Love him or hate him, many Canadians still have strong opinions about Pierre Trudeau, Canada’s 15th Prime Minister from the late 1960s to the mid 1980s.
Personally, I don’t remember much about his politics as leader of the Liberal party. What made Trudeau memorable for me was his larger-than-life public persona, his fusing of the sophisticated city slicker (dayjob: lawyer in Montreal) with an adventurous spirit (pastimes: skier, scuba diver, judo expert; motorcyclist; canoeist).
As Stephen Marche notes in his essay “The Meaning of Hockey,” published in the Summer, 2011 edition of The Walrus and online here,
It was Champlain’s dream to be French and worldly and a humanist, and also to belong to the wilds of North America, to be as like an Indian as possible. The power of this dream runs throughout Canadian history. Trudeau became an icon, despite his obvious failures as a policy-maker, because he captured this spirit more completely than any other figure in history, a citizen of the world and of the river.
Apparently, Trudeau was also something of a scribbler. In 1944, at the age of 25, this “citizen of the river” penned the essay “Exhaustion and Fulfillment: The Ascetic in a Canoe,” since republished on http://www.canoe.ca.
The prose may be somewhat stilted, and the packing list rather anachronistic, but the spirit of the essay still strikes a chord in a sympathetic reader, even in the 21st century:
For it is a condition of such a [canoe] trip that you entrust yourself, stripped of your worldly goods, to nature. Canoe and paddle, blanket and knife, salt pork and flour, fishing rod and rifle; that is about the extent of your wealth. To remove all the useless material baggage from a man’s heritage is, at the same time, to free his mind from petty preoccupations, calculations and memories.
Substitute vacuum-packed dal curry and oatmeal for salt pork and flour, and a digital camera for fishing rod and rifle, and you’re all set!