University of Toronto Magazine University of Toronto Magazine

Paddle Power

The adventures of the U of T Outing Club think nothing of canoeing across Toronto's inner harbour. They also hike, bike, ski and otherwise challenge the great outdoors in any way they can

On a hot August morning last summer, trip leader Greg Dubord and a handful of University of Toronto Outing Club (UTOC) members readied themselves for a canoe trip. Checking packs and gear, they prepared for the one-kilometre portage to the lake. But were they worried about bears and black flies? Not these fearless trippers. The members were about to embark on UTOC’s third annual Toronto Islands circumnavigation. With a portage that would take them from the outlet on King Street West where they rented their canoes, along Spadina Avenue to Queen’s Quay, they knew the greatest threats ahead would be traffic, tourists and telephone poles. Once in the water, they would set off westward around the islands, breaking for a barbecue and swim before tackling the return sprint straight across Toronto’s busy inner harbour.

“This event is not a typical canoe trip for the club,” says Dubord, an enthusiastic canoeist who frequently partakes in UTOC’s many adventures on Ontario’s northern lakes and rivers. Three years ago, he was inspired with the idea for a local paddle. “After years of looking out over the lake from where I live on Queen’s Quay, I thought, ‘Why not?'”

It’s hard to say what is typical for UTOC (pronounced “you talk”), a club formed in 1957 by a handful of U of T students itching for some stress-busting outdoor activities. During the ’60s, the club purchased a small parcel of land southwest of Collingwood, Ont., for the sum of $350 and subsequently built an open-concept cabin that sleeps 30 on foam mats. The cabin is adjacent to thousands of acres of public land. Favoured activities at the cabin range from cross-country skiing on the club’s own Kolapore Trails to rock climbing, caving, hiking and cycling in the summer. There are also canoe trips in Algonquin Park and beyond.

Members can phone the Tripline (416-201-5795) for information about a trip, read about upcoming adventures in the bimonthly UTOC Bulletin mailed or e-mailed to members, or log onto the group’s Web site (see address below). A substantial number of pursuits – including dancing, co-ed soccer and a French club – occur in Toronto.

According to publicity officer David Block (BA 1987 Trinity), the club – now in its 45th year – at one time boasted 800 members, but now has about 300 to 350 people. And while membership is open to all U of T students, alumni and staff, applicants with no U of T affiliation may join.

On the Toronto Islands outing, Dubord is paddling with Darlene Varaleau (MBA 1996, LLB 1996), an avid canoeist, skier and long-time UTOC member who is surprised more university members don’t get involved with the group. “It’s really an underutilized club given the population of students and alumni,” says Varaleau.

After lunch, the trippers turn their canoes toward the skyline and cross the harbour, dodging ferryboats and yachts. The day is completed with smiles and cold drinks.

Block recounts a recent inquiry he received from a new student. When he asked the caller how she had heard about UTOC, she told him that her father had been a member 20 years before. “We’ve made it,” says Block proudly. “UTOC: The next generation.”

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