Jack Rogers is holding his digital camera out like Grandma's brag book.
"Did you see my photo of the pine marten?" he asks.
Displayed in the LCD, as though presenting his best side for the camera, is an inquisitive-looking mammal with large ears and a jaunty bandana of red fur. Jack is quite right to be proud of his shot. The pine marten is an elusive member of the weasel family. It's listed as a threatened species in many parts of Canada, so his is a rare sighting. I'd never even heard of it. But it won't be my only lesson that weekend - I'll soon discover a new side of Ontario.
I'm at an Algonquin Park lodge, a base camp where wilderness outfitter Voyageur Quest offers canoeing, kayaking and hiking trips.
Other guests include Rui and his family from Portugal, Jack and his wife from Scotland and Jia from Beijing, China.
They're participating in the three-day guided canoe adventure. I've planned the lazy person's option: two days of log cabin lounging.
The next morning, though, it's too cool for sunbathing, so I decide to join them for day one. Using a 26-foot canoe designed by voyageurs who once navigated the river's fur trade route to Thunder Bay and back before winter, we'll be paddling the Almaguin Highlands near South River.
"How many strokes do you think a voyageur paddled per minute?" asks Kendra, our guide.
"About 50," shouts Jack from the front of the canoe.
"Actually, it's 70 strokes a minute - for 10 hours a day," she says. "How many do you think we're doing?"
"At least 50," we yell in unison, sweating and pulling forward.
"One thousand, two thousand," she times. The result? A measly 30 strokes per minute. As voyageurs, we wouldn't have survived the winter.
Fortunately, we only need to cross Surprise Lake. But mist has turned to rain that's falling in larger, faster drops. I pull up the hood of my borrowed poncho and a bucketful of rainwater is dumped down my neck. Jack, by contrast, looks dry and comfortable. His rain gear is tight against his paddling shoes and leaves nothing exposed.
"Mountain Equipment Co-op," he says. "I got it all at half-price."
First lesson: be prepared.
Around us, rain hits the water like staccato gunfire. Thunder rumbles and lightning illuminates the sky.
"There's a storm approaching," says Kendra. We pick up our pace to voyageur speed, heading for shore.
Once the skies clear, we explore the lake's hidden bays. First stop, Red Rock. Looking like a Jesuit priest from the movie Black Robe, Rui vaults off a cliff of Neapolitan-ice-cream-coloured quartz into the water.
Next, at Moose Bay, we hike across meadows of waist-high wildflowers.
"Purple Joe-pye weed and lacy white boneset - flowers with medicinal value," explains Kendra.
"There's even sweet gale for tea," says Jia, holding a branch of glossy leaves
"Bog myrtle," says Jack. "It's common on Scottish moors and good for stomach aches."
Seeing I have nothing to report, he points to an unusual dragonfly that's hitched a ride on my life jacket. I proceed to march over beaver dams and through water channels oblivious to my sneakers full of swamp water. Blue jays and chickadees chatter from the forest line.
Back at the cabin for dinner, I realize we've paddled for eight hours. My muscles ache and my poncho is in tatters from the wind. The wood-fuelled sauna beckons.
Later, as I rest on a window seat beneath the soft light of a propane lamp, Jia joins me. "It's peaceful, isn't it?" she asks, a cup of sweet gale tea in her hand. "So different from home."
I agree, and then realize something. Although Ontario is my home, I've actually discovered a new side of it.