A Crusader's Tale

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Protest sign for Lady Evelyn Smoothwater painted on the side of John and Steve Kilbridge's house. The Kilbridges were the proprietors of the Temagami Canoe Company. This photo was taken just before the original house was demolished in October, 1984.

Photo: Steve Kilbridge

The whole logging controversy continued to escalate and peaked in September 1989, when the TWS blockaded construction of the Red Squirrel extension. Smoothwater Outfitters at its James Lake location was the base camp for the remote blockade. Radio equipment was installed for communication with the blockade camp on Wakimika Lake. Supply flights by bush plane and supply shuttles by boat operated out of Smoothwater. 

Hap's marriage to Trudy had become rocky. The added strain of the threats, the time he was putting into the environmental campaign, the financial stress of their new outfitting facilities,  and now the blockade, took a heavy personal toll. After the blockade ended, Hap and Trudy separated and Smoothwater went into receivership.

Hap managed Smoothwater through two new owners, then in 1991, returned to a life of independence, leading his own guided trips, freelance writing and producing three more canoe-route books. Voyages: Canada's Heritage Rivers, which he illustrated, won the Natural Resources  Council Award of Achievement in 1996. 

Adventure never seems to be far away. In 1996, he did an undercover stint during the sealing season on the Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence for CITY-TV of Toronto. He was posing as a big-time booking agent for wealthy hunters, hoping to lure out the sealers and get some footage of their activity. Shortly after his arrival the sealers went on a rampage. They ransacked environmentalist Paul Watson's hotel room, then turned on the journalists who quickly beat a retreat from the islands. Hap missed the evacuation and couldn't return to the hotel as it was being watched by the sealers. He had to hide in the hills and found himself huddled in a tent in the middle of a blizzard. When the weather cleared, he unobtrusively made his way to the airport and off the island.

While doing the Seal River of northern Manitoba in 1994, the trip Hap was leading found itself surrounded by fire. They managed to escape downstream but it chased them for days. 


Photo: Hap Wilson

In 1998, he served as technical advisor on the film Grey Owl, teaching Pierce Brosnan how to paddle and throw knives. 

Wilderness was calling again from deep in his bones. In the fall of 2000, Hap and his second wife took their two children, Christopher, 2, and Alexa Skye, 1, on an adventure most of us would never contemplate. They flew in to Divide Lake before freezeup, portaged downstream, and spent the winter of 2001 at their cabin in Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Park, on the south channel of the Lady Evelyn River. No electricity. No running water. Firewood for heat. Their only communication with the outside world was a finicky satellite telephone. With ice conditions slushy most of the winter, skiing out or a snowmobile coming in was not an option. Their only real safety link was by ski-outfitted bush plane that could land at Divide Lake. Their journal entries, sent by e-mail via the phone, were posted to CITY-TV's Web site. It contained insightful stories of their isolated winter existence with some touching photos of frontier family life. 

Now that they are back, Hap who restlessly keeps an eye on Temagami, has been stirred to new action by renewed logging plans. He has responded with his own plan for a new edition of Temagami Canoe Routes.

Wilderness travels are always a struggle. There is always some skill that is just a little rusty or unmastered. The best at it are those rare, rare individuals who can amble away from any lake or landmark into the dark places where it is just too easy to lose our bearings. Set them anywhere and they move around as naturally as if they were in their own living room. I remember the man who marked the trails on Temagami Island, Ferguson Bay and the Wakimika Triangle without a compass or a GPS. That was Hap Wilson. 

In this day of ATVs with canoe racks and snowmobiles with foot warmers, the wilderness has less meaning to more and more people. Those who are still comfortable in it are a dying breed. Those who are willing to defend it are irreplacable.

In 2011, Hap married his long-time sweetheart Andrea Turner. When not at Cabin Falls, they spend time with the kids at home in Muskoka.


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