A 120 Year History of Wood-Canvas Canoes

Canoes: The Boat Upon Which We Float Our Philosophy

by Bruce Ingersoll and Dylan Schoelzel

 

Lake Temagami, 1903

Lake Temagami, 1903

Ask  anyone who has attended one of our camps what they remember most, and one of the first things they will tell you about are the canoes and the canoe trips.  Founded by A.S. Gregg Clarke, Keewaydin first began leading canoe trips for young boys and men through the north woods of Maine in 1893.  The focus of Camp Kah-Kou, as it was known then, was wilderness canoe trips. Clarke believed that on these adventurous expeditions, boys and young men, would grow strong, learn about courage,  teamwork, and independence and develop an appreciation for wilderness.  That mission remains at the center of the Keewaydin experience and has broadened to include multiple camps and girls and young women. Today, Keewaydin is home to the world’s largest fleet of working wood-and-canvas canoes which continue to be the heart of the Keewaydin experience.

Keewaydin has an enormous fleet of canoes designed to do one thing: carry campers out into the wilderness with hopes and expectation for adventure and then safely return with a newfound sense of the world and themselves.  Each canoe may travel anywhere from 200-600 miles a summer all over Ontario, Quebec, Labrador, Manitoba, northern New England and eastern New York.  They cross vast lakes through all types of winds and weather.  They are paddled and poled upstream to cross heights of land, and they nimbly navigate whitewater.  Our canoes hold loads in excess of 700 pounds as they travel downstream on some of the wildest rivers Canada has to offer: the Eastmain, Rupert, George, Koksoak and Great Whale rivers. They even ply the salty waters of Hudson Bay.

The early fleet; pre 1925

No information survives to tell us what types of canoes were used when Keewaydin started in Maine in the 1890’s.  They were most likely locally built wood-and-canvas and birch bark canoes.

When the camp moved to Temagami, a more permanent fleet of wide board (rib and batten) canoes, bark canoes, and wood-canvas canoes built by EM White, was established.  During the first few years, wide board and bark canoes were bought directly from the Hudson Bay Company.  EM White canoes were supplied through Henry McCleod who was the only Maine guide to follow Clarke from Maine to Temagami.  McCleod was instrumental in constructing the early camp buildings on Devil’s Island and he was also known as the canoe foreman (caretaker of the canoe fleet).  In the off-season McCleod returned to Maine where he was gainfully employed by EM White, the canoe builder who had set up shop in 1885 in the Old Town, Maine area.

Keewaydin Dunmore and Keewayin Temagami purchased canoes almost exclusively from Chestnut Canoe Company between 1925 and the early 1970s.

Keewaydin Dunmore and Keewayin Temagami purchased canoes almost exclusively from Chestnut Canoe Company between 1925 and the early 1970s.

The Chestnut era; 1925-1979                                                

By this point in time Keewaydin on Lake Dunmore was firmly established and canoes and canoeing were at the heart of the Temagami and Dunmore camp experiences.  In about 1925,  McCleod retired from canoe building, and Temagami folks began purchasing canoes from the Chestnut Canoe Company in New Brunswick.  This marked the beginning of a relationship that lasted more than 50 years.  Keewaydin Dunmore stayed with the EM Whites for a longer period of time, preferring the eighteen-and-a-half foot canoe that was a dream to paddle, but ferociously heavy to portage.  But by the early 1950′s both camps were buying almost exclusively from Chestnut.

During the Chestnut era the canoe fleet became standardized with two models; the Chestnut Cruiser and the Chestnut Prospector.  One of the more unique features of the Keewaydin canoe during this time period was the wannigan rib.  The ribs were created by Keewaydin and installed in their canoes by Chestnut at the factory.  These narrower ribs were clinch nailed over the main ribs in the canoe.  There are typically 6 of these ribs per canoe, 3 on each side of the center thwart, positioned on every other rib starting with the two center ribs.  Their purpose is to add overall strength to the hull, particularly where the wannigans are loaded, and to keep the main ribs from prematurely breaking.

Wannigans, sometimes weighing upwards of 100 pounds each, are almost always loaded two to a canoe, one on each side of the center thwart.  The ribs beneath the wannigan are subjected to unusual wear and tear from loading and unloading.  Also, wannigans are known to literally hop or bounce up and down in rapids and on windy lakes.

Keewaydin became one of Chestnuts largest retail purchasers with a standing order every year until Chestnut closed their doors for good in 1979.  Canoes were shipped from New Brunswick via rail to Vermont and to the town of Temagami.  In the town of Temgagami they were loaded onto a large steamer that made deliveries on the lake.

Don Fraser with the first canoe he sold to Keewaydin Temagami in 1982.

Don Fraser with the first canoe he sold to Keewaydin Temagami in 1982.

 

The Chestnut canoe became embedded into the camp as an icon of durability and performance.  As the last few years of the Chestnut Canoe Company dwindled along in the late 1970’s the camps had a hard time buying the models they wanted.  The last year Chestnut was open Keewaydin purchased the final remaining inventory of Guide Specials (a model built on the cruiser form but constructed with nearly twice the number of ribs as a regular cruiser model).  It was all they could buy.

Post Chestnut:

This period, the late 1970′s and early 1980′s, was a rough one for canoes and Keewaydin.  The traditional vessels were no longer available but the impetus to canoes trip was as strong as it ever was.  Camp leadership scrambled to find someone out there to build canoes.  Old Town sold wood-and-canvas canoes, with the 18′ Guide model being preferred especially for the Wauramaug Wigwam at Keewaydin Dunmore.  But they were very expensive.  At the same time plastics were taking hold and ABS presented a durable and inexpensive alternative to wood and canvas.  But at what point is durability traded for the grace and flex of a wood-and-canvas craft?  More importantly, would the use of synthetics change the way business was done on a Keewaydin canoe trip?  Would the essential teachings  sacred to Commodore Clarke be diminished?  The conversations were very similar at both camps and in the end, the solutions were remarkably the same and preserved the essence of the Keewaydin Experience.

 

Temagami Solutions:

As the supply of wood-and-canvas canoes dried up in Temagami, Fred Reimers, then director, looked around at the world of synthetic canoes and purchased first a set of six early model ABS canoes and then twenty-four Kevlar canoes for use in the youngest boys wigwam: Manitou.  The big Kevlar canoes were a better compromise and could carry a big load – ideal for Manitou where each canoe carried a non-paddling mojo.  Those canoes remained in service into the ’90′s.

But the rest of the camp still needed canoes and Reimers was able to avoid moving the whole camp to Kevlar when hope presented itself in the form of Donald Fraser of Fredericton, New Brunswick.  When the assets of Chestnut were sold off, some of the canoe forms were purchased by Fraser, who was Chesnut’s sales manager at the time.  He began working for Chestnut in 1951 and knew that Keewaydin was a steady customer that relied on the Cruiser and Prospector.   Fraser chipped away at his retirement endeavor by building his shop in the early 80’s.  His first canoe came to Devil’s Island in the summer of 1982.  For the next 25 years Fraser continued to keep the Chestnut/Keewaydin relationship alive by supplying the camp with seventeen foot Cruisers and Prospectors.

A new era of builders 

Emily and Dylan Schoelzel at  their Salmon Falls Canoe Shop in Shelburn, MA.

Emily and Dylan Schoelzel at their Salmon Falls Canoe Shop in Shelburn, MA.

A girls’ program was introduced on Temagami in 1999.  Around the same time the canoes used in the youngest boys sections, the Manitou wigwam, were old and tired.  The camp needed a new fleet of canoes for the girls program and they needed to do something about those in Manitou.  Fraser was capable of building only so many canoes a year in his small New Brunswick one man shop.  This, coupled with the fact that Fraser would not be able to build canoes forever, set the camp looking for new canoe builders again.

For the girls program, Keewaydin turned to Dylan and Emily Schoelzel of Salmon Falls Canoe in Shelburne, Massachusetts.  Both Dylan and Emily had deep backgrounds at Keewaydin.  Dylan was a long time camper and member of the staff and Emily, also an veteran tripper and who’s family was no stranger to Keewaydin, was hired to start the girls program in 1999. Both understood Keewaydin and requirements for their canoes.  The Schoelzel’s delivered their first canoe, the Chicot (pronounced Shee-koh), to the camp in 2000.

For the younger boys of Manitou the camp turned to Glenn and Dianne Toogood of Garden Island Canoe in Temagami . Both Glen and Diane are longtime residents of Temagami and have a long history with the camp which among other things included rebuilding canoes. Their Mojo model, named after the Ojibway word for a canoe carrying more people than its two paddlers, was a natural fit.

Dunmore Solutions:

On Lake Dunmore the same debates raged around campfires.  The Wilderness Trip was the focal point for the canoe conversation.  When the EM Whites were no longer available, the Wilderness Trip used Tremblays, a big sturdy Prospector sized canoe built in St. Felicien Quebec.  Tremblays were workhorses and into the 1970′s were accessible to the point that a trip could swing by on their way to Misstissini and pick one up if a canoe was damaged.  They were perfect until the shop was abruptly closed in the mid-1970′s leaving the camp without a supplier.

Waboos Hare and Abby Fenn presided over the transition and wound up with two very neat solutions.  The first was to begin using ABS canoes.  Abby Fenn, in particular, was an experimenter and wanted to give ABS a try.  They were able to find nice seventeen foot tripping canoes at Old Town, the Tripper and it was adopted into the fleet to be used on longer river trips where there was more whitewater to be run.  In 1977 one ABS canoe went on the Wilderness Trip and the other four were wood-and-canvas, most likely a mix of Chesnuts and Tremblays.  In 1978, it was four ABS canoes and one wood-and-canvas and by 1984 the change  was complete. The design was perfect and the price was good. But most importantly the canoes were able to continue to serve the mission.

Schuy Thompson at his shop, Thompson Canoe Works. Photo by Abby Burbank.

Schuy Thompson at his shop, Thompson Canoe Works. Photo by Abby Burbank.

As for the wood-and-canvas fleet, Schylur Thompson stepped into the void much the same way Don Fraser did up in Temagami.  A long time trip leader and camper at   Dunmore, Thompson became interested in canoe repair in the 70′s and began his apprenticeship with long-time Dunmore maintenance man Chuck Conard.  They      began by repairing one of the great war canoes and for Thompson the rest was easy.  He set up his own business outside of Keewaydin, took on rebuilding the Dunmore   fleet and all wood canvas canoes.  By the late 1980′s Thompson began to build and supply new canoes for Dunmore and continues to do so today.

 Present day; the fleet today and the future outlook:

Keewaydin’s fleet consists of roughly 350 canoes, 232 of which are wood-and-canvas.  At Temagami there are not many historical examples as far as age and maker is  concerned, since these are hard working canoes.  Most are 20-40 years old with the bulk having been built within the past 20.  At Dunmore the history comes with the  canoes named in honor of staff who served at Keewaydin for 20 years. 10 of these are Chestnuts.

By today’s standards it is easy for the fleet to be viewed as rather unusual.  Unlike most camps that have abandoned their wood canvas canoes in favor of synthetic  materials, all of Keewaydin Temagami’s trips are done in wood canvas canoes.  At Dunmore the Wilderness and the Moosalamoo trips are all done in ABS because they  encounter so much white water.  The rest of the trips head out in the trusty wood-and-canvas canoe.

Keewaydin keeps the wooden canoe not just for the sake of nostalgia, but because it provides so much of what Keewaydin offers.  The wooden canoe teaches

Summer of 2012 Tallman Competition.

Summer of 2012 Tallman Competition.

invaluable lessons in taking care of your gear and teaching a set of highly refined paddling skills that no other canoe can teach.

Over the last 120 years canoes at Keewaydin have been bought and sold, traded and lost, buried and burned, left behind so trips could get home on the train or an airplane, and they have all been paddled thousands and thousands of miles.  Carrying their passengers through thick and thin, cold and warm, dry and wet, the Keewaydin fleet is capable of telling canoe trip stories that most of us can only dream about.  We may never know how many canoes Keewaydin has used over the years, hundreds if not in the thousands, but one thing will always remain true – the wooden canoe is strong and alive and accounts for a large part of what makes the Keewaydin Way so unique and special.

 

 

Thank You 2013 Donors!

 

Thank You Photo

 

Camp Directors Model for Beau Ties’

Behind the Scenes of Beau Ties’ Spring Catalog Photo Shoot

When Beau Ties Ltd of Vermont contacted us here at Keewaydin to see if our Camp Directors would model for their Spring 2014 catalog, we were all in. But, when the first photo shoot had to be canceled on March 13 due to 20 inches of snow, it seemed like Spring might just never come. After clearing the road to the Fraser Dining Hall on Songadeewin’s campus, the shoot was rescheduled for March 18. These photos take you behind the scenes of that cold day in March, where our fearless leaders were put in the spot light. Look for Beau Ties’ upcoming catalog to see the final product!

Ellen, Pete, Tim and Bruce take some direction from the photographer.

Ellen, Pete, Tim and Bruce take some direction from the photographer.

 

Ellen Flight in Beau Ties' Beaufinity scarf.

Ellen Flight in Beau Ties’ Beaufinity scarf.

 

Bruce Ingersoll's attire for the shoot; Admiralty bow tie and blue Oxford shirt.

Bruce Ingersoll’s attire for the shoot; Admiralty bow tie and blue Oxford shirt.

 

Getting the creases just right for Pete Hare's shoot. Pete is wearing Keewaydin's tie, made custom by Beau Ties!

Getting the creases just right for Pete Hare’s shoot. Pete is wearing Keewaydin’s tie, made custom by Beau Ties!

 

It's about time to get out in a canoe!

It’s about time to get out in a canoe!

 

Bruce braved the chilling temps and blinding snow to get just the right shot.

Bruce braved the chilling temps and blinding snow to get just the right shot.

 

John Watson Work Weekend

The Annual John Watson Work Weekend is right around the corner, May 30 – June 1!

What better way to spend a spring weekend then to get the Keewaydin and Songadeewin campuses spruced up for the summer alongside other Keewaydinessi?
Bring your work gloves and your sleeping bag; we’ll provide the cabins and the meals.
For more information or to RSVP please contact Theresa@keewaydin.org.

Praise For Temagami’s Girls’ Program

Willem Lange Features Keewaydin in A Yankee Notebook

Willem Lange, one of the most beloved writers and storytellers in Northern New England, recently recounted the annual Wilderness Paddlers’ Gathering in his weekly column, A Yankee Notebook. Lange’s article focuses on the success of  Keewaydin’s girls’ wilderness canoe tripping program in Ontario, Canada and how it’s all-girl canoe trips give “girls a chance to be fully themselves, take positive risks, and learn invaluable leadership skills….foster positive gender identity…understand the importance of ‘sisterhood’…bolster girls’ physical and emotional resiliency.”

A YANKEE NOTEBOOK NUMBER 1703

Willem Lange 802-223-3223

1309 Towne Hill Road will@willemlange.com

East Montpelier, Vermont  05651 willemlange.com

March 10, 2014 For week of 3/9/14

IF SHE CAN CARRY A CANOE…

FAIRLEE, VT – The pine-paneled dining room here at the Hulbert Outdoor Center is steeped in tradition; it’s where generations of summer campers have dined.  The function room adjoining it is decorated with dozens of rustic varnished plaques bearing the names of long-vanished kids.  At the moment, the room itself is filled with long-vanished kids, too – men and women, some quite elderly, who pursue one of the most traditional of activities: canoe travel in the North American boreal forest, taiga, and tundra.  It’s the annual Wilderness Paddlers’ Gathering.

When I was just getting into this fine madness, about 50 years ago, the field was still pretty much dominated by native Americans and rugged hairshirts from farther south – bankers, doctors, government ministers, writers, and attorneys – who delighted to tackle difficult and remote canoe routes for several weeks of each summer, and have their pictures taken as a group, tousled and sunburned, at the end of each trip.  I have quite a few of those heroic photos myself.

How times have changed!  As I look around me here, I can spot several young women – girls, really – who’ve come to talk about their recent adventures in the North.  Their videos (Who shoots slides anymore?) feature long lake crossings, roaring rapids, portages through fire-scarred black spruce forest and sucking muskeg mud, and lots of moose, bears, loons, and bugs.  They carry their canoes solo – wood-and-canvas ones, at that – and their heavy wanigans with traditional tump lines.  In their videos they squat with their knees impossibly bent, feeding smoky fires and tending bannock in reflector ovens.  They go in for lots of group hugs and line dancing on carpets of reindeer moss.  And they’re invariably smiling!

It’s hard for many people to remember now how disenfranchised women were, even decades after the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920.  When Mother and I were married, during the Eisenhower Administration years, she couldn’t open a charge, savings, or checking account without my signature on the application.  This was still a man’s world – actually, in those days before the passage of the civil rights or voting acts, still a white man’s world.  The subsequent steady erosion of that demographic state of affairs is most likely the source of the current gridlock in our body politic and the spate of Jim Crow-type state laws governing women’s health issues and minority access to voting.  A lot of us old white guys are refusing to accept the inevitable end of the historic patriarchy.

The beginning of the end was presaged as far back as John Kennedy’s inaugural speech, in which he announced the ascendance of “a new generation of Americans born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed….”  Three and a half years later President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, and the political polarity of the United States began to reverse.  Many Americans, reeling from phenomena ranging from Elvis Presley to the 1965 Watts riots, or from the Summer of Love to the multiple assassinations of leaders, or from the police riot at the 1968 Democratic Convention to the Kent State Massacre in 1970, must have felt the way Cornwallis felt at Yorktown, when he ordered his band to play “The World Turned Upside Down.”  In any case, the genie was out of the bottle.  The bumper sticker, “Question Authority,” said it all.

Previously single-gender academies and universities could see the handwriting on the wall – students increasingly were making the decisions about where to apply – and adopted coeducation.  The results, at least in my opinion, have been spectacular.  My old secondary school, though it became coeducational in a very clunky fashion, has achieved a wonderful result.

In the matter of wilderness adventuring, however, many organizations have held the line.  The venerable canoe camp Keewaydin, based in Ontario, had for literally generations introduced boys to the rigors of wilderness tripping.  Some years ago they began admitting girls, but unlike Outward Bound and NOLS, kept the genders separated on canoe expeditions.  The enthusiastic alumnae of those trips who are here this weekend attest to the policy’s success.

“We offer unforgettable adventurous canoe trips in the pristine wilderness of the Canadian North,” reads Keewaydin’s web site.  “This all-girl environment gives girls a chance to be fully themselves, take positive risks, and learn invaluable leadership skills….foster positive gender identity…understand the importance of ‘sisterhood’…bolster girls’ physical and emotional resiliency.”  Watching these young ladies here, I’d say they’ve succeeded.

The United States is still changing, fairly rapidly, and women will play a larger part in whatever is next.  A greater percentage of women than men are going to college, and they’re also exceeding the Y-chromosomers academically.  In spite of this – though they comprise half of our population – they make up only about 19% of the members of Congress, occupy only about 8% of chief operating officers’ positions, and earn significantly less than their male counterparts.

The possibility that our next President will at last be a woman has been stirring the pot a bit.  Some major changes in our national consciousness may be in the offing.  If so, I welcome them.  The girls here at the paddlers’ gathering, eagerly anticipating this summer’s trips to Hudson Bay or the Arctic Ocean, will in just a few years be active in them.  Any lady who’s battled black flies while filleting a trout, then flipped a canoe up onto her shoulders and carried it away – she’s got my vote!

Send Us Your News!

What Have You Been Up To?

Getting married? Having a baby? Graduated? Moved someplace new? Took a new job? Got into college or grad-school? Traveled the world? Found a new adventure?

Let us know how you and yours are doing and what you’ve been up too!

You can e-mail your news to abby@keewaydin.org, post it here on our blog, or call in for a chat with one of the camp directors!

We can’t wait to hear from you!

Calling All Paddlers to the Run of the Charles Canoe Race

Looking to flex your paddling muscles?

Join Keewaydin’s relay teams for the Run of the Charles in Boston, Sunday, April 27, 2014!

Don’t have a paddle or pfd? No worries, let Keewaydin provide the canoes, paddles and life vests.

Following the race enjoy good food and Keewaydin friends from 1pm to 4pm at the finish line in Artesani Park, off Soldier Field Road in Brighton, Ma.

Sign up now to paddle!       Check out the course map!

Questions? Please contact Abby Hazen at Abby@keewaydin.org or call 802-352-4247.

Discover Hudson Bay with the Boys of Section A

Live the thrilling rapids, breathtaking vistas and wildlife, melt in your mouth foods and tremendous teamwork of Section A on their 50 day adventure to Hudson Bay with Keewaydin Temagami in 2013.The group traveled in northern Quebec and Nunavik with their journey ending at the village of Kuujjuarapik on Hudson Bay’s coast. Many thanks to staffman John W. Frazier V who shot and edited the video footage.

Section A 2013

For more information about a wilderness canoe adventure like this one,
contact Keewaydin Temagmi’s Director, Bruce@keewaydin.org

Meet Camp Directors as they Hit the Road

Perspective campers and their parents are invited to join camp directors, alumni
and parents to hear stories and see photos of camp
 in Philadelphia, Chester County, PA, Brooklyn, D.C and Toronto.
Please RSVP to Daria@keewaydin.org if you are planning on attending any one of these events.
Wednesday, January 15, 2014 – Temagami Gathering 
6:30 – 8:30 p.m.
Hosted by Mark Appleberry & Maureen Carr
633 West Ellet Street
Philadelphia, PA 19119
Thursday, January 16, 2014 – Temagami gathering  
6:30 – 8:30 p.m.
Corkran Family Home
398 Apple Grove Road
Coatesville, PA 19320
Thursday, January 16, 2014  -  Dunmore & Songadeewin gathering
6:00 – 7:30 p.m.
Littleton Family  Home
421 13th Street
Brooklyn, NY (Park Slope)
Saturday, January 25, 2014 – Bethesda, MD – Temagami gathering  
4:00 – 6:00 p.m.
Nulsen Family Home
5341 Falmouth Road
Bethesda, MD 20816
January 29, 2014 – Toronto, Canada – Temagami gathering
Time and Location To Be Determined

Looking For a Last Minute Holiday Gift?

 Give a Keewaydin L.L. Bean Flannel to Your Favorite Keewaydinessi!

L.L. Bean’s Scotch Plaid Flannel Shirts are some of the softest, longest wearing, most comfortable flannel shirts you can buy, and now they are complete with Keewaydin’s moose and paddles.
Perfect for staying warm and feeling light in the dark and blustery months ahead.
Visit the Camp Store for that unexpected holiday gift or for one of your very own!  https://www.keewaydin.org/parents/camp-store/

KEE LLBEAN FLANNEL PHOTO 12-13