Charlie Guides

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"Charlie Guide" is a moniker worn proudly by the energetic trail staff at the Charles L. Sommers Canoe Base in Ely, Minnesota and the other employees of the Northern Tier program. The base is affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America, and is a part of the Northern Tier National High Adventure Base which also includes the Don Rogert Canoe Base in Atikokan, Ontario and Northern Expeditions Base in Bissett, Manitoba.

History and traditions

Many of the traditions descend from the rugid and independent French Voyageurs (Fur Trappers) that worked for the Hudson Bay Company throughout Canada dating from the early 1700's primarily trapping and transporting beaver pelts for trade with Europe.

  • Red Tipped Paddle - When a voyageur would cross a "height-of-land", Continental Divide, this occasion would be noted by dipping the paddle blade in red dye. This would make clear to all that the individual was well travelled and probably fairly senior. Today, when a Charlie Guide leads an expedition that crosses a height-of-land the entire group will dip paddle blades in a red mix to mark the occasion.
  • Sash - Nearly all voyageur would wear a highly coloured sash around his waist. This served a two fold purpose. Firstly, it offered a place to keep one's cup/bowl, pipe, and tobacco and secondly it was also worn as a hernia belt because they would have to carry very heavy loads upon a portage. Today, the life of a Charlie Guide is much less stressful than these early days so the sash is worn mostly aesthetic reasons.
  • One-Man Carry - A Voyageur would typically carry 2 to 4 packs weighing as much as ninety pounds each when forced to portage. While modern equipment has made the portage easier it is still common practice for a Charlie Guide to perform the One-Man Carry, which is carrying ones canoe and pack in one trip across the portage.


Today, trail staff are well trained and highly motivated outdoor professionals, usually men and women of college age. They lead 6 to 10 day trips of Scouts and Advisors in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and the Quetico Provincial Park.

Responsibility vs. Independence! Charlie Guides maintain that same sense of independence and rugidness as the early voyageurs while remaining dedicated to Scouting principles offering a unique experience to the young and not-so-young individuals who come here from all over the world for some of the finest flat-water canoeing in the world. In the course of training that new Charlie Guides go though they become well versed many things.

  • Flora and Fauna - The plant and wildlife of the boundary waters
  • Rules and Procedures - in Scouts and of the Boundary Waters (US Side) and Quetico Provencial Park (Canadian Side)
  • Outdoor Ethic - No/Low impact camping skills
  • First Aid and Prevention
  • Regional History and Lore

What's in a name? In the mid 1970's the official use of the term "Charlie Guide" was re-branded as "Interpretor". While most staff still consider themselves "Charlie Guides" this change was seen as a way to avoid conflict with a law that was passed requiring professional fishing guides within Canada to be Canadian citizens or possess a special work permit. Historically, Canadian officials at the local and provincial level have been very supportive of the canoe base staff and program.

Notable "Charlie Guides"

  • Robert Olson (1942)
  • Forest Witcraft (1950)
  • Henry Bradlich (1950-1987)
  • Sandy Bridges (1957-1960) and (1962-1997)
  • Lee Christianson (1961-1962)
  • Christopher D. Breen (1995-1997)
  • Travis McNaul (2007-2012)
  • Sigurd Olson (honorary)
  • Joe Seliga (honorary)
  • Charles Sommers (honorary)
  • Réal Bérard’ (honorary)
  • Bob Cary (honorary)
  • Carl Chase (honorary)
  • Dorothy Molter (honorary)

Related Publications

Over the history of the Charles L. Sommers canoe base a wide variety of works have been published on the Northern Teir.

  • A Diamond in the North: A History of Scout Adventure in the North Country, 1923-98 by Gene Felton (ISBN 0-9660309-2-3)
  • Root Beer Lady: The Story of Dorothy Molter by Bob Cary (ISBN 978-0-8166-4196-3)
  • The Art of the Canoe with Joe Seliga by Jerry Stelmok (ISBN 0-7603-1241-9).
  • Lost in the Wild: Danger and Survival in the North Woods by Cary Griffith (ISBN 978-0-87351-561-0)
  • A Wonderful Country: The Quetico-Superior Stories of Bill Magie by Bill Magie and (Charlie Guide) Dave Olesen (ISBN 978-0-9677057-8-1)

See also

External links