“In Algonquin Park…seeing Adam paddle a canoe was like watching poetry in motion. I loved going up there every summer” – Al Waxman from That’s What I Am
He was so proud as he waved to me from the dock. Speeding across the lake in my cedar strip canoe; heeling right to the waterline; and carving a rolling wake, I barreled closer. Each sinew of my arms and chest was ripped. My heart was racing as I made out his beaming cherubic smile. “Hey, my boy!” He excitedly cheered. I aimed straight for him. Paddling a razor line full throttle toward the dock, I casually stretched my arms back and, in the last possible second before crashing like an accordion, cut the water with my blade for a shocking inside-turn-landing a hair’s distance from the edge. “Hey, Dad,” I coolly smiled.
Each ripple on the lake now, twenty years on, is a wave of nostalgia. One day my son is going to paddle like I did for my Dad on that day. The bell rings for dinner.
Throughout the Arowhon Pines wafts a sweet smell of burning wood from within the iconic hexagonal shaped hand-hewn log dining room. Built in the 1930’s with axes, saws, hand winches and a team of horses, it still stands in all its glory. A massive central stone fireplace crackles upward through a 19-foot iron chimney. The veranda overlooks the secluded lake where I recline with a book. The only sounds are of the wind sweeping through the trees and the water lapping the rocks along the shore. This simple retreat is exactly what we look for when we travel abroad in search of an authentic destination, but this is where I define myself as Canadian.
The sophistication of dining at the Arowhon Pines is now, as it always was, the same ethos of acquiring the best possible ingredients cooked simply and with respect. A recent overhaul has enabled “the kitchen of my dreams”, shares Executive Chef David Cooke. An extremely disciplined kitchen includes its own in-house baker, butcher and poissoniere all focusing on fresh lively tastes. Herbs grown throughout the property punctuate the menu, foraged from the thick forest trail system, the shoreline, and an extensive herb and vegetable garden. Eleven types of bread are baked fresh daily; cheese and charcuterie are all local; fish is never frozen; and private locally supplied meats arrive four times a week. Nothing is out of season.
Chef Cooke enthuses that vegetables and garnishes have become more prominent than ever before, because everything on the plate is delicious in its own right. “The tie should still match the shirt,” he tells me. “But now the tie is much more colourful.” A bouquetiere of vegetables elevates cornmeal-crusted trout, tender confit of duck, and a succulent duo of lamb and veal chops, to unique plating that distinguishes this kitchen. Picnic lunches are prepared for us to enjoy a true taste of place as we hike into the woods and paddle to distant lakes.
Without losing its rustic appeal that provides such a magical sense of legacy, the Arowhon Pines is maintained with comfort in mind. My cozy private cabin with a fireplace and deck once belonged to Lillian Kates. Imagine the chutzpah of this woman who, in the 1930’s, built this resort for parents visiting their children at Camp Arowhon. Who even heard of Algonquin Park back then? It was revolutionary. The sail boats, the tennis courts and the hiking trails are all mine to explore, with the space and time to reconnect and re-collect, but it’s the dining and canoeing here that remain unrivaled as the quintessential taste of Ontario.
My Dad was a canoe tripper at Arowhon. It’s where I learned to paddle a canoe, and later became the canoe instructor. Now, paddling silently above the reflection of an opaque moon off the water, amidst the haunting call of the loon, swirling eddies swish by as I breath the legacy that is my Canada.
Adam Waxman is an award winning travel journalist focusing on food, wine and well being. As well as an actor in film, television and formerly, the Stratford Festival, he is the Associate Publisher and Executive Editor of DINE and Destinations magazine.