Sunday, March 20, 2011

Canoeing icon Kirk Wipper paddles on.

Kirk Wipper
I found a sad e-mail in the in-box this morning and thought it was important to share the news. While significant accomplishments in themselves, Kirk Wipper was much more than past owner of Camp Kandalore and founder of the "Kanawa International Collection of Canoes, Kayaks and Rowing Craft," which became the core of the Canadian Canoe Museum. He was a passionate advocate for wilderness and for canoeing as a way to experience wilderness, worked tirelessly to develop organized canoe instruction in this country, celebrated Canadian canoe heritage at every opportunity and was one of the most engaging and interesting people I have ever had the good fortune to meet.

The notice below was sent out yesterday by Jim Raffan, Executive Director of the Canadian Canoe Museum and long-time friend of Kirk Wipper.

Dear Friends:

I regret to inform you that Kirk died suddenly last evening.  He was with Ann and friends at Elmhirst's Resort and, apparently, choked on a piece of meat and they were unable to clear his airway.  His neighbour Don White called from the Peterborough Hospital at about 11:40 to relay the sad news.  Ann's son Mike was with them, as are the friends and neighbours so she is not alone.  I know you will join me in conveying heartfelt condolences to Ann and the rest of Kirk's family.

One of Kirk's favourite poets was 19th Century English writer William Arthur Dunkerley, who, under the pen name John Oxenham, wrote, "For death begins with life's first breath, and life begins at the touch of death."   So ends and era.  And so begins another, hard as that is to fathom at this moment.

As you may know, Kirk was honoured last fall with the Ron Johnston Lifetime Achievement Award by his peers and colleagues in the Ontario Camping Association.  In conjunction with this honour, the OCA made a short film to mark the occasion. If you'd like to have a look, here is a link: click here.

Near the end of this retrospective on his life, Kirk - prophetically, as it turns out - recites a poem called "The Way" by John Oxenham.  There will be much more to be said and done to mark the passing of this life that has brought us all together, this life that has done so much for Canada  ... but until we all get organized and back on our feet I leave you with these words spoken by Kirk himself just a couple of months ago and send them along with stunned disbelief, I'm sure you share, that the time has come to say goodbye to our old friend.

To every man there openeth
A Way and Ways and A Way
And the High Soul climbs the High Way
And the Low Soul gropes the Low
And in between on the misty flats
The rest drift to and fro;
But to every man there openeth
A Way and Ways and The Way
(this is Kirk's personal variant on the poet's original line)
And every man decideth
The way his soul shall go

This past evening, sadly, a High Soul has paddled on.

Details about arrangements will follow.


"You have to do what you can, do your best with what you are.  And you have to believe in wilderness.  If you do that you can't go wrong."

Kirk Albert Walter Wipper

b Grahamdale, Manitoba, December 6th, 1923

d Peterborough, Ontario, March 18, 2011

More on Kirk Wipper:

The Kirk Wipper web site and guestbook for sharing memories.

After the same notice as above, a nice tribute, good bio and excellent quote from Jim Raffan is here.

An interesting memoir of Kirk's contribution to the preservation of indigenous watercraft is here.

Kevin Callan reminisces about being inspired by Kirk Wipper here.

A presentation at Muskoka's Grace and Speed Museum highlights both Kirk's philosophy and dry wit: click here.

Edit: This just in from the Canadian Canoe Museum:

“This is surely the end of an era,” said museum Executive Director, James Raffan. "Kirk will be sorely missed but his legacy lives on in the hearts and minds of the members, volunteers, staff and friends of the museum who join daily stewardship of these 600 canoes and kayaks-this unique portrait of Canada he created-that was his passion for so many years.”
Visitation for close friends and family will be at Keene United Church, on Friday, March 25, 2-8 p.m. will be followed by a funeral service also at Keene United Church, Saturday, March 26 at 11 a.m. For the wider community, a memorial gathering entitled “Travelling On: Celebrating the Life and Passions of Kirk Wipper” at The Canadian Canoe Museum on Saturday, April 30, 2 p.m. followed by a reception at the museum. Anyone moved to contribute a song or story to this celebration should contact the museum (705) 748-9153 or email

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