Going Beyond the Bay

About a year ago, British filmmaker Hannah Maia received an email from a complete stranger describing a summer canoe tripping program for young women in Canada. The random message described multi-week expeditions with wood-and-canvas canoes, traditional wannigan grub boxes, duffel bags and tumplines, in which young women traverse sprawling lakes, descend wild rivers and endure grueling portages, destined for Hudson Bay. The email captured a tribe of adventurers and experiences Maia had never heard of. “It really stoked a fire in me,” she recalls. “It built up a most wondrous picture in my mind.”

On the trail in northern Quebec. Photo provided by Hannah Maia

Maia embarked on a reconnaissance trip last summer with a group of Camp Keewaydin alumni. For nine days, she discovered canoe tripping the “Keewaydin way” with nine women who represented the two decades since the venerable, 125-year-old Ontario-based summer camp launched a girls program. “I was there to research the potential for a documentary and capture some archive footage,” says Maia, who left her 18-month-old son with family in England to embark on the trip. “I would say I was 20 percent nervous and 80 percent excited. I had also primed myself for the worst. I’d been told I would most likely cry somewhere on a long portage. And I fully expected to get myself stuck waist deep in muskeg bog. I also had vivid thoughts of giant, oversized Canadian mosquitoes and blackflies.”

Filmmaker Hannah Maia in Temagami. Photo provided by Hannah Maia

Maia’s list of accomplishments on the trip run the gamut of the Keewaydin experience: Lining canoes down shallow rock-studded rapids; portaging waterlogged wood-canvas crafts; and “tumping”—the ancient skill of carrying heavy weight on a thong of leather suspended from the crown of the portager’s head. “Twelve months ago I didn’t even know what a tumpline was,” Maia admits.

Keewaydin guide Katie Tanz loads a wannigan. Photo provided by Hannah Maia

Two memories made a huge impression on Maia and convinced her that a documentary film was worth the effort. “First, I appreciated the vast wilderness and the inner peace it brings. It allows my mind to become quiet,” she says. “Coming from the UK we don’t have the same scale of wilderness right on our doorstep. We certainly don’t have the ability to go days on end without seeing anyone all whilst travelling by canoe.

“But this trip was also about sharing an experience with a small group of impressive, fun-loving, formidable women—all women that I’d never met before,” she adds. “I’ve had lots of varying adventures in my life but I’ve never been in an all-women group like this. It really was special.” 

Girls in the wilderness. Photo provided by Hannah Maia

Maia realized just how powerful a Keewaydin canoe trip would be for young women. “A chance to be in the moment, to be present, develop real connections with people and a relationship with nature,” she says. “A place to take calculated risks, get dirty, be sweaty and make muscles.”

Misty morning in Temagami. Photo provided by Hannah Maia

Now, Maia has launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund her full-length film. This summer, she’ll drop in on a 50-day Keewaydin expedition in the wilds of northern Quebec, to document the experience of the 16- and 17-year-old paddlers. “It’s also a coming of age story so it’s very much a story about youth and the transition into adulthood,” she says. “I would love to think we can interest more teenagers with a film like this, but we can all reflect on our own experiences growing up. We’ve all been teenagers but it’s interesting to think about what it would be like to be a teenager today. And by the end of the film, I would like to think we will feel a sense of hope that these young women can process all they have learnt on trip and navigate a meaningful sense of place for themselves in the world.”

Maia is seeking $32,000 in the crowdfunding campaign, and hopes to release the final film in the spring of 2020. 

Check out these other crowdfunding campaigns for paddlers:

— Independent publisher Torrey House Press is raising money to launch two brand-new environmental books, including Confluence, the story of paddling the new political landscape of the American West on the Rio Grande, San Juan and Elwha rivers by Canoe & Kayak editor-at-large Zak Podmore.

— Canadian artist Ronald Bayens exceeded his funding goal of $5,000 in support of a new sculpture of Canadian canoeing icon Bill Mason, which are available for purchase in bronze, copper and iron. Bayens’ ultimate goal is a life-sized sculpture to be installed at the Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough, Ontario.

More traditional canoeing at CanoeKayak.com:

— Headwaters Canoes: Building the 18-foot Prospector

What’s in my wannigan?

— Expedition: Old-school in Labrador with Pete Marshall

The article was originally published on Canoe & Kayak

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