Friday, December 19, 2014

Alternate Canoe Tump Tying Method

Calvin Rutstrum's outdoor classic, Way of the Wilderness, is often cited as an important book showcasing outdoor and canoeing skills.  Published in 1946, it features some of his practical ideas for canoe camping at the time. Pages 25-26 have a brief blurb on portaging a canoe with a tumpline rigged up in a different manner than other sources.

After setting up the headband between two paddle blades, the tump straps are lashed around the blades and extended to the thwart where the remaining ends are used to lash the handles.

Way of the Wilderness, p. 25

Never used this method before, since I find the paddle blades a bit claustrophobic around the head. Plus I tend to bring two paddles with different blade shapes when paddling and so end up with an uneven load on the shoulders. Still, this method means no need to use any other cordage or  lashings for the paddles.

This method is apparently not Rutstrum's creation. A descriptive article simply entitled "Carrying a Canoe" by   Richard Garwood Lewis appeared in the April 1930 edition of Field and Stream (Vol. 34 No. 12). In one of his photos, you can see the paddles rigged out in a flared manner (providing more headroom than Rutstrum's illustration) with the tumpline  straps extending along the shafts to the lashed grips

Tumpline Lashing Method Closeup

Monday, December 15, 2014

Canoe Art - Winchester Ad

From the December 1904  edition of Rod and Gun in Canada is this neat ad for Winchester rifles. It features a romantic image of a hunter in his bark canoe with the his paddle propped up supporting the shot. The artist also correctly captured a carrying bar lashed over the centre thwart which was common practice for some bark canoes to take the strain off the centre thwart lashings. There's also a wanigan box resting in the hull with his hat and pipe thrown on for good measure.

Paddle Closeup

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Paddle from Jonas - Sweden

Many of you might know I routinely feature creations from other paddlemakers. Blog reader Jonas from Sweden has recently discovered the joy of carving custom paddles and sent in some photos of an experimental design.

This one features a pointed, spear like blade. The inspiration for his custom carved grip came from the Etched Coast Salish Paddle posted back in January of 2013. The 64cm shaft is a transitional shape, going from round at the base of the grip to oval at the blade neck.

Jonas' Experimental Design
130 cm Spear Blade

The grain pattern on Jonas' blade is incredibly straight - a great indicator of excellent wood selection. Also impressive is that this paddle was not sanded but carefully scraped smooth which adds a lot more work to the project.

Straight grain pattern on blade

The paddle is finish in an experiment mixture of raw oxidated linseed oil, pitch oil and tar on the blade and shaft with just oil for the grip. You can just make out the subtle colour difference between these sections

Custom carved grip

Finally, Jonas has decided to start his own paddle making blog to document his journey in this fun hobby. Right now it is brand new with a short series of informative posts on paddle design and a fascinating post about the use of tar and shellac in Sweden as a finish for canvas canoes. Check it out at

Monday, December 8, 2014

Burt Reynold Deliverance Canoe Auction

A potentially bit of interesting canoe history is up for auction - a canoe belonging to Burt Reynolds that has a loose link to the film, Deliverance. I had posted about this canoe back in 2012 during the 40th anniversary of the film when it was housed at the Burt Reynolds museum in Florida (original post here).

Deliverance Cast - 40th Anniversary (2012)

Now Julien's Auctions has posted some more pics of this canoe on this listing

"Deliverance Canoe" - Julien's Auctions - Lot 316 of 676

"Deliverance Canoe" - Julien's Auctions - Lot 316 of 676

"Deliverance Canoe" - Julien's Auctions - Lot 316 of 676

Of course a casual glance of this canoe shows major reconstruction efforts that were done quite amateurishly. Also this canoe is much shorter than the tripping canoe feature in the film with no seats or a center thwart.

In the classic "destruction scene" of the canoe, Jon Voight's character goes down a rapid backwards and the canoe breaks in half after slightly getting hung up on a rock. This scene likely cemented the idea in many peoples' minds that these sorts of canoes are fragile eggshells  despite the fact that wood canvas canoes survived many epic canoe expeditions  in history. The truth is that the dramatic scene was accomplished with a bit a of Hollywood special effect - the canoe had been cut in half amidships from gunnel to gunnel so as to break as quickly and cleanly as possible. You can see the scene at the 2:38 mark from the Youtube Trailer below:

Some background research by Benson Gray of the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association revealed that six identical, 16' Old Town Guide canoes (in dark green) were shipped to the film location in Clayton, Georgia a year before the film was released. Furthermore, the serial numbers on either stem of Burt Reynold's canoe are still visible and match the build records from Old Town Canoe Co. It appears someone "reconstructed" this canoe with ends from two of the original 16'  Guide models resulting in a shorter 11' 6" boat cobbled together with bits and pieces.

Serial Number 184432

Build record for 184432

Serial Number 184739

Build Record 184739

The auctioneer cannot guarantee any proof that these actual canoe bits appeared in the film but thanks to Benson's research, at least there is some association, even indirect, with this iconic canoe film.

Dec. 12 Update: Benson Gray just posted that the canoe went for a hammer price of $14,000 to an internet bidder.   It was expected to fetch $800-1200.  Wow!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

1905 Hubbard Expedition Paddles

Was very excited to follow Peter Marshall's 2014 expedition attempt re-creating the 1905 Labrador crossing by Mina Hubbard (original post here). Unfortunately, the journey was halted over the Wapustan portage due to injury but credit is due to the 2 man crew for attempting this isolated and challenging route.

In the meantime, I've been re-reading The Woman Who Mapped Labrador, a very well researched book which included Mina Hubbard's diary in print for the first time. This time around, I noted some of the gear used for the trip. Page 103 cites:

"In the hold were six maple paddles and two "Guides Special" canvas covered canoes, each "Dead Grass" in colour and 19 feet in length, purchased by Mina just a month before for $70.00 from the Old Town Canoe Company of Maine."

As an interesting aside, her original invoice for the two 19' Guide Special Canoes and 4 of the  paddles were posted onto this thread on the WCHA forums.  The remaining two paddles were evidently secured by George Elson later along their journey to North West River Post in Labrador.

Mina Hubbard's Invoice (Old Town Canoe Co)
Courtesy Benson Gray - Original Link

On the 100th anniversary of the trip, the tiny village of North West River did a re-enactment of Mina Hubbard's departure. While the 19ft Old Town Guide Specials were no longer being built, 2 canoes were procured for the event and painted in that "dead grass" colour as documented in the invoice.

Here's the "George Elson" fellow posing with his paddle on shore...

Monday, December 1, 2014

Canoe Paddle Bridle - Lining Method Pic

One of the methods of lining and tracking a canoe in rapids involves tying a rope in a sort of bridle so that the main pulling force is below the waterline. A good illustration of this canoe can be found in Pierre Pulling's  Principles of Canoeing available online on (Fig. 14, Page 109).

Page 109Principles of Canoeing

Ray Goodwin's 2011 publication, Canoeing, has an step by step photo sequence of the tying method on pages 170-171. These pages are available for preview here (*pdf format). I've used this method before (see poling daytrip post here) but find tying and untying a little cumbersome so often leave the towing bridle attached with the rope in the canoe until the next opportunity for lining / tracking arises.

Recently, I stumbled across a scanned digital edition of Field and Stream  (April 1933 Vol. 37 No. 12 ). Page 70 had a tiny article with an illustration with a different method. This one involves a simple slip-knot and a paddle for tension to form an alternate bridle method. Here's the brief clipping...

Since I've never seen this method before, I posted a thread about it over on the forums to get some feedback from more experienced trippers. There are a few responses from folks who give it a thumbs up. Hoping to try this out for myself next season and will report back.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Early Chestnut Bobs Special with Tumpline

An Ebay seller has posted what looks to be an early (1920s-30s) Chestnut Bobs Special wood canvas canoe.

These wide beam canoes were first marketed as "50-Pound Specials" since they weighed roughly 50 pounds and were nearly 10 pounds lighter than any other canoe of comparable size using novel construction methods of the time. Their relatively flat bottoms allowed for more stability when standing in flat water so were preferred by fisherman and other sportsmen.  A more detailed history of the Bobs Special (including the curious originating source of the name) can be read in this article by Kaydi Pyette of Canoe Roots magazine.

One of the more "famous" users of this canoe was Grey Owl (Archie Belaney). Here is a photo of him standing in an early model 50 Pound Special. The photo was taken during his stay in Prince Albert Nation Park sometime after 1931.

Grey Owl in Chestnut 50-Pound (Bobs) Special

Back in 2010, I wrote a post researching Grey Owl's paddles and discovered that one of the paddles he used is kept in his cabin on Lake Ajawaan, SK. That post also has 2 silent films from the National Film Board of Canada showcasing his skills in a canoe.

Anyway, the Ebay canoe up for sale needs new canvas along with some minor planking and seat repairs. But overall, it looks to be in great condition for the age. What caught my attention however, is the original home-made tumpline (all stitched - no rivets) along with a custom carved notched carrying bar.

A closeup shows a carved indent in the middle of the carrying bar where it was lashed with a separate piece of cordage to the centre thwart. Additional cordage is wrapped with hitches to slide the paddle blades through.

Apparently this canoe has its original canvas and has sat unused under a cabin for quite a while. Either way, the original paddler knew about this method of rigging. Hopefully, this interesting canoe will be purchased by someone who will restore it and bring it back to its full tripping glory.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Historic Paddle Photo: Maliseet Guides - Rod & Gun in Canada

My latest discovery of of old periodicals on is the outdoor themed publication, Rod and Gun in Canada. It was first published in June of 1899 and ran in various incarnations until 1974. While not strictly a canoeing magazine, many of the issues feature some sort of canoe related expedition to hunting grounds or fishing spots and make for great reading. currently has 38 early volumes of venerable magazine for copyright free browsing and use.

The Sept 1910 issue (Vol 12 No.4) has an article entitled,  "Diary of a Canoe Trip" by   W.C. Gaynor.  It documents an  82 mile canoe trip from the border of New Brunswick into Quebec. Gaynor took the liberty of crediting his Maliseet guides for their superb performance in the many rapids and included a photo of them in his article.

The full page photo luckily captures both a full frontal view of the main Guide's paddle (right) and a profile view of another.

You can tell these are working paddles. They are rather roughly carved and have especially thick shafts for strength. Curious as well is the obvious knot hole  in the blade of the paddle on the right. Paddles like this would've been carved from whatever resource was available and likely discarded.

This paddle shape with its elongated blade and long tapering grip is one of my favourites for tripping - although mine is reduced to a relatively short 58" length. While I've been using one made out of cherry for the last few years, it is currently being refurbished as an heirloom paddle for my 2nd son. Now there is another one in the works being made from Sassafras to use as my working paddle.


Guide's paddle with my similar Cherry Version

Monday, November 17, 2014

Grandfather Canoe Update

Here's an interesting update regarding the famed 21 ft "Grandfather" canoe discovered in Ireland and repatriated to St. Mary's Maliseet First Nation back in 2009.

Documentary make Joe Kearney created a podcast on RTE Radio1 (Ireland) explaining the spiritual significance of the canoe. A bark replica of the original was built under the guidance of Steve Cayard and appropriately named the Grandmother Canoe.

G. Wayne Brooks & Steve Kearney with Maliseet Paddles

Turns out that if funds can be arranged, another replica with be made in an effort to teach youngsters these nearly forgotten skills with the final product donated back to the University where the original Grandfather Canoe once hung. 

More details in the accompanying article that appeared in the Irish Times...

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Zender Dale Arts - Woodland Paddle

Came across another woodland style paddle on the woodwork gallery page of Zender Dale Arts

"Handmade maple paddle canoe with carved handle, 6 inch wide by 34 inch wampum belt, and trade hatchet"

Unfortunately, the low resolution photo doesn't show details of the interesting step-like grip. It is very reminiscent of the circa 1860 Northeastern Woodlands paddle posted on before.

Circa 1860
 Maple  - 5 ft. 3 3/4 in. Original full post here

This specific  paddle was featured in Pleasing the spirits : a catalogue of a collection of American Indian Art  by Douglas C  Ewing  (1982) - plate 474. Luckily one copy of this out of print exhibit catalogue was available at the Toronto Reference Library where I went to find some extra information. The black and white pics included a closeup of the floral carving details etched on the grip.

Basic Floral Etchings on grip

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Northwoods Ways Paddle Cover Photo

The Facebook page of Northwoods Ways features a gorgeously composed cover photo of some paddles. Mesmerizing grain and wonderful grip shapes...

Monday, October 27, 2014

NMAI Abenaki Inspired Paddle Decoration

This post on the Paleoplanet forums features a beautifully carved and decorated paddle by member, Dauntless.

A closeup of the blade showcases some of the delicate etching...


It was apparently inspired by an Abenaki paddle in the outstanding collection of the American Museum of Natural History (see that post full here)

Catalog No: 50.1/ 9825
Dimensions: L:182 W:20 H:3.5 [in CM]
Accession No: 1916-9

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Rice Lake Canoe Catalog Paddles has a copy of the Rice Lake Canoe Co. Catalogue dated to 1900. The company was one of the many builders in southeastern Ontario at the turn of the 20th century and it's well illustrated catalogue showcases many style of canoes being built at the time. A short history of the company can be read here for anyone interested.

Page 14 of the document a full page ad with a series of paddles. They're all long deep-water paddles consistent with the deep lake water conditions of region. Check out those prices...$1.00 for an oiled Maple, Ash, or Spruce paddle!

Rice Lake Canoe Co. - Paddle Closeups

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Cherry Gallery - Maine Guide Red Painted Paddle

The second paddle featured on the Cherry Gallery's October Current Selections page is this classic styled Guide Paddle from Maine. It's been painted with contrasting red paint for the blade and black paint for the shaft / grip. Another big one at nearly 6' long...

Painted Canoe Paddle
This is a classic handmade Maine guide paddle with a wide handle and blade. The blade is painted red and the shaft and handle are black. Handsome for hanging.
Circa 1910
5.5" w, 71" h

Still not as big as this rediculously huge 96" Guide Paddle posted on earlier, but a handsome paddle nontheless.

Undated Canoe Paddle,  96" x 6 - 3/4" 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Cherry Gallery - Model Penobscot Style Canoe Paddle

It's been a while since the Cherry Gallery has posted anything paddle related. Their October current selections page features two interesting antique paddles. The first is a cute model paddle with a distinctive stepped style grip commonly seen in some Penobscot paddles which formed the basis for the classic "Northwoods Style" grip favored by Alexandra Conover-Bennett...

Model Stepped-Handle Canoe Paddle
This small paddle has the classic stepped-handle shape of Maine Penobscot paddles. There is stippled decoration all along its perimeter, and the ever-wise sentiment "Paddle Your Own Canoe" is lettered on the blade to encourage self-reliance.
Circa 1920
2" w, 16.5" h

As a reference, here is (now sold) full-sized Penobscot paddle from another antique dealer in NY (see original post here)...

I'll have a second post up soon to showcase the Cherry Gallery's other paddle up for sale.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Abenaki Birchbark Paddle Stencil

This post from 2012 discussed a book source for some of the double curved motifs used in some of my paddle decorations.  Frank Gouldsmith Speck's  Symbolism in Penobscot art (1927) has some wonderful imagery and thorough historical discussion of these motifs. Figure 12 on Page 43 describes a piece of birchbark used as a stencil template to make symmetrical patterns on a paddle blade.

Recently, I found a similar image on this twitter feed. Apparently an artifact in the Smithsonian's NMAI collection, it is a partial image of a bark template for an Abenaki paddle. I've been unsuccessfully searching for a more complete image with historical details, so for now this image will have to do...

Abenaki, Paddle Stencil (detail)

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