Last year’s Symposium, which took place in February ‘20 at York University in Toronto, will be remembered for several reasons. After many years of being hosted at the iconic Monarch Park Collegiate location, WCS finally moved to a more modern and a friendlier location. It was a good move. Unbeknownst to us at the time, it happened in the last pre-Covid days before our world and our lives changed – perhaps forever.
This year’s Symposium was held online, following the pattern of new social and regulatory norms. About a thousand participants gathered in the digital zoomitorium, to paraphrase our lovely and capable MC Erika Bailey, to partake in – and witness – the new WCS format. A competent crew of volunteers facilitated 5 presentations, a musical concert and 4 breakout sessions. The event lasted about 4 hours and, judging by your feedback, was very well received.
Wally Schaber masterfully brought Dumoine’s rich history to life, followed by James Raffan’s story and song about the incredible Beaver pilot Ronnie Bowes. Martin Spriggs showed us how cycling from coast to coast can change your perspective on life – because your life counts. Jerry Vandiver and his excellent One Match Band entertained us with Songs About Paddling and All Things Outdoors. Breakout session facilitators had a huge following – a testament to the interesting topics they shared. Bob Henderson, in his “Look-at-me-Wilderness-Super-Hero” critique, illuminated a phenomenon of self-proclaimed “explorers” who throd across the land in the quest to be the “first,” or toughest, or fastest, or most popular book bestsellers, or…whatever. Bill Ostrom delighted us with his pragmatic advice on how best to fit our thingies into our canoe packs to carry heavy loads lightly. Brian Johnston quizzed us about ways we connected to nature during COVID-19. Iva Kinclova invited us to brainstorm with her on the prospects of paddling – or not paddling – in the territories during the upcoming summer.
What happens next? Covid or not – many of us are inspired with the prospects of future online gatherings that offer many tangible benefits. As Erika so eloquently proposed in the “Break Trail or Run Rapids?” email – you will be able to join from the ease, comfort and safety of your pyjamas, sitting on your couch, with your various pets. Bonuses include access to the bathroom with no line-ups, your favourite snacks at your disposal, and no restrictions to bringing a glass of wine to the event. Plus, people who would normally not join due to travel challenges, cost, visas, and general life demands could access the Wilderness and Canoe Symposium much more easily. Another particularly appealing aspect of digital gathering is the fact that participants – and presenters – could be from anywhere in the world.
Yet, we clearly miss a human touch, we miss the camaraderie that only happens in the hallways of Monarch Park, the physical proximity of – to paraphrase George Luste – kindred spirits in search of knowledge and a sense of place. The vibe and richness of our face-to-face interactions can’t be replicated by Zoom or Webex. And thus, we’ll continue to seek the good balance between “brick-and-mortar” Symposium and a digital one. I believe there’s a place for both in our lives.