Idleness, Water, and a Canoe: Reflections on Paddling for Pleasure


299 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-7910-5
DDC 797.1'22'0971




Reviewed by Patricia Morley

Patricia Morley is professor emerita of English and Canadian studies at
Concordia University, and the author of Kurlek, Margaret Laurence: The
Long Journey Home, and As Though Life Mattered: Leo Kennedy’s Story.


Unlike many books on canoeing and wilderness travel, Idleness, Water and
a Canoe has a substantial text and only a few black-and-white
photographs. The title of the book comes from a 1940 academic paper that
found in “idleness, water and a canoe” the very essence of a
Canadian holiday.

Jamie Benidickson is an Ottawa professor who is interested in resource
management and environmental protection. His scholarly background shows
in the text, but so does his personal interest. Drawing on sources that
include books, old newspapers, and interviews with paddlers, he explores
two centuries of recreational paddling and the influence of this
activity on the paddlers’ society. These sections, along with a
chapter on women and the wilderness, contain some fine sociological and
psychological insights into the Canadian experience. “The Craft and
the Craftsman in Transition” traces the historical development of the
canoe from its Native version, as well as the gradual idealization of
the sport as a way to develop character and love of nature.

Benidickson’s preface suggests that canoes carry communities as well
as individuals, and that they foster understanding of both oneself and
one’s companions. His book offers an unusual and satisfying approach
to Canadian history and society.


Benidickson, Jamie., “Idleness, Water, and a Canoe: Reflections on Paddling for Pleasure,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 24, 2024,