Photo Courtesy of John Wight

BETHEL — “I am a product of my family, of my grandfather, to my father now to my son,” John Wight says in his barn, underneath a polished wooden canoe.

As Wight has been teaching for 46 years [math and science at the Gould Academy], he speaks passionately. However, when he talks about his family, there is layer of respect as he describes his linage, and how he became who he is today. Starting with his grandfather, everyone in his family has carried on the canoeing business legacy.

One hundred years ago, his grandfather was working at a Charter School in Philadelphia. He started a summer camp, and many of the kids from the Charter School attended. Wight’s father attended the camp, which eventually closed in the 30s. Wight’s father launched his own camp in New Hampshire, and Wight was eager to canoe. However, his father would not let him go alone until he knew he could handle it alone.

“He didn’t want [me] to be a passenger,” Wight says, nodding.

At age 12, he was finally canoeing alongside his father. He had been canoeing since he was five years old, and, at last, he was canoeing as part of the team.

By the early 70s, he had taken over the canoeing business. There is much more to the canoeing business than just canoeing. Wight takes people on an eight-day adventure. They wake up at the crack of dawn, and Wight makes elaborate meals (even apple pies for dinner) with his cooking tools, keeping three insulated coolers packed with ice. He has a special water bottle with a filter that takes any threatening chemicals out of the rivers, lakes, and creeks. He has life jackets for everyone. When they aren’t canoeing, people can read, paint, swim, draw, or nap.


After all these years, what’s the most important thing canoeing has taught him?
“Respect the water,” says Wight in a serious tone.

What exactly does that entail? Well, not throwing hands up in a fashion that you beat the water and made it through. That’s sheer luck. Canoeing is an art, a craft, and that means not paddling faster in one direction or sitting on one’s bottom on the panels; it means being direct and diligent with one’s movements with the pole.

Wight had to learn this lesson the hard way. When he was a young kid, he was cocky with his canoeing abilities. His father told him there was a rapid that no one could run on with an open boat. Wight said he could do it. He supported the paddle in the water, but there was no water at the top of the wave. Over Wight went (don’t worry, there was a nice pool ahead), where he learned the lesson to always respect the water.

Now, here is he is next month, taking people on the 77th canoeing trip on the Allagash River. Soon, his son will be taking over him. But for now, Wight still crouches down low with his agile legs, his spirit forever youthful, teaching a lesson on how to canoe properly, using a bucket full of dog toys as a pretend rock.

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