The Canoe: Goh Iromoto’s stunning testament to a Canadian cultural icon

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Goh Iromoto’s The Canoe is going to get a lot of views on YouTube. A LOT.

It is that good.

This beautifully crafted video love letter to one of Canada’s national icons just landed on YouTube and paddling websites. Though it lasts almost 27 minutes, the movie is so artfully scripted, the stories so intriguing, the images so majestic, you probably won’t even notice the time passing. It’ll grip you like a strong current that lifts you up and compels you along for the ride.

Let me make a suggestion. Though you’ll probably initially pull it up on a tablet, phone or laptop, view it on a larger screen. It’s precisely the type of film you’d gape at on an IMAX.

The Canoe weaves five vignettes into a tapestry illustrating our deep connection with canoes and the outdoors. All were shot in Ontario, including one particularly intriguing vignette from downtown Toronto. But, don’t hold this against The Canoe. It’s far from Ontario-centric. This is an occasion to park our regional biases and see a little of ourselves in the subjects. No matter what corner of Canada we are from.

We start by joining eco-adventurist Michelle Savoie, “The Connector”, whose deep passion for the canoe has been passed down through the generations in her family. The classic two-seater canoe is Canadiana personified, but the Voyageur Canoe featured in this story might play an even more essential role in our history.

The scope of the story then expands to enfold Canadian national team canoeist Alexandra McGee (“The Champion”); lifelong paddlers and “Explorers” Gary and Joanie McGuffin; Chinese immigrant and Toronto resident Michael Zhang (“The Settler”); and “The Mentor” Gail Bannon at the Fort William First Nation.

Also featured is Canadian Canoe Museum Director Emeritus James Raffan, in the extended intro to the vignettes.

A day “lived really well”

Along the journey, we hear McGee talk about how paddling has kept her on the straight and narrow, giving focus to her life. We also see Bannon’s inspiring story, in which she uses the traditional art of canoe-making to help First Nations youth rediscover pride in their identities and heritage.

We hear Zhang say, almost breathlessly, “Whenever I have the chance to go out and canoe, I feel this day was lived really well.”

Amen to that,

If you’ve ever been on the water with the mist rising at sunrise, bobbed on gentle ripples watching a blazing setting sun, or been surprised by a loon surfacing barely a paddle’s length from your boat, you’ll understand.

Iromoto and a small crew shot the film during three weeks in August and September of 2016.

The story lines are compelling and the imagery matches. Our spectacular lakes, rivers and forests from Barry’s Bay to Quetico to Algonquin to Lake Superior provide scenic backdrops for most of the footage. But Iromoto even manages to make the skyscraper-filled Toronto waterfront appear romantic as his camera pans from Lake Ontario and the channels that weave around the Toronto Islands.

That will be no surprise when you learn of his canoeing background.

“I’ve been a paddler since I was a young child, starting off paddling at a summer camp down at Harbourfront in Toronto,” Iromoto told me in an email exchange. “We would paddle on Lake Ontario and mostly within the Toronto Islands.

It certainly made me want to go for a paddle out there.

Canada’s 150th: Perfect timing

The timing for The Canoe could hardly be better, with Canada celebrating its 150th birthday in 2017. But, Iromoto said that wasn’t the main reason it was released now.

“While there is a part of this project that was intentionally timed with the 150th anniversary of Canada, the main impetus for this really came from my long-lived passion for canoeing,” he wrote. “Over the last 5-10 years I have been working as a photographer and filmmaker in the outdoor markets, which then gave me even more of an opportunity to discover the stories of different paddlers as well as landscapes across our province.

“It was only a matter of time that all this would culminate into a film with a message and story such as The Canoe. I only hope that the feelings and memories I experience while out on the waters of our nation somehow resonate to others.”

Mission accomplished, Goh.

The Canoe‘s big-screen debut is Feb. 23 at the Rapid Media Reel Paddling Film Festival at Toronto’s Royal Theatre. Iromoto said other festivals have also expressed interest.

If you love canoeing, the great outdoors, Canadiana, or outstanding filmmaking, The Canoe is a great way to spend a half hour of your time. Honestly, it’ll seem like just a few moments.

Two thumbs up.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was updated Wednesday, Feb. 8 with comments from director Goh Iromoto.

ADD YOUR THOUGHTS: What do you think of The Canoe? Got a story of your own to tell? Add it in our comments and I’ll be sure to reply.

Want to know more about Goh Iromoto? Here’s a link to his website.

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