World's Largest Wood-Canvas Canoe Fleets
Compiled by Brian Back
The genesis of this list came in a letter from Hugh Stewart, the wood-canoe builder and former wilderness-trip program operator. He wrote that he believed Keewaydin had "one of the last wooden canoe fleets of any size." He went on to say that Keewaydin's "commitment to wood-canvas canoes is very, very important."
Until that moment I had not thought about the significance of Keewaydin's fleet beyond its own program. Upon reflection, I began to realize that fleet size reflected institutional cultures that could preserve and grow skills, attitudes and experiences that no museum could do. Of course, large fleets do not have a monopoly on these aspects of canoe culture, but they represent a vital commitment to them. But surely, Keewaydin wasn't alone. So I set out to find all the wood-canvas paddling-canoe fleets of size that were still active - that is, go into the water. This would cover any institution - camp, outfitter, school, club, organization, etc. — anywhere in the world. (Boy, was I ambitious.)
It was not as easy a task as I had expected. The closest I could come to an organized wood-canvas association was the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association. Here I started with some knowledgeable members, then going after every wood-canoe builder I could find, expanding outward, asking everyone for tips or suggestions.
In the end, all the institutions are camps. The closest non-camp was a canoe renter, Jack's Boat House, in Washington, D.C. that has a fleet of 17 wood-canvas canoes, but they are mostly retired…and rotting. A few North American camps had 8 to 12 canoes, but most canvas fleets were considerably smaller. A few more had 15 plus wood-canvas canoes that had been fiberglassed, like Camp Arowhon, which has one of the largest wood-fiberglass fleets, and a few camps in New England. Not surprisingly, I found nothing in Europe or anywhere else of size.
This is a cultural list, not a legal one. It is an attempt to capture the culture of wood-canvas canoes for the 1999 and 2015 seasons at institutions that have a critical mass, more or less, that preserve an esprit de corp, an attitude and a skill-set that focuses on the travel and usage of the successor to the birchbark canoe, on the special focus and relationship that a wood-canvas canoe instills in its paddler. And it is a celebration of the wood-canvas canoe. It is more than just cedar, tacks and canvas.
Maps and information herein are not intended for navigational use, and are not represented to be correct in every respect.
All pages intended for reference use only, and all pages are subject to change with new information and without notice.
The author/publisher accepts no responsibility or liability for use of the information on these pages.
Wilderness travel and canoeing possess inherent risk.
It is the sole responsibility of the paddler and outdoor traveler to determine whether he/she is qualified for these activities.
Copyright © 2000-2016 Brian Back. All rights reserved.
We do not endorse and are not responsible for the content of any linked document on an external site.