Kirk Wipper – The Man And The Canoe

Kirk Wipper – The Man And The Canoe

His is a household name amongst many Canadian canoeists and kayakers, alike. So it is no surprise to learn of the number of people touched by his very sudden and recent passing. They are saying Kirk Wipper has paddled on… a fitting statement for this man and his soul. There is no doubt that he truly has paddled on and away, but not before touching and inspiring multiple generations to love the wilderness, themselves, this planet and their place in it. For those of us lucky enough to have played or worked with him in the past, to have gotten to know him a little or a lot, we were given a very rare gift.

A man like Kirk is unparalleled. His gentlemanly character, outgoing personality, his drive and passion, his giving spirit, his wisdom, and the humorous twinkle in his eye, made a huge impression on me when we first met over ten years ago. And, what else would Kirk say to me upon meeting me for the first time other then “Can you guess how old I am?” He laughed when I guessed way too young… but could you blame me? He was so full of energy and vitality it was too hard tell his actual number of years!

An actual Bill Mason
stamp was incorporated
into the paddle Fiona
designed and painted
for Kirk after meeting
him in Merrickville.

At the time, when we first met, we were at the Canoe Symposium in Merrickville. I was painting wilderness scenes on paddles. It was also the year that the Bill Mason stamp was launched. Mr. Wipper bought a paddle from me and took my business card. It wasn’t long after that I heard from Mr. Wipper (“call me Kirk”) as he wanted to commission a paddle in honour of Bill Mason, the stamp that was created in Bill’s likeness, and in celebration of canoeing.  This included a personal invitation to his house. You can imagine my excitement in receiving such a worthy task from such a great man!

I also remember getting a personal tour of the Canadian Canoe Museum when it was just a warehouse full of boats… and dreams. Kirk was truly beside himself with the excitement of it all. Things were just starting to come together for the museum. And the class of paddling students, who were taking a break from their Basic Instructor course that day, myself included, were in absolute awe of the collection and history of it all.  Kirk had the ability to make us see past the dust and poor lighting and tarp covered canoes and kayaks to the beauty of our past and the possibilities of a great future. That day, Kirk, as co-founder, made us all very aware, that paddling was more then just getting into a boat and moving water with your paddle blade. Kayaking and canoeing was a large piece of our noble history, part of our culture and in our blood. It was a way of life that needed to be respected and honoured. And, this museum was going to ensure the Canoe was destined to be part of our future.

Mike and Fiona with Kirk at a Canoe Symposium

I would continue to see Kirk at various events until I dropped out of the paddle sports industry for a while after having our son, Makobe, but he was not really ever far from my mind (as my past online posts on various forums would tell*). When you meet someone like Kirk, their positive influence on how you see yourself, your life, and especially your impact on this world and others, is never far from thought. Kirk was a motivator and encourager, he was animated, full of passion and had a strikingly bright spark for life. He had an extraordinary respect for our planet, for Native culture and his fellow man/woman. Unfortunately, his last lesson to me was never put off ’till tomorrow what you can do today…. as I was planning on contacting him this summer to catch up and tell him all about Makobe and Badger Paddles and me calling him “Sir” Kirk Wipper. I know he would have gotten a good chuckle over that. But now he is gone from this earth.

And I will never forget him.

The Man And The Canoe
There once was a man, a keeper, of the wilderness.

There once was a Canoe, also a keeper of the wilderness.
There once was a meeting of these spirits.
The man and the Canoe became brothers.
This man revered his brother and the Canoe made many friends.
The man and his friends made a special home for the Canoe.
They found him shelter.
They made him a museum.
They honoured the Canoe.
The Canoe was grateful to his brother.
The Canoe’s friends were grateful to his brother.
For without the man, who shared his View From The Stern,
The Canoe would be lost.
Forgotten by the masses.
And without the Canoe, by which we lived,
Our heritage would be lost.
Our wilderness, forgotten.
Without the Canoe, we would not be Canada.
And without this man, we would not be who we are… still… today.
Canadian. Canoeists.

My heart, and deepest of sympathies, are with his very beautiful wife, Ann, his family and his friends. My thoughts also go out to the paddling community as we are all mourning the loss of this very special man who meant so much to so many of us. May he rest in peace.

Written by Fiona Westner-Ramsay

Please take the time to visit and share your thoughts and memories of Kirk.  The Canadian Canoe Museum is also honouring their co-founder with a gathering as well. Perhaps we will see you there, as Mike and I are hoping to be able to attend to honour Kirk’s memory and celebrate his amazing life.


*From the Canoeroots Online Forum in 2009:

Mike Ormsby wrote:
What did you find to be the Top Events or News on Canoeing or Paddling in the last decade???? Everybody seems to be making their Top Ten Lists for 2000 to 2010….especially now the decade is coming to an end. So what are your suggestions?????

Fiona Westner-Ramsay wrote:
There is someone/something who stands out in my mind over the past decade and that is the work, life and reputation of Kirk Wipper, his founding of the Canadian Canoe Museum, and the respect and recognition he has brought to canoeing and it’s deep history.
I believe he was knighted in recognition of his distinctive contributions to his country (and passion), around the beginning of this decade, by Canada’s Governor General.
To me, Kirk Wipper is one of the great nobleman of canoeing and his continued legacy is a gift to all paddlers; young or old; Canadian or not. His impassioned efforts have allowed all of us to take pride in our heritage and ensure future generations continue the knowledge and tradition of paddling.

Sir Kirk Wipper has bestowed a great gift to all of us, in the selfless manner he has come to be known for. And… even though he is considered elderly now, he still continues to travel and speak about his passion (and ours). What an inspiration!!!!!! 

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