Fierce Beauty

A backcountry creative writing canoe journey

Our guide Kate took this photo at David Lake, our base camp for this trip.

Are you ready to glide yourself and your writing into a whole new landscape?

Welcome to Firefly’s very first backcountry retreat. Co-created with The Quiet Guiding Company, we’ll be taking seven participants deep into the resplendence of Killarney Provincial Park, where we can hear our breaths and heartbeats, soak up the deep beauty of Ontario’s wilds, and tune into our softest creative impulses.

Here’s how it works:

This retreat has three leaders, outdoor guide Kate Ming-Sun, outdoor educator Emma Brandy and writing coach Chris Kay Fraser. We’ll work together to create an experience that’s both physical and creative, leading participants deep into their creative voices, and the deep beauty Ontario in September.

We’ll gather at 10:30am on the first day to get to know one another, load up our canoes, and embark. We’ll have a meandering, relaxed paddle of around two hours, getting our bodies warmed up and leaving the sound of the highway far behind. When we reach our destination we’ll have plenty of time to set up camp, write, eat, and tell stories around the campfire.

Day Two will be more physical. We’ll have a long paddle, including two short portages, where we’ll carry our packs and canoes overland from one lake to another. We’ll end at David Lake, which will be our base camp for the next two days (also where Kate took the photo up there.) We’ll settle in for a big meal and well-earned rest, and of course some writing time.

We’ll spend our third and fourth days on David lake at the same basecamp, with abundant time to hike, nap and of course write, write, write. On Day Five we’ll spend around three hours paddling out, arriving back to our cars by 2pm in time for a celebratory final meal and journeys home.

Throughout the trip, we’ll be using writing prompts to gently guide us into our inner landscapes. We’ll explore what’s known when the noise of city life falls away, what surprises we find when our responsibilities are replaced with new ones. Each day will start with a short writing workshop to check in with ourselves and set creative intentions for the day. We’ll look to nature for metaphors and inspiration. We’ll use our canoe mates to bounce new ideas around. We’ll take plenty of creative breaks to write and share.

We’ll also spend part of each day in intentional silence, paddling or writing or just taking in the splendor of Ontario’s northern wilderness.

This is real backcountry — we’ll be sleeping in shared tents, preparing meals on camp stoves and fires, writing by hand. There won’t be Wifi or even cell phone signals. Depending on the weather, our writing sessions might be under tarps and around campfires, sitting on mossy boulders or logs. Participants will (with plenty of support and instruction) be invited to be active members of the camp experience, for example helping to help set up tents and tarps, make fires and cook food.

Participants are welcome to use their own gear (tents, sleeping bags, backpacks) but we’re also happy to coordinate rentals at a low price. Canoes, life jackets and dry sacs will be provided.

Meet your guides:



Writing Facilitator


Backcountry Guide



Outdoor Educator

Chris is the founder of Firefly Creative Writing, with 15 years experience designing and facilitating writing workshops and retreats. While she loves canoeing and camping, she’s relatively new to both and looks forward to learning from Kate and Emma on this adventure. She’ll be leading the writing element of this trip. For more on Chris, see here.

Kate is an outdoor guide with five years of experience leading trips to the backcountry. She also teaches college students training to become outdoor guides. She transitioned from a career in the corporate world six years ago to pursue her passion, guiding outdoor adventures. Her business, The Quiet Guiding Company, specializes in creating trips for introverts. In her words, “We don’t manufacture experiences here. Instead we show up—gentle, soft and strong. We let camaraderie come into being at its own easy pace.” Kate is also a wonderful writer and veteran of many Firefly workshops and retreats. She’s working on a memoir about becoming an outdoor guide. Read about Kate and The Quiet Guiding Company right here.

Emma is a writer and outdoor educator. She found her love for backcountry paddling through her many years at Camp Kearney as a young teenager. Her love for the canoe grew as she began to guide for the camp and other organizations and introduce young people to the art of canoe tripping. In her Masters in Outdoor Education, Emma explored how journeys in the outdoors can cultivate creativity, community and resilience. She is a writer and food lover, whom you may also recognize as the manager of our subscription program, Hello Writer. She’s currently rounding up the many pages of poetry and prose she’s written over the years and turning them into a story of transition and homecoming.

This journey is ideal for people who:

  • Crave fresh air and fierce beauty.

  • Aren’t afraid of the hurts-so-good push of physical exertion.

  • Adore the idea of 5 days without hearing a ringtone.

  • Have a basic level of fitness. To us this doesn’t mean being “strong enough”, but being mentally prepared for hard work, and to have rudimentary swimming skills and a general level of confidence in hiking long distances. We will be portaging up to 1.5km and there will be an optional 10km hike on day four. Comfort with sweat and sore muscles is a must. Canoe paddling skills are not required — we can teach you.

  • Actually like smelling like a campfire.

  • Are motivated by the idea of writing reflectively, and sharing that work with others.

  • Own a big, open, adventurous heart.

  • Believe in the power of community, and want to help build a gorgeous one.

This retreat won’t be ideal for people who:

  • Are part-way through a big writing project and can’t put it down. On this retreat we’re using writing as a tool to deepen our experience and nurture mindfulness. Projects may emerge, but this isn’t a chance to crank out 4 new chapters. (Also, we won’t have computers.)

  • Hate the idea of putting up a tent. We will be available to assist with all the physical details of this trip, but we firmly believe that participation is part of what makes camping beautiful. You do not need to bring skills, just an open mind and eagerness to learn.

  • Require a hot shower every night. The lake will be our bath tub, and we’ll spend a lot of time mucky and damp.

  • Are looking for writing critique. That’s rarely our approach at Firefly, and especially not here.

  • Have life-threatening anaphylactic allergies or serious medical conditions that could prove lethal if hospital care isn’t available quickly. We’ll have two certified wilderness first aid guides on the trip, but cannot guarantee timely medical help, for example before serious anaphylactic shock has set in.


Sept 12-16, 2019
Killarney Provincial Park
We’ll meet at the Bell Lake Access Point. Participants will drive up the morning, requiring a very early start if leaving from Toronto, or find local accommodation the night before (we will send a list.)



When you sign up you’ll be asked for a deposit of $595 to claim your spot. We’ll follow up once your spot is confirmed with an invoice for the balance, and the option of breaking the balance into six monthly credit card payments. There’s no fee for using this service, we just like to offer it. Note, HST will be added to all costs.


Visit our FAQ for more information.

Ready to dive in?

Sorry this retreat is full.

Photo credit:

Our guide Kate took that photo up there, at David Lake, our base camp for this trip.