On a snowy February day in Toronto, I’m feeling inadequate standing at the podium in a high-school auditorium—not because of the 500 people in the audience, but for one larger than life man in the front row. Retired physicist George Luste founded theWilderness Canoe Symposium 30 years ago as a way for paddlers to share stories of their northern expeditions and to inspire new trips. The event has the feel of a latter-day Beaver Club—the exclusive gang of fur-traders who explored and mapped Canada in the 18th and 19th century and gathered to chat about it in wintery Montreal.
Following in the paddle strokes of explorers David Thompson, Alexander Mackenzie and Samuel Hearne, Luste spent 55 summers traveling Canada’s far north. He immigrated to Canada from Latvia in 1948 and made his first canoe trip in 1963, a solo journey on Ontario’s Abitibi River. He completed a Ph. D. at Johns Hopkins University before returning to Canada in 1971 for a professorship at the University of Toronto.
Canoeing was Luste’s passion. He paddled Canada’s iconic wilderness rivers—the Missinaibi, Rupert, Eastmain, Kazan, Nahanni, Coppermine, Stikine, and George—often in the company of his wife, Linda, and their children. What’s more, he was part of a group that made the first complete descent of the Dubawnt River in the Canadian barrenlands, pioneered many other multi-watershed routes, and was amongst the last to paddle Labrador’s Grand River before a massive hydroelectric project was completed at Churchill Falls.
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