The Oxtongue Story
Algonquin Outfitters opened in 1961. Bill Swift Sr. (Rich’s father, better known as Swifty or Meanest) and Dave Wainman, a former park ranger, started the business. Swifty, a resident of Rochester, NY, had spent many summers in Algonquin Park as a camper and staff member at Camp Pathfinder, and guide at the Highland Inn on Cache Lake. Wainman was Deputy Chief Ranger of the park then, and could see that the time was right to start another canoe livery and outfitter serving Algonquin Park’s main entrance. The first plan was to locate the business on Cache Lake, near the Highland Inn and the railway station (both torn down long ago). In the end, they decided to locate the business outside of the park, at Oxtongue Lake. The original property was purchased from the Hayden family, owners of the Blue Spruce Inn. The front section of the Oxtongue Lake store was the original building and it was located near the present corner of Hwy 60 and Algonquin Outfitters Rd., near the present-day Swift cottage. The first rental canoes were 40 cedar-canvas Chestnuts, delivered by train from the original factory in Fredericton, NB. In 1974 the Swift family bought Dave Wainman’s share of the business. In 1975, Jack and Peggy Hurley became partners and managers for seven years. Jack is now a highly regarded builder of fine cedar-canvas canoes. Peggy still helps out in the outfitting room from time to time and their sons Alex and Brent were valuable staff members for several years. Alex, the only AO staff member who can claim he was born at Algonquin Outfitters, continues to work at our Oxtongue Lake base seasonally.
When Hwy 60 was paved and expanded, the building had to be moved and a larger parcel of land was purchased from the Hayden family. The store was moved in the fall of 1978 to its present site. There have been about six more additions to the building over the years. For the first 30 years of operation, Algonquin Outfitters was a seasonal business, specializing in canoe rentals and complete outfitting for Algonquin Park canoe trips. In the early days, there was even a snack bar in the store (the exhaust fan is all that remains) serving burgers and fries. Most of the staff lived on the property and a full-time cook served meals in the “cook shack”. Retail items consisted primarily of t-shirts, fish tackle, some camping supplies and a few paddles.
AO was a trend-setter in Algonquin Park by being the first outfitter to offer lightweight Kevlar canoes. Most of the original Kevlar rental canoes were made by Mad River Canoe, then located in Vermont. At that time, there were very few, if any, Canadian companies building good-quality lightweight tripping canoes. In the 80s, as Swift brothers Rich and Bill became more involved in the business, there were some new dimensions added to the business. The retail side of the store began to expand, as Rich and Sue sought out more modern camping equipment and clothing to offer to AO’s customers. In response to the popularity of Kevlar canoes, the Swift Canoe Company started up during those years, originally building Sawyer Canoes, a popular US brand, under license. In the late 80s and early 90s, it was clear that there was a need for a canoe designed specifically for Algonquin Park canoe tripping. The first model designed and built by the Swift Canoe Company, the Kipawa, is still in production and is our most requested rental canoe. The original canoe factory was located in the building that now houses the canoe repair shop and Swift sales office at Oxtongue Lake. The Swift Canoe & Kayak company now has a large factory in South River and the main office on Hwy 11, near Gravenhurst.