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Remembering a Legend

In the 1970s, Geoffrey Peake was a student at Trinity College School in Port Hope, Ontario. It was here he met Peter Scott and his father Angus Scott, the school's headmaster - and an avid wilderness canoeist.
Angus Scott on the Churchill River in northern Saskatchewan in July 1979. Photo by Geoffrey Peake.

One day in 1975 a helicopter landed in the middle of our soccer field. A great crowd gathered around, the doors opened, and out stepped the prime minister, Pierre Trudeau, flanked by half dozen security officers. He had come to visit his canoeing partner-none other than our own headmaster, Angus Scott, and it was rumored they were planning another trip that summer and needed to meet for a planning session. Well, our opinion of Mr. Scott reached the stratosphere that day-imagine having the Prime Minister of Canada coming to visit YOU by helicopter to plan a canoe trip! Until that point I had never thought much about canoeing, except that it was something my brother Michael did once in a while.

As the years went by Peter and I became friends, and began to canoe together. Our first trips were impressive three-hour floats down the mighty Ganaraska River, with its awesome Grade 1 rapids. Often Peter would disappear with his father on weekend trips and he began to tell me about other canoeists who would come by their house-in particular a man called Eric Morse, who had once taught at the school many years ago and had written books on history and canoeing, and who had also canoed with Pierre Trudeau. As I learned more about canoeing and actually read Eric's book Fur Trade Canoe Routes of the Voyageurs, he became somewhat of a hero to me. I never met Eric there-Peter would always forget to tell me until after he had gone.

In 1979, Angus organized a trip down the Churchill River in Saskatchewan. The goal was to retrace the route that Morse's group, The Voyageurs, followed in 1955. This was to be our first wilderness trip and-although I didn't realize it at the time-it would be the start of a lifetime of wilderness travel in Canada. In retrospect I don't know how Angus survived that trip with four students along, especially me. In his log book one night he wrote " everything is quiet...except Peake is still talking..." and I'm sure that trip was a far cry from the kinds of trips he had enjoyed Eric and Pierre and some of the other Voyageurs. But what he did was apprentice a new generation of canoeist to follow in the tradition of the voyageurs, in much the same way that Eric had found younger men to travel with when some of his other companions did not feel compelled to travel farther north into the barrenlands. Eric had recruited new blood, like Angus Scott, and several other teachers from TCS (Jack Goering, Tom Lawson) had paddled with Eric and Angus.

The river was high that year, and we ran many rapids, and for the first time I felt the magnetic appeal of wilderness canoeing. In the evenings, Angus would always read from historical journals and trip notes and we would compare our trip to others who had gone before, and for the first time I felt part of something much bigger than just a canoe trip-we were part of the great history of canoeing in Canada.

That trip down the Churchill River, as it turned out, was the first of many wilderness journeys that we would do, and the genesis of the Hide-Away Canoe Club. Two years later, Peter, myself, and brothers Sean and Michael would paddle the Missinaibi River (with trip notes supplied by Jack Goering). We attempted to follow in the spirit of The Voyageurs, and our travels took us to many of the same places where Eric had traveled-the Rat-Porcupine, Coppermine, Thelon-Hanbury, Lake Superior-and some places where he hadn't-the Back, George, Povungnituk, and most recently, Labrador.

Through all these travels we have always tried to retain the values and beliefs of the Voyageurs-an appreciation of the history of this country, and love of not just the land, but of the challenges and companionship that is part of every journey. Pierre Trudeau once said of wilderness travel "it does not make men more able to reason, but makes them more reasonable men".

For my part, I remember Angus as a person who exemplified many of the virtues of a good traveling partner-someone who focuses on getting a job done, not complaining about it; someone with a quiet determination, a sense of humor-and a touch of eccentricity- to get you through those long days on the river, and I wonder what course my life might have taken-all those wild places I might have never seen-if I had not been part of that trip long ago down the Churchill River.

So, wherever you are Angus, the HACC owes you a debt of gratitude for letting us be part of a great tradition. On behalf of all of us, thank you- for helping us find the way.

For another tribute to this wonderful man see the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society Web site:

This story first appeared in Che-Mun Outfit 106 in 2001.

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