It is with sadness that everyone at The Canadian Canoe Museum, particularly the old-timers who have known the Hodgins family since the Museum’s very early days in Peterborough, mark the passing of Shawn Hodgins. Son of museum founding committee members Bruce and Carol Hodgins, Shawn fell ill while guiding a canoe trip on the Pelly River in the Yukon in July. An early diagnosis in hospital at Whitehorse was confirmed when he returned to Ontario, and sadly, Shawn died on August 22nd, 61 years old, of complications associated with rapidly-spreading pancreatic cancer. We send condolences to Shawn’s wife and partner of 27 years, Liz McCarney, his brother Geoff, his sister Gillian, his mom Carol, and his many friends and extended family in the Peterborough area and beyond.
Like everything he did in life, Shawn quietly supported the Canoe Museum through his mom and dad but also in his own right, attending events and helping when extra hands were needed. His impact on the Museum community, however, was profound insofar as Shawn was a serious, if avocational, student of Canadian history, particularly of the north. And this interest in all things north and wilderness translated into the trips he planned as owner and chief guide of Wanapitei Canoe. Everything he did was set in a rich historical context, but everything he undertook as a trip planner and guide was done in an exemplary manner. Without the fanfare of publicity of any kind, really, Shawn set a standard of excellence in paddling, canoe trip outfitting, and guiding that few others have achieved. He will be particularly missed by his loyal customers and clients who followed Shawn to some of the most alluring and remote paddling destinations on earth.
My recollections of Shawn began with conversations as he grew up at Camp Wanapitei and, later, at Trent, which indicated the depth of his interest in and commitment to excellence in all things, particularly in following the exploits of iconic northerners. But those conversations were translated into memories of his physical prowess in a canoe, as expressed when we crossed paths in the early offerings of ORCA Moving Water Instructor’s Courses at Madawaska Kanu Camp. There was never a wasted word with Shawn—in fact, there were often no words at all, though he did know how to laugh and laugh heartily, particularly at himself—but in a canoe, there was never a wasted movement. He could make a canoe dance, seemingly without effort and never, never, would you see him sweat, no matter how hairy the rapid, no matter how technical the manoeuvre.
I have special memories, too, of spending a few days with him building his Cabin on the camp property at Fergusson Bay in Temagami. It was here, with the foil of lifting and hammering and making something together, that we talked about the hopes he had for Wanapitei Canoe, for the evolution of the camp, for the graduate study that he thought he might like to undertake at Trent, about the weather, or the philosophical underpinnings of John Hornby’s undoing in the Thelon River valley. Shawn had things to say on all of those topics, but never did he—never would he—foist his opinion on you. Quietly, methodically, he would listen and thoughtfully respond. There is much to be missed in this remarkable Canadian. In his sudden and premature leaving of this earth, he has, however, left for many of us an example of how to live life to the max, how to follow your dream, how to be true to yourself, how to be generous and gracious in service to others, and how to savour and protect the simple pleasures of wilderness travel.
Thank you, Shawn.
Goodbye, my friend.
This reflection on reflection on the life and legacy of Shawn Hodgins was written by James Raffan, Director of External Relations.