World's Largest Wood-Canvas Canoe Fleets  

A Celebration

Compiled by Brian Back


Full List








Why Wood-Canvas?

We all know the nostalgia and aesthetics and synergy with the natural surroundings of paddling a wood-canvas canoe. Canoe paddling can be taught in an canoe constructed of any type of material. How about repairing the canvas? Or knowing how to portage with two paddles and a tumpline? These camps are maintaining historical skills, something a museum can never do. There's the educational too. A wood-canvas canoes becomes an appendage of the human paddler. You have to treat your body with respect and care for it. In our throwaway, quick-fix society, this is a difficult lesson to pass on to our youth who paddle in ABS and can just drag the canoe to the rack.

In the end, these camps have a responsibility for which they did not volunteer, but has been placed on their shoulders by circumstance. Fortunately for us, their wood-canvas canoes are a point of pride.

Minimum 15

A goal was to locate large fleets based on the premise that  their size could support a canvas-canoe culture. I settled on 15 canoes during the survey. Most institutions with active fleets numbering under 15 actually had four or less (often a war canoe or two in there). I was frequently told that the only reason they still had those was "campers could see what wood canoes are like" or "see what it's like to paddle one." There would be little more involvement with them beyond this. Token canoes. No canvas-canoe culture.

I got used to a pattern. If  I called and asked how many, and there was a pause, the answer could be predicted that they would have canvas canoes, but be below the threshold. If they stammered or were puzzled about what I was asking about, then they almost invariably had none.

Wood-Fiberglass Conversions

Wood-fiberglass canoes (that is, canoes that were originally designed for canvas and were re-covered with fiberglass) were never a consideration for inclusion. These conversions should not be confused with cedar-strip canoes that were designed for fiberglass.

Once converted, these are a "different" canoe. The paddlers relationship with their canoes changes. Wood-fiberglass canoes can take more abuse, hence they don't instill the same respect or care from paddlers. They need less TLC - after all, this was why they were fiberglassed. 

Several wooden-canoe builders told me that once converted to fiberglass, they felt the cedar rotted faster. As Gil Gilpatrick, author of Building A Strip Canoe told me: "Not only does this expose the wood to rot, but it allows water from the inside to get to the fiberglass and eventually cause delamination." The wood-fiberglass enters the slippery slope.

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