The World’s Canoe Camp

March 2, 2010

It was impossible to watch the Canada vs United States Hockey game  without reflecting on one’s citizenship.  I have the good fortune to be a citizen of both Canada and the U.S. My citizenships  result from a series of lucky events, most of which occurred before I could even walk, much less contemplate the relative merits and responsibilities of citizenship in the two countries.  Now, having divided each of the past 35 years between each country, I have an honest claim to citizenship in both.

As the director of Northwaters and Langskib, I often receive queries from parents trying to figure out whether NWL is an American or a Canadian organization. Every other canoe camp I know is predominately one or the other.  One even claims to be “Canada’s Canoe Camp”. Given the recent Olympic events, this seems like a good time to set the record straight; NWL is both.

This is not the simple answer everyone is looking for. Alluding to my dual citizenship when crossing the border seems to virtually guarantee further questions from customs officials. People  prefer if you fit into a category, neatly please, without a whole lot of explanation. Check one box only, as it were. That’s not always possible.

Northwaters and Langskib enroll about 90% of their participants from the U.S. and Canada, the remaining 10% from foreign countries. Enrollment in individual programs and on individual trips can vary considerably.  I remember one trip whose 10 participants represented 6 different nationalities and spoke 7 languages.  Our staff, since they come from the ranks of participants, follow the same pattern, a bunch of Canadians, a bunch of Americans and the occasional international (Germany, France, Spain, Mexico, etc.)

Our organizational structure follows the same pattern – offices, bank accounts and business entities in both countries. Thus, Canadians and Americans pay in the currency of their country of residence and enjoy the simplicity of not having to concern themselves with wild swings in foreign exchange rates or credit card charges for foreign transactions. Moreover, their kids come away from a summer in Temagami with friends from places that would otherwise be just distant places on the world map.

Since 1971, a central tenet of every one of our programs has been tolerance; acceptance and appreciation of differences among people, whether they be racial, cultural, physical, spiritual, economic, you name it.  For many participants, our program is their first exposure to cultures different from their own.  We work hard to build community in our programs, to facilitate participants getting to know each other early on, so when the time comes to meet a challenge together on the trail, everybody works together.

When the beauty of a place takes my breath away, when I am filled with admiration, respect or love for another human, nationality is never a factor. When I take inventory of the people and places I know, love and respect, they span the U.S., Canada and more.  There were moments during Sunday’s hockey game when I was deeply proud of my citizenship in both countries. I was tempted to stop watching when the game tied in the last minute. I didn’t want either country to lose.

My son McKenzie, age 7, who also enjoys dual citizenship, asked me which country was my favorite. I responded “whichever I happen to be in at the time”. I hope McKenzie and his generation can continue to enjoy the blessings of both nations.

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