Northern Ontario canoe trips in his teenage years inspired this Toronto artist

·2 min read
Toronto artist Graham Robinson says his canoe trips in northern Ontario as a teenager were formative for his career. (Submitted by Graham Robinson - image credit)
Toronto artist Graham Robinson says his canoe trips in northern Ontario as a teenager were formative for his career. (Submitted by Graham Robinson - image credit)

When Toronto-based artist Graham Robinson was a teenager his parents made him attend a canoe-tripping camp in northern Ontario called Camp Wanapitei.

"It was something I really didn't want to do," Robinson said. "I wanted to stay in the city and skateboard, and watch TV, and waste my summer away."

But despite his early objections, the experience turned out to be formative and inspired his path as an artist.

In his early 20s Robinson said he found himself drawing from those memories, which became the predominant imagery in his work.

"It just started with a couple of paintings that had canoes," he said.

"At the moment I said, 'This is something that you know is worth exploring in a painting here and there.' And it just built steam over the years."

While Robinson is a painter, he describes his work as "illustrative". He grew up watching cartoons and reading comic books, and studied illustration in university.

Submitted by Graham Robinson
Submitted by Graham Robinson

Robinson's attachment to the outdoors, thanks to his teenage canoe trips around Lake Temagami, also helped him become sober.

"Towards my mid 20s I had come to the conclusion that I had become basically a full blown alcoholic, drinking from when I woke up to when I went to bed," he said.

Robinson said thinking back on his time working through the challenges of canoe tripping helped him get sober. He has been sober for almost eight years now.

Ed Archibald established Camp Wanapitei in 1931, according to the camp's website.

He sold it to Stan and Laura Belle Hodgins in 1956, who developed a canoe tripping program for children and teenagers that has grown since then.

"The Wanapitei experience promotes self-reliance, cooperation and personal growth, through community living, teamwork and challenging canoe trips in Canada's north," it says on its website.