Canoe Resuscitation

So the last post got my brain juices flowing on that canoe I posted pics of. It’s in rough shape, guys, seriously. I mentioned this already, and the pic of the chewed-up bow is only the start of it.

Like all things cottage- and Park-related, this canoe is kind of a special piece in my family. It was a sort of rescue–a disused boat that Omer Stringer (of Beaver Canoe semifame) had lying in the back lot. From some minimal research, it seems to be a Chestnut Canoe Company product–the exact model is escaping me, but best I can tell it’s circa 1950 and has had some restoration work already done on it. It was restored in the 1980s specifically as a gift for my folks. And I think that was the last time it’s been shown any real TLC. It’s been well loved, though–you can see it in the wear that’s been applied to it. You can click the image to embiggen somewhat and you’ll see the damage in better light.

It’s a real showpiece canoe, under the years of dirt and fading and peeling finish and splitting canvas. The list of things wrong with this canoe goes something like this:

  • rotten outwales
  • split and rotting canvas
  • finish deteriorated
  • seat finish worn away, putting it at risk of rot
  • someone drilled a hole in the bow deck for a tie line
  • who-knows-what under the canvas
  • painted-over and lifting brass stem bands

Realistically–not as bad as it could have been. I was concerned, a couple of weeks ago, that we’d have to replace parts of the cedar strip planking that makes up the hull, or, even worse, the ribs–but even a cursory inspection shows that the wood is generally solid. It’s largely aesthetic stuff, even if it’s aesthetic stuff that keeps water out of the boat and keeps rot out of the wood.

Even still, the prospect of restoring this canoe is daunting.

I’ve only done one restoration in my life, and it was under my grandfather’s direction, and he informed by the lovely folks at North Bay Canoe and Kayak. And that was even less involved than this. The outwales (this part of the canoe, the ridge running around the outside of the open top, for you paddling heathens) need to be totally replaced. And even before I start, to do that I’ll need to build a box in which I can steam 16′ of white pine or cedar until I can bend it like a spaghetti noodle.

It’s already worrisome, for a novice like me.

I stumbled across a blog, though, that makes me a little embarrassed about my hesitance. The folks at Harmony Custom Woodcraft have an awesome blog entry about one of the family’s sons, Tyler, building his own canoe. This, too, is on my projects list, sometime in the future. Do a quick scan through of Tyler’s build. It’ll give you an idea of how these wood-and-canvas canoes go together, and therefore a sense of the process I’m going to have to at least partially undo in order to do the restoration I want to do.

So, inspired by the awesome product they produced, I’m going to take on this restoration, starting, hopefully, this winter (space permitting). The objectives, in no specific order:

  • recanvas the canoe (something I did with grandpa back in the day)
  • remove the old decks and replace them with light-coloured cedar (and mount the tie-line underneath, so it’s not to ugly and protruding)
  • sand down and refinish the interior with the original red stain used
  • Ensure that the seats’ weaving is structurally sound and refinish them
  • replace the outwales with light-coloured cedar
  • remove the “Omer” decal, clean up the edges, and make a stencil to paint it back on
  • Clean up the brass stem bands
  • paint on a racing stripe (as it used to, and should, be)
  • Localize the model and the manufacture date and rebrand it with the Chestnut logo and model name
Here’s the projection of what it’ll look like when I’m done. As always, click to embiggen.

Worth putting in a little elbow grease for, in my opinion. I learned to solo in this canoe. I learned to do tricks in this canoe. It’s my go-to when I want to go for a paddle, because I know how every inch of it handles after using it all my life. Part of me thinks I owe it to the boat, but the reality of “owing” things to inanimate objects, whether it’s this boat or a character I’ve created (as I discuss in Throw It Against The Wall) is that I don’t owe the thing anything. If it’s something important enough that I’m projecting need and urgency and love, then I owe it to myself to do it.

As always, I’ve sat down to think about paddling and canoes and I’ve learned something about myself. Seriously, guys, if you don’t partake in paddling then I hope you indulge at your next opportunity. It’s manna for body, mind and soul.

Foregoing my usual signing-off phrase, because you’ve heard enough about canoes,

-Trevor

2 Comments
  1. Hello,
    found this quite by accident but what a great canoe to have. looks like a typical late model chum, consider leaving it as is with all the Stringer DNA on it. not that you’d sell it, but its value would lie in the way he last used it rather than over restored. i’ve witnessed over-restorations in the motorcycle and car industry, and if you take a look at values both monetary and historically i think you’ll find a good argument for leaving it as is. certainly a museum would want it as is – no one would argue for restoring one of Bill Masons prospectors, broken ribs and all. no disrespect intended, but i’d love to have it to hang up and would build another one to use. I’ve owned several chums and they turn up frequently.
    Best regards,
    Andre

  2. Hey Andre,

    Thanks for pointing me to the Chum–I haven’t done a ton of research on the boat yet (I seem to have kind of lost my workspace for the winter, so I’m holding off the major work until I have some room to do the work) and knowing what it is will make the work much easier.

    I fully intend to keep lots of the “Stringer DNA” on it. Considering it was a gift from Omer to my mom, it’s come my way through a couple of generations of Stringer and I’d be loathe to erase that. But he never actually used this as a show canoe–just restored it and gifted it within the family.

    As to the concern about over-restoring the boat, I’m hemming and hawing over replacing the decks, since that would be the only major change. They’re in kind of rough shape and I wouldn’t feel too bad about making my mark on the boat, since mine is the butt in it most of the time.

    There’s another Chestnut that I’m going to do some work on a year or two out from now (assuming this goes well when I finally get the time to start) that was one of Omer’s orange canoes that he used in Algonquin. That one will be meticulously matched to the way it was left by the man himself and, realistically, will only need a recanvassing.

    I believe that one of Omer’s show canoes, warts and all, is hanging in the Visitor’s Centre in Algonquin Park.

    Cheers,

    Trevor

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