It’s funny how canoe construction has come almost full circle in the last 100 years. Last summer I came across this antique cedar strip beauty, owned by a gentleman living in Shawnigan Lake, BC. Before the advent of canvas covered canoes, European builders tried replacing the original birch bark canoe in various ways. However, matching both the perfect lines and light weight of the native built boats, proved quite a challenge. One of the more successful methods was strip built boats such as this antique beauty. Without the benefit of modern composites, these boats relied on flawless workmanship, and the natural tendency of wood to swell when saturated with water, to keep them dry. If you’ve heard old stories about weighting canoes with rocks and letting them “season”, filled with water, this is the the type of boat they’re talking about.
With the introduction of canvas covered canoes in the early 1900’s these boats largely went out of fashion. Wood and canvas canoes were lighter, more waterproof, less expensive, and easier to build and repair. However, things changed again with the introduction of epoxy and fiberglass in the late seventies. In no small part due to Ted Moores’ ground breaking book “Canoecraft”, strip built canoes returned with a vengeance. Today, most wooden canoes are built using this method, dating back to the 1800’s. Cedar strip canoes are beautiful, lightweight and strong. They will not however stand up to anything close to the amount of abuse a canvas covered canoe will. If you’re planning on running rivers or landing on rocky barnacle covered shores, I’d still choose a canvas covered canoe over a strip canoe any day of the week.
The origins of this beautiful antique canoe are unfortunately lost in time. Around the turn of the century there were numerous companies and back yard builders producing this style of cedar strip canoe, the majority of them centered around Peterborough Ontario. One day I’d very much like to restore this charming old cedar strip canoe. Perhaps then I will find a builder’s mark or some other clue to her identity.