A Crusader's Tale

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Hap Wilson. Canoe guide, outfitter, author, artist, scourge of the tree assassins. If you've traveled Temagami, or the Missinaibi, Coulonge or Dumoine rivers there's a good chance you used one of his guide books. If you're a logger from Temagami you'd know his name, but you'd cross to the other side of the street if you saw him coming. Wait. I'm getting ahead of myself.

Hap started tripping in the usual incompetent manner that so many of us get good solid grounding in. At age twelve he and his cousin ran the Mattawa River, then did weekend tripping after that. Pretty easy stuff. When he was sixteen, he and some school buddies decided to try a big one. They headed down the Mattawa and Ottawa Rivers and up the Petawawa River into Algonquin Park for a month. No tents, eaten alive, bad food, incompetence oozing out their pimply pores, and Hap loved every minute of it! 

Algonquin was his newfound paradise. He might still be tripping there, except an elderly school teacher, who had known Grey Owl, gave him an old 1920s map of Temagami. In the summer of 1970, with map in hand, he headed north. Temagami was wilder, more rugged and larger than Algonquin. He was hooked.  

For the next six years he traveled Temagami with friends (one of whom would become his wife in 1976) and solo. Six months of the year in a canoe and plenty of time to dream up some way of combining his three loves in life: canoeing, art and Temagami. Now don't judge him too harshly on his choices of love, after all he wasn't married yet. 

Hap (left) clearing a portage while head of the MNR's canoe-routes maintenance program in Temagami in the late 1970s.

Photo: Hap Wilson

Everyone had been watching from the sidelines as logging continued to penetrate the wilderness with Ontario government encouragement and incentives. Hap was worried. "He has extraordinary long-term vision," recalled John Kilbridge, proprietor of the Temagami Canoe Company and a good friend of Hap. "He can see stuff coming down the pike and know the implications of it."

Hap calculated that only an increase in other users in the area could change government priorities and slow or stop the choking death. A good canoe-routes guide, he believed, had a shot at bringing in canoeists. 

So he's just another guy with a painted paddle and wet stinky socks hanging around Temagami with a hiking-trail brochure (the guide to Kag Trail  in Champlain Provincial Park), not a canoeing book, under his belt. He pitched to Reg Sinclair, then parks supervisor at the Temagami district office, his idea that they hire him to produce a book of canoe routes. 

Treehugging Dirt Worshipper

Bumper sticker on Hap's pickup, '02

It was fortuitous timing as Reg wanted to do something about the lack of public canoe-routes information.  In Hap he found not only an illustrator, but someone who already knew the routes. The drawback was that Temagami was not a park, so there was no money readily available within the Ministry. Reg had to go to bat for the project, shifting some money out of the Finlayson Park budget and selling the project internally to get the rest of the allocation. He succeeded and in 1977 they hired Hap. The publication in 1978 of the richly-illustrated Temagami Canoe Routes with its artistically-drawn maps was so successful that it sold out in its first year. It was destined to become a canoe-literature classic, selling 40,000 copies by 2001. The book also established the trademark Hap Wilson style of guide book that he would apply to four more books.

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