Ontario’s Algonquin Park lost its last traditional guide last year, but the legacy of Frank Kuiack remains. For 76 years, Kuiack shared his passion for the nearly 8,000 square kilometers of Algonquin Park wilderness and extensive knowledge of its more than 1,500 lakes with thousands of visitors.
The legend of Frank Kuiack: Algonquin’s last traditional fishing guide
At one time, the Park had more than 140 guides. These experienced outdoorspeople were hired by some of the one million annual visitors to help navigate the Park’s abundant lakes, and angle for brook and lake trout, smallmouth bass, northern pike, and 50 other species of fish. Over the years, the number of guides declined until only Kuiack remained.
Filmmaker Cristian Gomes documented Kuiack’s last years on the water and his challenge to find an apprentice, so his passing—which happened on May 4, 2021, at the age of 84—wouldn’t mark the end of the tradition. The Last Guide was released in March.
“I believe Frank’s story connects with so many people because of our innate desire to find a purpose, community and environment we deeply connect with,” says Gomes. “Some, like Frank, have found it in nature and cultivated an awe-inspiring life around it. Others are still in the process of searching. Wherever we are on our journey, Frank’s story provides valuable lessons that, if observed and questioned, bring us closer to our true selves.”
How Kuiack became an Algonquin Park icon
Guiding was second nature for Kuiack, who grew up just a few kilometers from the Park’s eastern gate. He fell into the profession in 1945, at the age of eight, when some American tourists saw him fishing and offered him cash to take them on the lake.
His business and reputation grew from there. “I was making more money than my dad was,” Kuiack says with a laugh in the documentary. “He was getting $3.61 a day, and I was getting $5.”
Kuiack became an unofficial ambassador to Algonquin Park. Visitors from around the world came to experience his version of the Park—from ordinary folks and wildlife photographers to celebrities and dignitaries.
Beyond his innate knowledge, he became known for rowing his canoes with oars, his bologna and pickle sandwiches, and the incredible shore lunches that were almost always part of an excursion.
Running rapids and blazing trails
Kuiack’s niece, Sharleen LaValley, who appears in the documentary, shared a special bond with Kuiack. “I listened to amazing stories and participated in making new ones,” she says, recalling the times Kuiack ran rapids with her, the canoe bumping over the rocks below, so he could avoid portaging. “There was never a concern because we always had duct tape in our packs,” she says with a laugh.
The last guide is gone, but Park Superintendent John Swick says, “Many people were, and continue to be introduced to and fall in love with Algonquin Provincial Park because of Frank.”
His spirit will live on through the paths he forged in the Park—many have become official trails—and the experiences he created for thousands of park visitors.
Watch the documentary The Last Guide, the true story of Frank Kuiack.
This article was first published in the Fall 2022 issue of Paddling Magazine. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine’s print and digital editions, or browse the archives.
Attention anglers: According to an interview Frank Kuiack did with the Blue Fish Radio podcast in 2018, his all-time favorite fishing spot in Algonquin Park was Pen Lake. | Feature photo: Wayne Simpson