Jan 27, 2016

Favourite Trees at Tamakwa

While Lone Pine is the most iconic tree on the sunny shores, former Canoe Tripper/Outdoor Fun Director Snaige (Jogi) Zahn had a few other favourite trees to share.

Growing up in rural Ontario, forests were my playground and their trees the skyscrapers. When I went to the city for the first time as a child, I emerged from a subway station onto the street, looked up at the buildings and exclaimed, “Whoa, they’re bigger than trees!”

Coming from various cities from around the world, first-time campers must experience a similar sense of wonder when they step off the bus and arrive in one of the most beautiful, tree-filled places in Canada. Tamakwa’s trees are one of its main distinguishing attributes and have more of an impact on camp life than we realize. Here are my five favourite Tamakwa trees, all of which influence our camp experience and daily lives.


The White Pine
The iconic Lone Pine on Tamakwa’s shores is a frequent teaching aid in Outdoor Fun. Its western lean due to prevailing easterly winds, coupled with its five-needles-in-a-bundle, makes Ontario’s provincial tree easily identifiable. However, many don’t know that seeing a white pine on the west side of Algonquin Park is uncommon. The west side’s upland areas are now covered predominantly in hardwoods (i.e. maple, beech) due to its mass removal during the Park’s logging years. Growing and living conditions for the white pine are now rare on the west side making the sandy, outwash plains of the eastern side an interesting experience for the fortunate few who embark on Tamakwa’s 15- day canoe trips. The few survivors of the logging days can be found behind Achray on Grand Lake (some over 25m tall and more than 100 years old). Even rarer is the more than 40m tall white pine near Crow Lake that only the boys on 15-day experience. So the next time you gaze out along the shoreline, be grateful for the Lone Pine. Not only for the nostalgic feelings it evokes but also for its rareness and all it gives to Tamakwa.

The Paper Birch
Whether it’s the verdant leaves of summer, the golden leaves of autumn or the purple halos the branches give off in winter, the paper birch’s brilliant white bark stands out in any forest no matter the season. On canoe trips, this is usually the first tree campers learn to identify because of its excellent firestarting capabilities. Sadly, most campsites have been stripped of any birch bark for fire starting; so campers learn to pick it up along portages throughout the day. At camp, Tamakwans appreciate the shade cast by the large birch beside the Slope during fishing activity or when listening to long-winded speeches there by camp directors. Like children, paper birches grow best when not in the shadows of their parents. This shade-intolerant species thrives and grows best in sunlight, of which Tamakwa has plenty.

The Sugar Maple
This tree is one reason I love coming back to Ontario from the predominantly coniferous west coast. The sugar maple’s famous autumn colours make the Park especially spectacular starting in the late summer. Unlike the white pine, sugar maples grow well in the moist, well-drained soils of the Park’s west side. Their decomposing leaves enrich the soil by reducing acidity and increasing mineral content. Tamakwa is full of sugar maples and they were one of the main reasons why there were so many mice at camp this past summer. Since maple seeds are the rodent’s main food, you can tell it was a good year for the sugar maple due to the presence of so many mice. Sugar maples also provide a generous amount of shade for Tamakwans. For example, tetherball valley is in constant shade and provides the JTs with ideal conditions to play even on a sunny day. The summer’s heat brings an early change of colours for the maples, and being up at camp in the fall, I was one of the lucky few who got to sit on the shores of Tamakwa and watch them fully turn.


The White Cedar
At Tamakwa, you don’t have to go far to find white cedar trees as they have pride of place in Main Camp, where they provide shade to the nok hockey tables and Main Camp fireplace. These trees prefer swampy areas with underlying limestone rock where soil is consistently moist. However, the cedar tree’s wide spreading root system instead sucks the moisture from the already dry ground creating the kicked-up dust so prevalent in Main Camp. This summer, not only were we wishing for rain to end the fire ban, but I’m sure the cedars were also eager for a damper environment. It’s quite the catch-22 for the cedar. One of the main reasons we wish for rain is to have a decent water boiling competition in which we burn dry cedar and yet it’s the cedar that thirsts for rain for its survival.

The Black Spruce
Standing tall and somewhat unacknowledged at the top of the Slope, it’s often used by people as a leaning post. They rarely give thought to the fact that someone else realized its value and chose not to cut it down. That spruce tree is my favourite place to go and think. I enjoy leaning against it while looking out and appreciating that I’m in my favourite place in Canada – Algonquin Park. I have caught others leaning in the same place throughout the summer, whether it’s writing letters home, reading, or just staring out meditatively at South Tea Lake. I’ve long had a passion and appreciation for trees, the greatest expression and storehouses of life in the wilderness. They are too often taken for granted, even though they blanket the landscape and help define its character. Tamakwa would not be the same without its trees. If you look at Tamakwa, from one perspective, you can easily see the daily lives of campers – trying different activities, cheering, dressing up for programs, etc. But if you look beyond that, you’ll see life-long friendships developing, character building, and lots of learning. If you walk through a forest, you notice that trees are tall and green. But stop and take it in more deeply. Look and listen. Breathe in the air the trees create for you. Listen to the wind blowing through the branches and leaves. Watch the wildlife frolic about. Like a forest, life is richest deep inside if you take the time to appreciate it.

The South Tea Echo is our annual Newspaper featuring articles from Campers, Staff and Alumni! Click here to see the full list of publications. This particular article is from the 2012 edition.