I was sifting though a collection of old maps from canoe trips my parents had taken me on as a child when I came across some print-outs from the Virtual Voyageur Canoe Club. These old trip reports detailed canoe trips through Algonquin Park back when there were no resources other than the official map that Ontario Parks issued. Although the site no longer exists, after some digging I was able to contact the creator of the site and learn more about it’s history…
The Virtual Voyageur Canoe Club was a “logical extension of an organic process” according to the site’s creator Keith Nunn. At the site’s inception, Keith’s friend David Robinson (who also coined the website name) was collecting names of people who enjoyed canoeing and sending them a newsletter that would often contain “elaborate plans” for canoe trips.
Keith who was a programmer and system administrator was also developing websites in 1998, back when people in general were interested in “getting online and connected”. These were the days before content management systems (CMS) such as Wordpress, so Keith actually developed his own which would ultimately run The Virtual Voyageur Canoe Club.
Trip logs submitted by readers
On the site (similar to modern day CMS’) you could create a profile, list your canoes, post trip reports, sign up for upcoming trips and subscribe to the newsletter. Keith reflected that he “Didn’t know that he was developing something that would be super-normal later on”. The Virtual Voyageur Canoe Club website became a handy reference of water levels, where put-ins could be found and which routes did or didn’t work well.
The site was pretty impervious to hacks since it was custom designed and would probably still be running today if it wasn’t for the growing war against SPAM. The core element for members was the e-mail distribution list that they were hosting themselves. As internet providers clamped down where e-mail was coming from Keith was constantly running into the problem of being blacklisted, preventing the newsletter from being shared.
As Keith and I reminisced about the site, he pondered about bringing it back for everyone to dig through.