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1912 - 1988

By Elaine Ziemba

Omer Stringer was Canada's premier solo paddler. He was also known for being a canoe guide and canoe builder. Although his working career followed many diverse paths, paddling a wooden canoe remained at the core of his being.

His method of paddling has been named the 'Omer style' paddling. Omer started guiding in Algonquin Park at a very young age. He was always small in stature and the canoes used for guiding were large which made paddling more difficult for a young lad. The senior guides instilled in all their novices a certain traditional form of paddling. They frowned on any other method. Omer was often sent alone back to base camp for additional supplies. As the trip was far and he was expected back quickly, Omer soon devised another way of paddling that was faster and easier for him to handle. He would kneel in the center of the canoe and lean far over the side of the canoe when no one was watching. Over time as he came into his own, he continued to paddle this way, perfecting it so as to make the canoe perform for him. Others watching started to copy and a new, beautiful form of paddling took shape. The now famous 'Omer style' paddling. Other paddlers have used this technique and some renamed the method to 'ballet paddling'. Whatever name is used the fluid motion of a canoe gliding over the water with a paddler silently moving the paddle in tune to an inner music is one of the most beautiful sights to watch.

Omer loved to show that canoeing is not only a method of transportation and a beautiful art form but is fun to do and watch. Some of Omer's more famous canoeing skills were showstoppers. Without fanfare, Omer would run at full speed down a dock, leap into his canoe and without skipping a beat start paddling away. In the middle of demonstrating paddling methods, with great ease and without stopping, he would deftly move to the front of the canoe where he would do a headstand on the seat without losing balance or tipping over. This required an incredible sense of balance.

The name 'Omer Stringer' recalls scenes of a man who was at perfect ease in a canoe. When he paddled it seemed as if he was part of the canoe, paddling gracefully with minimum effort. Although he had fun with his canoe and teaching canoeing, he was ever mindful to respect the water and elements in nature. He always taught safety first and reminded his students that if in danger to stay with your canoe and to use it to keep you afloat.

Omer was born on Canoe Lake, Algonquin Park, in 1912 to an Algonquin Ranger. He was raised in the Park and very quickly learned canoeing and wilderness skills. He was self-taught. The only formal education available in the Park came by train. A teacher was dispatched to teach all the youngsters. The classroom was in a caboose and the supplies were limited. The school year lasted for a short period of time with the train or schoolroom returning for short spells. His real education was learning from the Park guides and his father. At a very young age he learned how to set up a wilderness campsite and cook meals for the visiting campers. By the age of 14, he had learnt how to build canoes and was guiding canoe trips in the Park.

In the 1930's Omer was teaching canoeing at Camp Tanamakoon, Taylor Statten Camps and Camp Arowhon, all in Algonquin Park. In 1936, he opened his own camp in the Park, Camp Tamakwa. He spent his summers teaching canoeing and developing his own style of canoeing. The era of camping in the '30's was very different than today. The conveniences of city life were very far removed and definitely not readily available. The simple needs of the campers became challenges. The ever-inquisitive mind of Omer invented tools to meet the needs. He even invented a very complicated dentist drill with winches, discs and all sorts of rudimentary forms. It is hard to imagine a waiting lineup of campers for this device. According to Omer it worked.

During World War II, Omer served in the RCAF in India, Burma and New Guinea. It was soon discovered that he had incredible knowledge that could be used in intelligence work and he was soon seconded to the U.S. Air Force for the remainder of the war.

After the war, Omer reopened his camp. Soon there was someone to occupy Omer's heart. He married Edie and started a family. Over the years he had many varied successful careers. At the age of 52, he returned to school and earned a Bachelor of Science degree at University of Toronto. With his love of teaching, it was a natural fit to teach high school science.

He somehow found time to write books and manuals on paddling, water safety and canoe techniques. He was featured in two films. Taught safety courses for the Red Cross and developed an Outdoor Education Program for teachers. To this day, his manuals and courses are used in many recreational and camping programs.

Omer was often the guest on his son's David's T.V. program teaching long forgotten skills in a no nonsense way. He could teach and fix anything. Some of the things taught were skills he learned in Algonquin Park such as how to properly sharpen an ax.

Soon his student campers had grown up and were going into business. They asked Omer to join them in a business venture to be called Beaver Canoe Company. Omer joined the business and soon canoes were being built and sold. The company had a retail aspect and clothing and other outdoor items were sold. The most popular item soon became the t-shirts and sweatshirts with the Beaver Canoe logo with Omer's name. Soon it was the hot fashion item and everyone had to have one even those who did not canoe and had never been north.

Omer's love of canoes and anyone building them soon caught his eye. He had heard of Joe at Carrying Place Canoe Works and came to visit. Thus developed a strong friendship based on a common love of canoeing. Omer Stringer firmly believed that the traditional wood canvas canoe would always remain the choice of the discriminating paddler. He was always willing to impart his knowledge and to be helpful. With Omer's assistance, the 15' Omer Stringer Classic canoe was born. It remains a tribute to a friend, mentor, and fine person. As well, Omer taught Joe how to hand carve a special type of paddle. To this day, Joe will only use the paddle that Omer specially carved for him as a gift. This paddle is still made at Carrying Place Canoe Works to be enjoyed by all.

Omer had many stories filled with history and adventure but the best tales had the added flavour of Omer's wit and humour. He gleefully recounted this story many times. While browsing through a well-known sports show, he came upon a sales person wielding a large sledgehammer. Omer stopped to watch as the sledgehammer was raised and aimed at a plastic canoe. The plastic canoe was repeatedly hit. Shrugging his shoulders Omer left the scene but several hours later he came upon the same booth with the same salesperson hitting the same plastic canoe. Having seen enough, Omer strolled over to the salesperson and with that look that only Omer could have, said: "You know, in all of my over 60 years of canoeing, I have never had to take a sledge hammer to my canoe."

Omer Stringer left a lasting legacy. His style of unique paddling and canoeing are loyally followed by thousands and still taught at camps. His former students and friends have kept his love of the north and especially Algonquin Park alive. Omer's beloved canoe named 'Omer' is on display in the canoe museum in Algonquin Park. Omer Stringer's life, adventures and stories have become Canadian canoeing legends and an integral part of our heritage.

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Canoe & Boat Works Limited

11611 Highway 27, Kleinburg, Ontario, L0J 1C0
Telephone: (905) 893-1350    Fax: (905) 893-3168