Dear Roots: An Open Letter From Someone Who Knows Something About What You’re Selling

Dear Roots Canada,

In spite of popular opinion, I don’t usually spend much time gawking at myself in the mirror. Just after a workout, or if I have a genuinely horrible hair day. But I had to stop and look at myself for a while today. Specifically, at my shirt.

Beaver Canoe long-sleeved t-shirt forest green on light grey

One of a few Beaver Canoe shirts I’ve owned.

I know that logo well. I’ve grown up with it. Omer is Mom’s uncle, and I grew up learning to paddle in a cedar and canvas canoe he restored for Mom and Dad. Using and refinishing paddles based on his. Learning his techniques. Every time I got on the water, I was paddling in his shadow.

Now, I’m trying to earn my blood, so to speak, and I’m making Omer-style paddles for the kids. I’m not the only one. Carrying Place Canoe Works up in Kleinberg does a pretty damn fair paddle, in black cherry, just like Omer (although I’m fairly sure that Omer and the rest of the family have never lathe-turned the shaft). Even HBC does a decent approximation, even though the grip is wrong. There’s a pretty decent body of knowledge out there about who Omer was and what he did and what his kit looked like.

So… then… what’s this?

Roots Canada Beaver Canoe long sleeve t-shirt green on grey

Look at the arm. The arm, not my beat-up phone.

I am unsure of what exactly is going on with the shaft and the grip of the paddle that’s running down my arm, but “built by Omer” it ain’t.

That’s okay, though. I’m not such a prima donna about my paddles that I get uppity about this design. But here’s what does kind of bug me.

Voyageur Canada badge on Roots Beaver Canoe long-sleeve t-shirt

What?

Forget, for a second, that the voyageurs who opened up the Canadian interior were corporate agents who ruined a whole lot of lives. Those aren’t voyageur paddles and that isn’t a voyageur canoe. If you want proof, take a look at a couple of these pics.

voyageur canoe and voyageurs

Voyageur canoe, via Susquehanna Chapter Wooden Canoe Heritage Association. Click for source.

Not the canoe you depict.

Voyageur paddle, via Paddle Making (and other canoe stuff!)

Voyageur paddle, c. 1860-75. Via paddlemaking.blogspot.ca. Click through to read more about the voyageurs’ paddle.

And not the paddle you’ve got on their, either!

But here’s the real kicker.

Omer didn’t use a voyageur paddle. (The Roots founders know that–they learned from him directly, and were heavily inspired by their time at the camp he founded in Algonquin Park.) And the Beaver wasn’t a voyageur canoe. I’ll excuse a lack of knowledge about the guy whose name is splattered all over the merchandise–it’s been 24 years since you could have actually asked Omer about it. But the Voyageur Canada stuff? The Beaver was a touring and tripping canoe, an art piece that you could paddle. Not a 17th-century container ship. The branding, beyond the obvious romanticism, makes no sense. And you’re still using that damn Voyageur Canada badge!

Voyageur Canoe

Voyageur canoe. Via blog.voyageurquest.com

Beaver Canoe Roots Canada

Beaver Canoe. From a Roots ad photoset. Via paddlemaking.blogspot.com.

Beaver Canoe is a brand that banks on nostalgia and Canadiana to sell, but that nostalgia shouldn’t be rooted in vague hand-wavey made-up stuff like Voyageur Canada (which, according to a cursory Google search, doesn’t exist as an entity). Root it in something real, something authentic, something that is consistent within the brand’s own history. Like this bit of history, from the original Beaver Canoe materials:

Beaver Canoe

Read it!

That’s what I want from the Beaver brand going forward, guys. Not to pun, but you need to go back to your roots.

As always, paddle your own canoe.

Trevor

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