A Journey to the Center of the Universe

A look into the life’s work of the reclusive Inventor Wendell Beckwith.

Paddling along the shores of Whitewater Lake in Northern Ontario’s Wabakimi Provincial Park, you can begin to imagine how someone may come to think of this pristine wilderness as the center of the universe. Here – deep within the Boreal forest – one begins to feel the ancient rhythms of the natural world as they have existed for hundreds of thousands of years. It is a feeling that can make you feel both small and wondrously interconnected.

For Wendell Beckwith, it was these feelings that first drew him to explore the remote waterways of Northern Ontario as a sanctuary for his continued scientific studies. As with many great recluse before him, such as Thoreau and Muir, Beckwith was hoping to find a space for himself away from the throws of modern society and the mental pressures of other thinkers on his research. In 1961, this pursuit led him to Best Island on Whitewater Lake, where – with the financial support of Harry Wirth, a San Francisco architect – he began the creation of his wilderness research facility and home.

For those who have the great privilege to visit Beckwith’s cabins, it becomes immediately clear the depth of thought that was put into the creation of the living space of this great – yet odd – reclusive inventor. Though the spruce and firs are slowly closing in and the cabins are beginning to return to the land from which they came, the detail and care that was put into each feature of these great structures still comes through to this day.  From the intricate designs on each door to the massive stone fireplace in the main building, Beckwith’s creations are an enthralling sight to behold.

His magnum opus however was the “Snail”. Born from his study of the number Pi and its relation to the natural world and the universe, the Snail is the last cabin Beckwith built on Best Island and sits snuggly into the side of a hill built in a whimsical swirling shell shape. This structure remains a marvel of architecture to this day, utilizing the natural landscape and its own odd design to be efficient in every way. It was noted that Beckwith would only need to harvest wood for about ten minutes each day to heat his snail shaped house even in the dead of winter, when temperatures in Northern Ontario went below -40°C.

Though a truly eccentric individual, Beckwith’s passion and creativity still lives on in the complex collection of logs and stones he left behind on Best Island. Walking amongst the cabins, one begins to lose themselves in the magic of the place. With the calling of the loons on the lake and the Northern Lights dancing far overhead it easy to think: “Old Wendell may have been on to something, this is exactly what the center of the universe should feel like”.

Experience this for yourself on Wilderness North’s With the Current canoe trip!