Friday, August 28, 2009

Distress Reservoir Paddle

Thought I'd share a day trip report with the new cedar canvas canoe. Algonquin Park, a famous paddling destination, is just 25km away, but its day trip potentials are way too crowded with tourists this time of year. Yesterday I decided to explore the headwaters of a local river, The Big East that flows out of the park in a southwesterly direction through the area.

Historically, the Big East River was utilized as a method of transport for timber during the logging era in northern Ontario. To assist in the transport of logs down the Big East, several dams were constructed during the late 1800s to store water for the annual spring log drives. Later many of these wooden structures were replaced with concrete dams by the government to control flooding in the area. This altered the landscape with spots of the Big East now consisting of reservoir like head ponds.

One such reservoir created above the Distress Rapids (now called "Distress Pond") is long and narrow with a deep, well-defined central channel and relatively flat, shallow, marshy perimeters that make it spectacular for wildlife. Here's a Bing Map of the area and a topo map with my track route below.

Topo Map & Route

The launch area is just next to a bridge on a non-maintained gravel road that doubles as a snowmobile trail in the winter.

Being a flooded river valley, there are huge decaying tree stumps all over the pond. Some stick out above the water line and have become resting spots for wildlife others are right below the surface proving to be a hazard to the unwary canoeist.

Serene View

Tree stump islands

Stump growing new plantlife

Off the north shore is a meadering creek that was protected from the winds. Lots of peaceful paddling here and I wandered upstream until some downed trees prevented any more passage.

Tonawanda Creek

The pond was certainly a reservoir of wildlife. Despite not being able to take pictures quickly enough, I spotted 3 separate great blue herons. I was able to capture a shot of one river otter (2 were perched on a tree stump before they got spooked into the water); a loon family with 2 adults and one nearly mature chick; and a cow and calf moose munching on vegetable matter by the shoreline.

River Otter popup

Loon with chick (grey fuzzy area to the right)

Moose Cow and Calf

The concrete dam creating this reservoir was built in the 1940s. It was no longer needed for the lumber and over the years the structure deteriorated. Recently the government decided to decommision the dam, but rather than demolish it completely and cause flooding downstream, a survey revealed that it was more enviromentally conscious to partially demolish the deck and convert the dam to a free-flowing overflow weir.

Distress dam in 1955

Distress dam today

Some folks have been emailing asking my why I'd ever use a boat and paddles that've been so intricately decorated. Personally I think it adds to thoe whole experience. These things were designed to be paddled! Hope you enjoyed the daytrip.

Final Picture

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Runny Spruce Pitch

The last week has been a scorcher by this season's summer standards. Temperatures in the 30 degree Celsius range with the humidex making it feel much hotter. While many sun worshippers have welcomed the change, I've always despised steaming hot weather. Seems like my bark canoe doesn't like it either.

Back in the early spring (May) when I first tested out the boat, I made the spruce pitch according to the temperatures of the time. The ideal ratio of tree gum to fat in the pitch is dependent ambient temperature of the season. Too little fat and the pitch will crack and chip off in colder weather, too much fat and the gum will become runny during hotter days. Well, I must've put in a tad too much fat, because after resting the canoe on horses in the protected confines of the garage, I awoke to the horror of messy, melted, runny pitch leaking down the side of the canoe. The stern in particular took the brunt of the ugliness, as I had loaded up on this weakpoint where most of the leaks seemed to have originated.

Runny pitch down the sides; Lots of runny gum on the stern

I guess the short term solution is to sit the canoe right side up on some slings and hope the gum runs back down to the seams. Either way, my ugly duckling of a canoe now looks like she's got runny mascara.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Blue Raven Launch

Here are some shots of the completed 14ft cedar canvas canoe. Time sure does fly's been a whole year since she was built and only now have I had the time to complete all the varnishing and colour coats. Pam Wedd updated her website to include info on this new design. Read more here. I've named her "Blue Raven" from after spotting a nesting raven during a nearby hike that seemed to have a bluish tinge to its coat.

The canoe handles superbly well, its modest rocker, sweeping sheerline and gentle tumblehome make it the most perfect solo canoe I've ever handled. But the sweat and tears of building the thing have definitely made me biased towards it. At anyrate, along with the matching Passamaquoddy paddle, I'm hoping it'll be a cherished family heirloom in the years to come.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Grandfather Canoe Pictures

One of the world's oldest known surviving birchbark canoe (see my earlier post - Maliseet "Grandfather" Canoe) is back on display at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in New Brunswick. This article by Doug Mackay in "Community Voices", a column of North Bay Ontario's regional paper, The North Bay Nugget discussed the canoe's interesting history.

The Grandfather Akwiten Canoe

On Display at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery

As a side note, it was a reporter working for the The North Bay Nugget in the 1930s who originally exposed Grey Owl not as the native he claimed to be, but Archie Belaney, an Englishman born in Hastings.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Group of Seven Outdoor Gallery - The Canoe

One of the cool things happening up here in Huntsville is a celebration of the uniquely canadian art of the Group of Seven in the form of a beautiful outdoor gallery. All over town are over 40 mural replicas gracing the walls of buildings and stores adding to the natural beauty and charm of this northern town. Close to the public library is one of my favourites - Tom Thomson's classic work The Canoe, recreated by Mural artist Gerry Lantaigne.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Cedar Canvas Varnish & Decorated Seats

During some of my free time away from the birchbark canoe, I'd been gradually finishing my 14ft Cedar Canvas built last year with Pam Wedd of Bearwood Canoes.

After decorating the decks and portage yoke with a tribal burn pattern, a similar pattern was burned on the hand-caned, cherry seats over the winter. They've been coated with two coats of varnish so far and will be likely get 2 more coats before they're installed. Here's a shot below:

Stern and Bow decorated seats

The boat's interior has also received two out of the three coats of spar varnish so it's got that nice, new boat gloss. The varnish has also brought out the beautiful contrast of the cherry outwales and sitka spruce inwales. To get a preview of what the whole thing would look like, I set it up on some horses and placed the seats on the gunwales for a few pics. Here she is:

Interior varnished

View from the stern

In the coming days, I'm planning to paint the exterior with the primer and two colour coats. More updates soon.

August 22, 2009 UPDATE: The canoe is finally complete. View info on the maiden launch here.

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