you want an easy treat you can visit one old giant — 127 centimetres in diameter and likely 400 to 500 years of age — on your next drive north. Look up the McLaren Forest section for directions. This tree, one of the largest in Ontario, is just north of Marten River, 50 metres off Hwy 11!

There are guides and maps to a number of Temagami stands: Obabika North, Lake Temagami's Skyline Reserve and islands, Temagami Island, White Bear Forest, Rabbit Lake West Conservation Reserve, Cassels Lake Narrows, Blueberry Lake Forest, and Wolf Lake.

These two have their feet planted on the cutting edge of science and discovery. Join them in discovering the new in the old.

Reviewed December 9, 2009 by Brian Back

Paperback: 232 pp, $40.00 CDN

Publisher: Fitzhenry & Whiteside

Dimensions: 8 x 10 in.

Availability: All bookstores, offered as low as $25


EXTERNAL WEBSITES:  Table of Contents

                                   Official book site

                                  Ancient Forest Exploration & Research  

Cover photo: Trails and Tribulations


Trails and Tribulations

Confessions of a Wilderness Pathfinder

by Hap Wilson

Have you ever dreamt of splitting for the freedom of the bush and starting over? If so, you have a mentor in Hap Wilson.

Splice together the DNA of Grey Owl, Tom Thomson and Wade Davis, and voila, there's Hap. He was Pierce Brosnan’s paddling and axe-throwing instructor for his role in Grey Owl. Paddler magazine enshrined him as a Canadian Paddler of the Century.

His prowess and reputation were birthed and nursed in Temagami. The 1960s marked the death throes of bush life. Trapping, the only source of income to be made from living in the backcountry, could no longer support a family.

Ethno-geographer Craig Macdonald's nastawgan map has blank areas because his 1970s research could find no one left from those old neighbourhoods to trace the trails.

Hap arrived in Temagami during these sunset years, bent on turning the clock back. As he described in his most-recent book, The Cabin, he spent a few years over-wintering in various buildings he constructed, but those efforts produced no income. At least once, illegal occupation of Crown land had to be terminated before the law caught up.

He got a job working for MNR as backcountry ranger — one of the last before the babiche seat was replaced by the swivel chair —and somehow convinced his boss to publish his book of canoe routes. That book, Temagami Canoe Routes, with its hand-drawn maps and pen-and-ink illustrations became the first published maps of the area’s routes. It put the romance in Temagami and Temagami put the romance in it. The book’s success launched his reputation as the monarch of muskeg.  

He got no royalties so he scraped together a living in the off-season with art commissions. But he and his wife came up with a better idea: Smoothwater Outfitters, a business that outfitted and guided trips for Yuppies and Europeans. It is still operating today, though Hap is no longer connected with it.

That is freedom, you say.

He calculates that he has travelled 60,000 kilometres in a canoe – a quarter under it on portages. In four decades he has had more adventures than the rest of us could expect in four lifetimes.

Oh, yes, freedom.

In the years I have known him, he has never been afraid to say bluntly what was on his mind, even in public, thereby earning a reputation as the Bad Boy of the Bush (to date no indictments have been announced). It didn’t matter if he was bashing MNR, the logging companies or local politicians.

That frankness makes Trails and Tribulations a rewarding read.  “In my opinion,” he writes, “Temagami is a rather unprogressive town. It prides itself on its ability not to attract business or tourists.”

Many of the chapters delve into threats to the wilderness but often Hap charges after not-so-obvious targets. He cannot tolerate those who oppose the plundering of the forest yet fail to walk softly themselves, even if they are friends like “Mr. Flagging Tape.” Many of us will recognize this thinly disguised villain who has marked portages for clearing with “festoons of the tape, hanging like Tibetans’ prayer flags.”

And he doesn’t spare himself when swinging the brush axe. He confesses that he used his outfitting business to try to protect the old growth by assisting people in getting there, but in the act they trampled the ecosystem. “Humans do have a way of ‘loving things to death.’ And I was a part of the problem.”

There is no shortage of humour. While spending the night in the Maple Mountain fire tower with some buddies, they urinated out the windows, accidentally spraying his wife as she stepped out of her tent below.

That is freedom.

While working as a ranger on the Maple Mountain tower trail he encountered someone descending with an aluminum canoe. The portager bragged that he was the first to take a canoe to the top. Hap took morbid pleasure in deflating his reverie by telling him that a Keewaydin guide had done it the year before.

These kinds of books usually revel in the glamour and the adventure, but as he relates stories of deranged customers, you realize all is not sunny in paradise. “If you worship the outdoors,” he writes, “if you love Nature in all its splendor; if you are a devoted participant in canoeing, kayaking, hiking or skiing… then my best advice to you is not to go into business as an adventure outfitter.”

Why, you ask? “Because you will become bitter, resentful, stale, cynical, jealous…” Though he does admit — thereby proving that I might have chosen the wrong line of work — the sex was great.

Although the wilderness stories and essays are not limited to Temagami, the themes are universal to anywhere you can float a canoe.

It is his best book yet and does not suffer the poor editing of the last. If you can steal some time from dreaming about your next trip to Florence Lake then read this memoir.

As he says, “We lust after other people’s freedom.”

But after a lifetime of freedom, was he really free? Read it, and decide.

Reviewed November 12, 2009 by Brian Back

Paperback: 216 pp, $26.99 CDN

Publisher: Natural Heritage Books

Availability: Bookstores and Chat Noir Books, New Liskeard


BACKGROUND: Hap Wilson bio

                        Books by Hap


Cover photo: The Cabin


The Cabin

A Search for Personal Sanctuary

by Hap Wilson

“But you love Temagami more than you love me,” Hap Wilson’s wife tells him in The Cabin. He doesn’t answer out of the fear of his own words.

There is no doubt of his love for Temagami among the fans he has garnered through eight illustrated books and his guided backcountry trips. The only more famous Temagami guide is Grey Owl. Ironically, Hap served as a technical advisor on Grey Owl filmed by Richard Attenborough.

This is his first non-travel book and you won’t be dealt that perfect National Geographic image. Hap exposes some callouses and axe wounds. He is, and always has been, artist, outfitter, guide and writer, the vocations of those who are beholding to no one, for better or for worse. You will discover a free spirit, looking for freedom from his spirit. It is not a complete memoir, but he touches on all the major periods of his life.

He takes us through some crazy adventures and hair-raising misadventures, most of which are set in Temagami, all focused around some cabin — though this may be an overly generous description of some —  he has built or moved into. And Hap has had many.

The book is slow going until page 41 when the reader is introduced to the underground cabin. Then, a teenager, Hap builds it on private property — not his — in a stand of trees belonging to the neighbourhood’s Voldemort. He plays hooky to do the work. Amazingly, he manages to finish without getting caught. Of course, when Voldemort does find it, Hap gets a visit from the local police.

You would think this would discourage him from illegal occupations. The next cabin he secretly constructs is on Crown land on an un-named Temagami lake. This is a no-no with Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources. Hap then goes to work for the same ministry. Unfortunately, it finds the cabin and launches an investigation to find the owner. This guy is devoutly devoted to assisted suicide.

There are funny moments. Stephanie, his future wife, becomes infatuated with him. He is less intoxicated with her and decides to test her outdoor skills by asking her to take a piss in a canoe, thinking she would be stumped. He is wrong. I will let you read the book to find out how she did it.

There is lots of action and a few revelations. In 1992, there is a forest fire on the Lady Evelyn River in the heart of Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Wilderness Park. It is officially attributed to an unattended campfire. Fortunately, fire crews managed to stop its progress, limiting it to 771 hectares. Hap, who is at his cabin on the Lady Evelyn River just 10 kilometres downwind of the blaze, is forced to evacuate. During the Temagami Wilderness Society-led defense of the area in the 1980s, there had been plenty of local barroom threats to turn it into a “black forest” if it was preserved. Hap learns that the fire was started by Elk Lake residents determined to keep that vow.

The Lady Evelyn River cabin is the only private property in the park, pre-dating its creation. Perched at the lip of Cabin Falls, it is probably one of the most idyllic and stunning wilderness cabins in eastern Canada. Driven to spend the winter in his sanctuary, he drags along his wife, their infant and toddler in 2001. No electricity. No running water. Firewood for heat. Their only communication with the outside world is a finicky satellite telephone. With ice conditions slushy most of the winter, skiing out or a snowmobile coming in is not an option. Their only safety link is by ski-outfitted bush plane that can land at Divide Lake. You will find yourself taking one side or the other on the wisdom of taking his family with such young children.

We all have an imaginary sanctuary. Hap through sheer force of will has stepped beyond the imaginary and conjured up his dream place, more than once. You can’t read this without being shocked by his chutzpah and impressed with his determination.

Paperback: 175 pp, $24.95 CDN, $19.95 US

Publisher: Natural Heritage Books (2005)

Availability: Bookstores and Chat Noir Books, New Liskeard


BACKGROUND: Hap Wilson bio

                        Books by Hap

Reviewed February 21, 2006 by Brian Back

Cover photo: Winter on Diamond


Winter on Diamond

by Soren Bondrup-Nielsen

"Now is the time to live your dreams, while you still have the freedom to do so," Vagn Peterson said in the book. This is the story of the fulfillment of Hap Wilson and Soren Bondrup-Nielsen's dream of wintering in Temagami.

The 22-year-olds arrived at the Temagami train station in January, 1974, planning to squat for the winter in the old Murphy logging camp, which was then still standing, on Diamond Lake. While in town they intended to keep a low profile, so as to avoid tipping off the authorities. But that was nearly spoiled at their first meal when they entered the Busy Bee Restaurant in mukluks and heavy, winter clothes, and sat next to a perceptive Lands and Forests official.

Actually, they had a plan within the plan to stay in the logging camp while secretly completing the construction of a second cabin on a nearby lake between Diamond and Small lakes. between Diamond and Small lakes.

Rugged solitude is like an fiddle of introspection and Soren plays tunes for us. "When you struggle like we did, your focus narrows and becomes internal — you lose perspective. It is your struggle against the elements. I was not one with nature anymore, as I had felt when I had been sitting on the wanigan out on the lake. I struggled against nature and that was a hopeless battle. With the predominant philosophy that we humans are separate from nature, we think that it is nature we have to fight. This is of course wrong. We are a part of nature and our struggle is with ourselves."

There are plenty of adventures, surprises and humility in this easy read. If you ever dreamed of packing up a toboggan, strapping on snowshoes and heading out across the ice, here's a story for you. Maybe it'll still, or stir, those lingering regrets.

Paperback: 261 pp, $28.95

Publisher: Res Telluris (2004)

Availability: Publisher and Chat Noir Books

Reviewed January 11, 2005  



Hap's Canoeing, Kayaking & Hiking Temagami

The backcountry bible just keeps getting better

First, let's get the cliches out of the way: publishing sensation of the year, masterpiece, gem, must-have. If you plan to canoe, kayak or hike in Temagami, Chiniguchi, Wanapitei or on Timiskaming, this is the source — and has been since its first edition in 1978 (then called Temagami Canoe Routes).


Cover photo: Ontario's Lost Canoe Routes


Deep Waters

Courage, Character and the Lake Timiskaming Canoeing Tragedy

The drowning of 12 young students and a teacher 24 years ago on Lake Timiskaming was one of the worst canoeing tragedies in Canadian history. This is a touching and sobering story told by James Raffan. Included with the review are photos taken in the aftermath. REVIEW


Ontario's Lost Canoe Routes

Kevin Callan has written his sixth canoe-route guidebook. Not a cut-and-dried Frommer's Does Ontario by Canoe guidebook. No, this one has got attitude, the same attitude that have made his books so popular. 

Ontario's Lost Canoe Routes contains 15 Ontario routes, three of which are in the Temagami region: Chiniguchi (chih-nih-GOO-chee) River, Thunderhead-Bob lakes and Marten River Park. These Temagami routes are not as well known and, particularly in the case of the Thunderhead route, not well used. His goal for this book was to find and publish out-of-the-way routes before they are lost. 

And here is the dilemma. "How can a route be 'lost,' or better yet," he says in the introduction, "protected, if some wilderness pornographer like me writes about it in a guidebook?" This is the same dilemma Hap Wilson faced back in 1978 when he published Temagami Canoes Routes. In the end, both Hap and Kevin came to the same conclusions: use it or lose it. Publicizing them and getting canoeing traffic back on these old nastawgan puts the onus on the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) to protect them from industrialists and canoeists. (We won't get into the huge chasm between MNR's and the wilderness canoeist's concept of protection.)

Those who write up canoe routes have been criticized by some canoeists who see them opening up their private utopia. But I disagree with them because, sadly, reality is a harsh teacher. 

Kevin's route books are fun to read and he doesn't gloss over his own misfortunes or mistakes, often with self-deprecating humour. On his Chiniguchi trip, he dropped his canoe on a portage and soaked his first-aid kit. To bandage a cut he "had to resort to holding a piece of gauze over the cut with a strip of duct tape." Ouch.

The book has plenty of photos and every route is clearly mapped with interesting features, portages and campsites. Fortunately, he maps an  extension of the Chiniguchi trip through Evelyn Lake, but unfortunately doesn't flesh it out in the narrative. (Just can't get enough of this guy, I guess.)

There are a few minor factual errors in his research of some Temagami features. He attributed the Wakimika Triangle old-growth trails to Friends of Temagami, when they were built by Temagami Wilderness Society and Earthroots.

This book will help gain recognition for the 15 routes and provide some great choices off the beaten path. Even if you aren't intending to put your paddle in the water any time soon, the stories of his travels are so interesting that you will probably change your mind. 


Wabakimi Park (Smoothrock-Whitewater route)

Steel River Loop

Chapleau and Nemegosenda Rivers

Wakami Lake Loop

Ranger Lake Loop

Bark Lake Loop

Nabakwasi River Loop

Four M Circle Loop

Tatachikapika River

Chiniguchi River

Canton lakes (Thunderhead-Bob lakes)

Marten River Park

South River

York River

— Reviewed April 18, 2002

Ontario's Lost Canoe Routes

by Kevin Callan

Paperback: 166 pages

Publisher: Boston Mills Press (April 2002)

Temagami: A Journey Through Rites of Passage 

Cover photo: Temagami: A Journey Through Rites of Passage video


Film reveals a hidden side of Temagami

Every summer teenagers and young adults go to Temagami for an education, not in canoeing or camping, but in life. The canoe-tripping camps and the outdoor-ed programs quietly offer this experience, but few know about it or understand it. A new film has done a remarkable job of demystifying one of Temagami's great assets, this unique education.

Temagami: A Journey Through Rites of Passage tells the story of a group of city teenagers on a three-week canoe trip at Northwaters Wilderness Program. It begins with their unfocussed, angst-ridden lives in the city, and follows their personal travails and, sometimes tearful, emotional transformation in the wilds of Temagami  — their rites of passage.  

"If you don't have that adequate rite of passage where the wisdom of the culture and the wisdom of the community are transferred or given in some way to the youth," says Barry Williams in the film, "nothing can happen. He or she remains caught in a kind of eternal adolescence."  

The film is the project of outdoor educator David Knudsen, director of Northwaters, who is in the film during the canoe trip. He is passionate about bringing ritual back into the lives of young people and about Temagami. And Temagami is captured on many levels.

Virginia McKenzie of the Teme-Augama Anishnabai speaks from the heart about the environmental threat. "It hurts me to know that maybe my grandchildren won't be able to feel the freshness of the land and the freshness of the water and the trees. What are we teaching our children by not caring for something that gives us life?" 

There's a scene where the trip comes across a moose feeding at water's edge. The moose hesitates, uncertain about the intrusion. Everyone sits silently, floating in their canoes, watching, drinking in the moment as the moose stares back. It reminds me of one of the great lines in the film: "This is a holy place. It's worth treating as a holy place."

This film deserves to be on the shelf of everyone who is truly passionate about Temagami. It is available on video from Great Atlantic and Pacific Film Company.

— Reviewed January 8, 2002

Temagami: A Journey Through Rites of Passage

Format: VHS, $20 plus shipping

Run Time: 53 min.

Producer: Great Atlantic and Pacific Film Company

                 Box 2733

                 Morin Heights, Quebec J0R 1H0

                 514-223-2757 or 450-562-3200                

BUY THE VIDEO:  Temagami Films  


Chrismar's Temagami 1 

Temagami 1 - Northeast, a  new canoeing topographic map by Chrismar, covers an area bounded by Latchford, Diamond Lake, Maple Mountain and Spray Creek. (Chrismar reports it will publish two more maps of Temagami.) It includes portages, campsites, the new conservation reserves, and at least one route that has not been published before (Thunderhead route). It is an ideal map as it is waterproof and has a comfortable scale of 1:80,000. This can easily be a replacement for 1:50,000 topos. If you were doing the Mowat's Landing, Lady Evelyn, Maple Mountain, Mendelssohn, Mowat's route, it would save the purchase of three topos. At $14.95, this makes the map a bargain.

Christine Kennedy, the co-producer, says the map was produced directly from aerial photos rather than government data. We know that government topos are riddled with small errors, as they often used summer students in doing aerial-photo interpretation. Kennedy made clear that their map is "accurate." I would be cautious. 

There are a number of errors. The two portages between Lady Evelyn and Willow Island Lakes show an open body of water along the eastern portage. The tiny creek is overstated on the map and could mislead anyone looking for the trail. Two campsites at Ferguson Mountain are mispositioned. Another in the Lower Narrows of Sharp Rock Inlet does not exist. The uppermost falls on the South Channel of the Lady Evelyn River was misnamed Twin Sisters. It is Cabin Falls. All this was found with only a quick map inspection.

It is available at bookstores, outdoor stores and Temagami outfitters.

Reviewed September 10, 2001    

   Home   Rupert Battle   Rupert River   Temagami   Che-Mun

    Forum   Crees   Camps   Canoes   Keewaydin Way   Search   About   Contact Us

Maps and information herein are not intended for navigational use, and are not represented to be correct in every respect. 
All pages intended for reference use only, and all pages are subject to change with new information and without notice. 
The author/publisher accepts no responsibility or liability for use of the information on these pages. 
Wilderness travel and canoeing possess inherent risk. 
 It is the sole responsibility of the paddler and outdoor traveler to determine whether he/she is qualified for these activities.
Copyright © 2000-2014 Brian Back.  All rights reserved.
We do not endorse and are not responsible for the content of any linked document on an external site.

Photo Credit policy