Local and Renowned Explorers Named Champions of Canada’s Great Trail


“Having paddled a canoe from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the Arctic Ocean; having pedaled our bicycles from Tuktoyuktuk North West Territories to L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland; and having met this country, its people and its diversity from coast to coast to coast via land and water trails together, we know the tremendous value of The Great Trail to be both a symbolic, physical and healing connection to all Nations across Canada.” ~Joanie McGuffin.

Joanie composes one half of ‘the McGuffins brand’ that was quite unintentionally developed by herself and her husband, Gary. Canadians, and fans around the globe, have blended the personalities of the wife and husband explorer team into one identity. Joanie, a writer, and Gary, a conservation and landscape photographer are long-time advocates for the preservation of this nation’s pristine lakes and natural landscapes.

The McGuffins have recently shared the distinction of earning a Canadian Screen Award for their research work in the field that culminated in the documentary film Painted Land: In Search of the Group of Seven. The McGuffins, who also co-produced the film, bushwhacked and paddled their way to the discovery of hundreds of locations on the rugged Algoma landscape where the Group of Seven were inspired to paint. However, their work that began in 2008 did not come to an end after the completion of the film. Discoveries continue as private collectors of the Groups’ work reveal their treasured masterpieces to the McGuffins. New paintings thus new painting sites continue to be found throughout Algonquin Park, Georgian Bay, Algoma and the north shore of Lake Superior.

The McGuffins co-founded the Lake Superior Watershed Conservancy (LSWC) with colleague, Ruth O’Gawa. The Conservancy is dedicated to the long-term sustainable health of Lake Superior and its watershed. The Conservancy, in partnership with Trans Canada Trail and Trans Canada Trail Ontario, collaborated with First Nations communities, coastal municipalities, and Ontario parks and national parks located on Lake Superior’s north shore.

The idea of a Trans Canada recreation trail connecting the Atlantic to the Pacific to the Arctic oceans was launched in 1992. During Canada’s Sesquicentennial (150th) in 2017, connection of the 24,000 kilometer (15,000 mile) trail will be celebrated across the country.

The Lake Superior Water Trail is a link in the Trans Canada Trail that has outstanding scenic beauty, wild natural landscapes and cultural values that provide amazing experiences.

Trans Canada Trail Ontario is guiding the multifaceted trail development across the province of Ontario. The Lake Superior Watershed Conservancy is the registrant and overseer of the TCT’s 1000-km Lake Superior Water Trail spanning the north Shore of Lake Superior between Prince Township’s Gros Cap Harbour on Whitefish Bay and the City of Thunder Bay’s Fisherman’s Park.

The Lake Superior Water Trail is more than a link to TCT’s The Great Trail -it is part of an international water trail encircling the largest freshwater lake on Earth.

This water trail connects the people to the Land and to the Waters of Lake Superior in a coordinated way for the long term health of the Lake Superior watershed.

The TCT Lake Superior Water Trail identified 16 priority access points Universal access plans were developed for the sites and infrastructure including universal access docks, picnic tables, bear-proof recycling and waste containers and kiosks with the supporting partners of Trans Canada Trail, TD Bank, the Ontario Trillium Foundation, the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation and Tourism Northern Ontario.

The McGuffins were honoured when Deborah Apps, President and CEO of the Great Trail, extended an invitation to serve as Champions of the Great Trail.

“Through your celebrated careers as explorers, authors and conservationists, and through your efforts to be “a voice from and for the wilderness”, you have been, and continue to be, such positive role models, inspiring Canadians, particularly youth, to value and respect Mother Nature, and to seek their own ways to live in harmony with their surroundings or to set out on their own discovery adventure,” wrote Apps to the husband-wife team.

“We feel so happy to be spokespeople for a trail that connects people across this great landscape,” remarked Gary.

In 1983, the McGuffins embarked on a two-year canoe trip across Canada and in 1986 they set out on a 7,500 mile cycling trip across the nation.

“Back then we felt like we were on our own telling Canadians about the water trails that have always been there –from the Atlantic to the Pacific to the Arctic,” commented Gary.

Reflecting on their decades of work capturing Canada through their writing and photography; dedicating much of their life on the water and in the wild daughter and pup often in tow; and travelling across Canada and internationally to raise awareness, love and respect for the natural world, Gary expresses that they are suited to the roll of Great Trail Champions.

“We feel that we truly can be spokespeople for the entire trail- not just for the segment that we established from Gros Cap to Thunder Bay,” shared Gary. “This Trail brings Canadians together. The Great Trail implies that there have always been trails across this continent. We’re a Nation of Nations.”


In the film, entitled The Canoe, shot and developed by Goh Iromoto, the McGuffins open up about a lifetime of inspiration drawn from the natural world.


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