I posted this earlier incorrectly stating that the restoration was done by Carrying Place Canoe and Boat Works up in Kleinburg, Ontario. Turns out I got some wires crossed while talking to the folks about it. Carrying Place came up in conversation as we were talking about paddlemaking, and I apparently retroactively applied that to the canoe restoration. While Carrying Place does beautiful work, the restoration was in fact done by Jim Spencer of Spencer Canoe Company in Muskoka, and the post has been updated to reflect this. Sorry Jim! Love your work.
Back in October of 2011, I wrote a blog post about the prospect of restoring a 60-year-old canoe that needed some serious work.
I got in the wayback machine and looked over what I wrote then:
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…
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
As it turned out, it needed quite a bit more than that. The who-knows-what under the canvas turned out to be broken planking and deteriorated ribs. The damage was far more than cosmetic. I didn’t realize it at the time of writing, nor when my parents were ready to get into the restoration, but it was far more a wreck than we thought.
A damned shame. It also meant that there was no earthly way that I could have done what I wanted to do. The wear and damage was too severe. So, my folks (ostensibly the owners of the canoe) began to look around for someone to do the job for us. I was adamant that we could do it ourselves, that I could figure it out. But no such luck.
I was doing some work over at my folks’ place recently and moved the recently-restored piece out of the garage to temporarily make some room, and was absolutely struck by how gorgeous it was. It shone.
Not far from Algonquin Park, on Highway 60 near Oxtongue Lake is Spencer Canoe Company. Jim Spencer builds and restores canoes from Chestnut and Peterborough plans using local cedar, ash, and cherry that he mills himself. It’s obvious that Algonquin is in his blood.
He writes like my kind of person, too. Compare my reflections on paddling with his:
To me, the greatest contentment or peace of mind comes from paddling across a sparkling blue lake, watching the sun set and hearing my paddle dip in the water. To pass on the magic of the wood-canvas canoe to the next generation, and to make these unique boats available for all to enjoy, is now my life’s work.
While paddling isn’t nearly my life’s work, I share his goal — to pass it on. The canoe that he restored is the one my sister and I learned to paddle in, and thanks to Jim, it’ll be the canoe my girls learn to paddle in, too.
Look at how beautiful the old canoe (a 1956 Peterborough Mermaid, as it turns out) is after Jim’s work.
I was initially angry when I heard that this canoe had gone outside the city to be restored, but I have a hard time believing an amateur like me, no matter how much love and effort I put in, could have had anything like this kind of success. The thing that Jim brought to the proceedings was a lifetime of skill, coupled with a passion that I’m only truly beginning to develop and understand.
Now to get the girls in it and paddling. First, though, I’ll have to teach their mom.