jake and dad

Algonquin Park 2006: A Father-Son Journey Begins

James Ryan

In adventure as in life, wisdom is passed down from father to son.

This past summer, I decided that it was finally time to take my 9-year old son Jacob out on his very first canoe trip into the vast wilderness of Algonquin Provincial Park.

Camping isn’t just a good way to learn about nature together. It’s a wonderful way to learn about each other as well. The experiences that we shared will last a lifetime and I have learned to understand the many beneficial effects of a father-son canoe trip such as lessons learned through; physical exercise, having fun together, and relationship building.

First of all, having always lived a very active life myself, I continuously try to pass down the values and benefits of physical exercise to my children. On our canoe trip, my son demonstrated and learned the necessities of hard work, as we both paddled and hiked as hard as we could for four straight hours in an effort to reach camp before sunset. I was very proud of Jacob, as he did an excellent job of lugging gear and helping out. With physical exercise, came the lessons of responsibility and hard work.

I also felt that this experience may have been beneficial to my son, in preparation for some of the pressures that he may experience, both in sport and in life.

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Part of staying physically active, however, particularly in the wilderness, requires a great deal of safety awareness and responsibility. Many times I had to remind my son of the consequences of carelessness in the wilderness. Any minor injury could easily have become life-threatening and dangerous, as it probably would have taken no less than six hours to reach the nearest Hospital.

The second most important effect of our father-son canoe trip was simply having fun together. For most kids, earning their father’s acceptance has a profound effect on their relationship and their self-image. I wanted my son to feel like he could be himself without worrying about his ‘father’ passing judgement on him. My son is very high energy and loves to joke around and act silly. As a father, I feel that it is my responsibility to encourage my son to relax and enjoy being a kid.

One of my fondest memories of our trip together was watching my son leap fearlessly, ‘head-first’ off of a 15-foot cliff into the cold water, while other children stood around trying to build up the courage to jump – a truly ‘proud-father’ moment.

Something else to consider was the importance of not only letting my son do something that he found fun and enjoyable, but to make sure that I participated as well. An example of this would be swimming in the cold water. I hate swimming in cold water, but if I had just let my son swim all by himself, I would have felt guilty about it later. I know that my son had more fun swimming ‘with’ me, instead of ‘for’ me. As well, jumping from a 15-foot cliff made me feel like a kid again, which can be one of the many wonderful benefits for a father who plays with his children. With having fun, comes the true value of enjoying life, so have fun with your kids, and let them have fun with you.

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Finally, continuous relationship building between a father and his son is a key fundamental component to ensuring that a boy has the required guidance that he will need to one day become a man. The father-son retreat is designed to strengthen the bond between father and son by working together to understand the problems that exist in the relationship and clarify what the relationship should be.

A three night canoe trip is a perfect way for a father and son to celebrate the child’s coming of age – together. It will yield a bond that lasts a lifetime. I can clearly recall sitting around the campfire as my son discussed many of his hopes and dreams of the future. Just knowing that my son trusted me enough to share this information with me filled me with a tremendous sense of pride and warmth, which until I became a father, I had never had the opportunity to experience before.

Listening to each other, offering helpful advice to each other, and learning from each other are just some of the benefits that come with enjoying a mutually respectful and loving father-son relationship. I am proud to say that I have built (and continue to build) such a relationship.

In conclusion, I believe that the positive effects of a father and son canoe / camping trip in the wilderness are truly life changing. As my son’s primary role model and mentor, my interaction with him is continually shaping his definition of what his purpose in life will be. With that being said, I believe that it is equally important to point out just how instrumental my son has been in shaping and defining my own purpose in life.

Through regular physical exercise, having fun, and relationship building, my son Jacob and I are as close as I hope that we will ever be.



James Ryan
James Ryan



  1. James

    I wrote this 4 years ago.

    Jacob and I have portaged up in Algonquin every year since.

    This past summer was one of the most challenging and amazing adventures yet. We nearly got stuck in a swamp overnight (not my dream to sleep in a canoe, in the pitch black, in a swamp) and we endured incredible thunder storms. The wildlife was amazing and the fishing is always fantastic.

    Two years ago was the craziest, but I'll save that story for another time.

    I hope that you enjoy reading this and I hope that you can take something away from it.


  2. keithbrady

    Wow! What can I say? That was amazing, James. Thank you for sharing your pictures and stories with us.

  3. Debbie

    I really like that article, and it takes a commitment to learning and building a relationship with your children, and I am glad it is never too late and that we spent every summer with our kids up north, I wouldn't trade it for anything

  4. Julie

    A great post!:)

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