Friday, December 23, 2022

Possible Pre-Fire Chestnut Canoe

 Recently was able to acquire yet another cedar canvas canoe. This one might be indeed quite special.

The canoe belonged to a long time member of our cottage lake association and wanted it to go to another member willing to take on the restoration. It was picked up on a very snowy December evening  where it was being stored outdoors under a tarp. At the time, daytime light had faded so it was impossible to examine the details until the next morning while a winter storm raged on.   

Originally I was told it was a 16 foot Chestnut, but after proper measuring it is in fact 15 footer. 16 also typically had two thwarts rather than the single thwart found in this model.  The more remarkable thing is that the canoe is constructed with "closed gunnel" system involving a much thinner outwale attached by copper nails in addition to a rail cap giving the rails a more finished look. This type of construction method is found on early dated cedar canvas canoes and was later discontinued by most companies in favour of the "open gunnel" construction, a faster and easier method of canoe building. 

Researching early Chestnut catalogues reveal the closed gunnel method was built on all their 1st Grade Pleasure class canoes up until 1922. After 1925, this method of build was offered at no extra charge but the canoes in the catalogue were cited as being built with the open method. After 1928, no mention of closed rail construction appears in their company literature.

Thin outwales and a rail cap attached with copper nails

Furthermore, this 15 footer had one of the most narrow widths I've seen on for such a hull length. Most other 15 foot Pleasure class Chestnuts I've come across were had varying widths of 32-34 inches, getting wider as in the later years as the building forms changed. This one has dimensions of 15' x 31" x 11-1/2" deep.

Many folks are aware that the Chestnut factory burned in December of 1921 resulting in a complete loss of the original forms and patterns. As a result, hull shapes and dimensions significantly changed (and new models were created). Though it is yet to be confirmed by additional inspection, there is a chance that this canoe is a "pre-fire" Twozer model, making it relatively rare survivor. 

However, it is quite obvious that the canoe had undergone a restoration at some point. The canvas has started to tear at the gunnel line to reveal some of the planking underneath. This planking is secured with brass tacks as opposed to the copper fasteners that would've been used during the era. 

The decks are requisite heart-shape consistent with pre-fire Pleasure class canoes, but not heavily crowned or undercut and is a likely replacement. Certainly the Chestnut decal is a replacement as it looks too fresh.

The ends of the canoe are covered in a 3/8 wide brass stem band but it is secured with square head Robertson screws, rather than slot screws consistent with the time period. The single centre thwart is made from Birdseye maple but now has some serious cracks where it is attached to the gunnels. It is finely carved with rounded edges.

Overall the woodwork is in great shape. None of the ribs are cracked and just a few token pieces of planking appear damaged from the interior. Of course fully stripping the varnish and removing  the canvas might reveal more. A more thorough review will have to wait until the spring, but for now the canoe is protected in a heated garage.

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Swampy Cree Toy Paddle

Montreal's McCord-Stewart Museum collection includes a decorated model paddle with a painted blade. Although the maker in unknown, the paddle was collected from Moose Factory, James Bay

Swampy Cree Toy Paddle
Maker: Inconnu / Unknown
Date 1870-1878
Dimensions: 51.7 x 3.2 cm
Origin: Moose Factory, James Bay, Ontario, Canada
Numéro D'accession: M18577
Gift of Mrs. D. A. Murray

Saturday, December 3, 2022

Tomah Joseph Paddle

Another shot of the Abbe Museum's Indians & Rusticators exhibit which ran from 2012 - 2013 and featured a full-sized paddle carved by Passamaquoddy Elder, Tomah Joseph (1837 - 1914).

I've adjusted the contrast and flipped the image to get a fairly decent frontal outline of the paddle.

The paddle has been discussed before in this post here and currently resides at the Passamaquoddy Cultural Heritage Center & Museum in Indian Township, Maine.

Monday, November 21, 2022

Trapper Canoe Project - canvassing and completion

With all the major woodwork on the 14' Trapper canoe completed by the summer of 2022, the time had come in the early fall to begin the canvassing process. The hull had been faired, the interior treated with 4 coats of spar varnish and the exterior of the hull oiled. 

Learning from the canvassing experience of the 14' Chesnut Playmate in 2019, I adapted the setup with a few tweaks. This time, I built elevated supports onto my sawhorses to allow for less crouching when pulling the canvas down for stapling. This resulted in the canoe being perched quite high and looking funny.

Also, unable to secure lighter weight #12 canvas duck, I ended up using the more traditional #10 duck. The advantage is that the thicker weaved #10 does a better job in hiding some of the imperfections in this 65 year old hull.

The tensioning setup using a Y strap and heavy duty ratchet strap was the same as back in 2019 and the stapling went without a hitch. Next came the stinky process of applying preservative to canvassed hull and letting it air out over a week or so. After this, the canvas was filled once again using a water-based "lagging compound" mud applied in consecutive layers. 

The beauty of this filler is that it cures relatively quickly and can be painted within days of application. Here is a shot beginning the primer coat of grey over the filled canvas.

The canoe's interior had be covered with an oil-based, dark green paint by the original owner. Despite weeks spent stripping the interior during the early days of the project, there were always flecks of green embedded in woodwork, giving the interior a bit of "character". A decision was made to continue the green tradition of this canoe's existence and paint the hull this standard canoe colour. Along with my Red Chestnut, I now have a set of canoes in vibrant Christmas colours. 

As a bit of an extension to this, I decided to paint the deck (which were not original but had been replaced) in this same colour, along with each of the rib tops. As this was going to be used a solo tripping boat, I also removed the stern seat (to be used in another project) and replaced it with a sassafras thwart, also painted green. Being a practical man, the original owner had also long ago replaced the centre thwart with a board of 3/4" plywood. It is still very sound and has greyed to lovely patina. 

The original owner had also long worn through the caning on the bow seat and had replaced it with a metal mesh. This had also been painted green as seen in this photo of when I first brought the canoe home. 

The loose paint on the seat had been scraped away and new coats of green paint applied to maintain this unique build feature.  Here is a shot of the re-vitalized trapper canoe!

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Historic Paddle Photo: Standing paddler at Dore Lake

Rainy Lake - canoe at Dore Lake.
ID Number: 05416
Date: ca. 1934-1935
Location: Rainy Lake, Ontario, Canada
Collection: CN Images of Canada Collection

Monday, November 7, 2022

Trapper Canoe Project - plenty of planking and splicing repairs

It's been quite a while since I was able to post about the restoration of the 14' Trapper canoe begun in 2020. What began as a potential project to work with High School students became derailed during the initial Covid shutdown and then again during the multiple waves. 

Resigned to the fact that I would be tackling this project on my own, I started to slowly and methodically conduct repairs on the hull that had been fully stripped of its fiberglass exterior and interior paint. Any broken or rotten planking was removed and work began on rib repair.

While no ribs were cracked, hard usage of the boat by the sole original owner resulted in multiple rotted rib tops. The necessary ribs were were repaired with new cedar spliced on while nail holes in other rib backs were simply strengthened with wood filler.

Also requiring attention were the rotted stems on both ends. Previous repairs on rotted inwale ends were poorly done with too shallow a splice angle, epoxy and screws and non-matching wood type.

New stem tips of rot-resistant sassafras were shaped and spliced on both stems. I was able to secure some white oak gunnel stock to match the original inwales and did those repairs at either end as well. In the end I ended up re-using the decks so did not have to carve out new ones.

There was a fair bit of planking that needed to be replaced, particularly on the bottom where the old canoe had been subjected to heavy metal beaver traps and such.

I ended up using a band-saw and belt sander to mill some planking from left over white cedar stock from the birchbark canoe build years ago. In spots subject to heavy strain on the bottom of the hull, the planking would stretch over multiple ribs to be a stronger repair. 

In spots where the planking would take a severe bend or twist, the plank would be heated with a damp towel and clothes iron and then tacked into place. Over many weeks of slow milling and hammering, the planking on the hull was complete. Plenty of sanding was done to fair the hull but this boring part was not photographed...

Next up: Canvasing and painting. Read that post HERE.

Thursday, November 3, 2022

Historic Paddle Photos: Guides using paddles to drink

"Thirsty" - the French-Canadian guide takes a drink from his paddle.
Date: 1941
Parent, Québec, Canada
ID Number: X-12656

Indian guide drinking from paddle.
ID Number: X-42250
Date: 1956
Gogoma, Ontario, Canada

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Visit to the Peterborough Archives & Historic Walking Tour

This passed weekend, I attended a long planned event with the Northern Lakes Chapter of the WCHA. The day long activities included a visit to the Peterborough Museum & Archives. Nine members from all over the province made the trip including as far away as Renfrew, Belleville and Hamilton. The group was treated to a fantastic private  tour of the facility led by Archivist, Jon Oldham. The huge curatorial storage centre was filled to the ceilings with fantastic objects that were accessible for view and study.

Of particular interest to our group was the collection of full-sized and model canoes. The storage area showcased rare wooden canoes all built with various construction methods. Samples included a rare Strickland, Stephenson, Gordon and Peterborough Canoe Co models. A mid-19th century transitional style birchbark canoe was also on display. Members were able to photograph and get close up to compare building techniques, hull design, wood types and other neat features. 

Also featured was a rare surviving dugout canoe that was fished out of nearby Pigeon Lake in 1970. Recent radiocarbon testing reveals it was made between 1732 to 1807, a time-frame that predates European settlement to the region.

The Archivist also brought out a beautifully preserved, longitudinal strip model to assist in the comparison with full-sized hulls.

The collection also includes numerous canoe accessories, including a lovely full-sized birdseye maple paddle and numerous factory sample miniature paddles mostly from Peterborough Canoe Co. These all had various incarnations of the PCC company logo which have proven useful as a tool for dating various items during the PCC's long history from 1893 to 1961.

After the storage tour, various archival materials including company catalogues, paper records and other ephemera were laid in for further perusal. The Archivist also prepared a digital slideshow featuring a small sample of the facilities vast photographic collection.

A full list of canoe-related items available in the collection has been made available to the group. That list is available for download (*.pdf format) at this link HERE.

After a delicious lunch at the nearby Ashburnham Alehouse down the street, the group began the second portion of our day, a guided historic walking tour of Peterborough to examine and locate the historic sites of the city's once thriving canoe building industry. We were led by the extremely knowledgeable local resident, Ken Brown, author of 2011 publication, The Canadian Canoe Company & the early Peterborough canoe factories

Ken organized a methodical tour  beginning with an historic map in the lobby of the Ashburnham Alehouse. The group was able to visualize the large swaths of land which once occupied the industrialized heart of the town. Now much of this area has been turned into recreational parkland. 

Our tour included stops on the east side of the Otonabee in what was once the village of Ashburnham. This included the location of the former millpond that has now been filled in to create a parking lot. This hydro power from this millpond created the early woodworking and machining industries which eventually transformed Peterborough into a world centre for canoe building. Using historical photos provided by Ken, the groups was able to locate and identify features such as location of mill foundations and the historical change in the river bank. 

Also part of the tour were stops at the still standing former homes of persons involved in the industry, including that of owner of the Ontario Canoe Co, James Z. Rogers. The OCC factory burned down in 1892 and Rogers did not have insurance. Financial difficulties in later years meant the businessman needed to move his family to more modest dwellings later in life.

We walked past the location of where the Ontario Canoe Co factories once stood before the catastrophic fire of 1892. Railways which once passed in front of the factory have now been converted to a walking / biking trail and a historical sign marks the spot.

After noting the local church where all the local businessmen and major players of the early canoe companies attended, we swung by Ken's home where he showcased a remarkable H.B. Rye paddle made on a patented paddle-making machine sometime after 1908. Rye owned a livery business just  downsteam of the town centre and made thousands of paddles on his automatic machine for the major companies between 1908 and 1943. I inquired if any photographs of this remarkable contraption are known to exist, but Ken has been unable to locate any in all his many years of research

Crossing an historic rail bridge to the west side of the Otonabee River, the group stopped to take a look at a parking lot now housing a grocery store. This was the spot for the 2nd location of the Canadian Canoe Co factory from 1904 - 1911. Historic photos provided a glimpse of how much has changed in the area with the brown brick building in the distance being one of the few surviving structures from the historic era.

Continuing our tour, members noted a relatively recent art installation featuring an inverted cedar canvas canoe mounted on a steel frame. The hull had been painted with artistic motifs. A beautiful maple deck actually sported a Chestnut Canoe Co decal and consensus of the hull dimensions led to the conclusion that it was a Bobs Special.

A highlight was visiting the sole remaining structure of the Peterborough Canoe Company which occupied the site from 1893 to 1957.  Here a small brick building once housed the offices of the PCC and is now a canoe-themed café. 

The faded remnants of a painted "Peterborough Canoe Co Ltd." sign are visible on the exterior brickwork which was very neat to see. 

An informational plaque has been added to wall explaining some of the building's significance. 

The tour continued with stops at the locations of William English Canoe factory on Charlotte street whose original buildings have now been replaced. Also included was a sad stop at the location of the former town office of the Ontario Canoe Co (from 1884-1892) and the location of the first Canadian Canoe Co factory from 1892-1904. The building had long ago been razed to create another parking lot.

Given that many of the buildings have been destroyed or heavily altered over time, Ken's historical photos were a fantastic visual tool. These have been made available as a viewable online album at the following link HERE.

Friday, October 14, 2022

Historic Paddle Photo - Charles G.D. Roberts 1905

A great photo dated to 1905 of  Canadian Poet Sir Charles G.D. Roberts (1860-1943) in the University of New Brunswick Archives & Special Collections

Charles G.D. Roberts holding a canoe paddle (1905)
Fonds: MG L 42 Roberts family photograph collection; Item: 7
University of New Brunswick Archives & Special Collections

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Historic Paddle Photo: Kahnawá:ke Mohawk decorated paddles

"A trio of Indians of the Caughnawaga tribe with decorated paddles bows and arrows"
Creator: John Boyd
Date: 1914
Reference Code: C 7-3, 11272
Archives of Ontario, I0003496

Saturday, September 10, 2022

McCord Museum - Haudensaunee (Iroquois) Paddles

The McCord Museum has updated their online gallery to include a variety of Haudensaunee paddles. Two are from the Lac Tremblant region of Quebec with a decorated paddle blade fragment sourced to the Six Nations Reserve in Southwestern Ontario.

Haudenosaunee Canoe Paddle
Dimensions: 159 x 9.9 cm
Origin: Lac Tremblant, Quebec, Canada
Numéro D'accession: ACC2970.2
Gift of Dr. J. B. Porter

 Haudenosaunee Canoe Paddle
Date: 1900-1920
Dimensions: 159 x 9.9 cm
Origin: Lac Tremblant, Quebec, Canada
Numéro D'accession: ACC2970.1
Gift of Dr. J. B. Porter

Iroquois Boat Paddle Fragment
Dimensions 8 x 55.8 x 2.3 cm
Origin: Six Nation Reserve area, Ontario, Canada
Numéro D'accession: M980
Gift of David Ross McCord

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