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Posts Tagged ‘canoe history’

You know how when you buy a particular marque or model of car you start to see them everywhere? A few years ago, wandering through ebay while avoiding a more important task, I came across some images of canoeing on romantic themes. I can’t recall now which one I saw first, but here’s a representative example.

js romance 68 adj

How charming, I thought. They’re courting in a canoe. I bought the first one I saw, and then I bought a few more, and soon the search expanded to sheet music and souvenirs too. Last year, while I was still working at the Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough, Ontario, I proposed the idea of an exhibit about canoes and romance. Because I left the museum for another job at the end of the year, I didn’t end up curating that show, though I did do a design concept for it.  I did agree to write the Gallery Guide for the exhibit, however.

These Gallery Guides are a project that I started at the Museum three years ago. The original idea was to publish some of the material that inevitably doesn’t make it into the finished exhibit and provide visitors with some more information that they can take home. The first Gallery Guide was about the Museum’s “It Wasn’t All Work” gallery and explored the topic of canoeing for pleasure. The next Guide in the series was published in 2013 and recounted the story of the Museum’s founding and its origin in the private canoe collection of Kirk Wipper. The third Gallery Guide, I’m proud to say, is my own. It was released when the exhibit it accompanies was opened on Wednesday, April 23rd.

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The collecting of the images and souvenirs was great fun (and continues to this day), and the writing was a lot of hard work, but it’s a great exhibit and I encourage you to drop in if you’re travelling through southern Ontario. It’s open now and will be up until next March. You can purchase a a copy from the Canadian Canoe Museum Store. The first (It Wasn’t All Work: Canoeing for Pleasure) and second (Becoming Kirk Wipper: The Story of the Museum’s Founder) Gallery Guides are also available from the store online.

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In response to a post at the end of July about re-canvassing the 1937 Old Town, reader David Little posted an interesting comment in response to my use of epoxy as a canvas filler:

I understand the need to make things last longer…although it seems the previous traditional filler and paint lasted pretty long considering it was put on over 70 years ago….i do not subscribe however to taking the tradition out of traditional…i would not have gone to modern methods as a filler…the synthetic somehow doesn’t sit well with my view of tradition…just my thoughts.

His thoughts prompted some thoughts of my own, beginning with the words of a true expert on the subject.

Fiddler_on_the_roofAs the film opens, Tevye says:  “Traditions, traditions. Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as… as… as a fiddler on the roof!” (boat builders and restorers might take some ironic pleasure in the other song the film made famous: “If I was a Rich Man. . .”) But what is tradition, and by association, what is traditional?

At a fairly fine and granular level, tradition means simply keeping things exactly like they were. In the context of boatbuilding, this might mean that a steam-bent rib of white oak should always and only be made from white oak. At a mechanical level, traditions can be founded on properties. The oak rib, for instance, is such because oak happens to be an excellent material from which to bend ribs. But, it isn’t the only one, so one also sees small boats with ribs made of ash, elm and cedar, among other woods, because they share the same mechanical properties. Substituting one of these woods for another might therefore be “un-traditional,” but it may not necessarily change the fundamental character of the boat, because the steam-bent rib is still doing what has always done.

However, if you were to make a change in the structure of that rib, you’re dealing with tradition in a different way. Let’s say that your steam-bent oak rib becomes a laminated epoxy oak rib. Now you’ve introduced a significant change and, I would suggest, broken from tradition, because the rigidity and strength of the epoxy change the properties of the rib. The outward similarity–someone looking at the boat would still see a thin bent rib–masks a significant change. In the same way, a glued-lapstrake plywood boat is still lapstrake, and therefore nominally traditional, but whatever the outward similarity, it is a fundamentally different structure with different mechanical properties whose component parts have a different working relationship than in a traditional lapstrake boat.

To me, one test to apply would be the Arts & Craft movement’s maxim “Truth to Materials.” If the component parts of a boat still bear the same mechanical relationship to each other as they did in the original, then, possibly with minor variations, the boat might be said to be traditional. That is, a lapstrake dinghy built with clench nails and rivets and steam-bent frames in North America is traditional with respect to the same dinghy built in the UK, notwithstanding that when the builder moved across the pond he found out that he couldn’t get the larch stock he was used to for planking so he substituted oak.

Thus, with all due respect to American Traders, who build this canoe, this is not traditional:

Trapper14What started life as a wood/canvas canoe, where a non-water tight wooden shell supported a layer of waterproofed canvas stretched tightly around it, is now a different kind of watercraft, where resin-impregnated fiberglass cloth not only keeps the wood water tight but is also mechanically and chemically bonded to it. Before the mail starts coming in, I’m not saying it’s not a good canoe, just that for all of its outward similarities to wood/canvas canoes it is a fundamentally different structure.

This, by comparison, is traditional, at least to my way of thinking:

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Yes, the canvas has been filled with epoxy, and not a mixture of silica, linseed oil and white lead. However, 1) it’s still cotton canvas; 2) it’s still not fastened to the hull except by tacks at the ends and gunwales; and 3) it still comes off in a couple of big pieces when it’s time to re-canvas.

Interesting topic to ponder. What do you think?

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So I says to myself, “Self, what’s the least helpful thing I could do right now, given that I have a lot of boat projects on the go? Probably it would be to bring home another boat project. OK, let’s do that.” So I did. But what a boat!

OCC 4

This might be the prettiest canoe I’ve ever seen, and that’s saying something. What have I brought home? well, I’m pretty sure it’s a late 1890s Ontario Canoe Company decked canoe. Constructed from white cedar planking with Spanish Cedar decks, it was build in the “raised batten” technique by one of the pioneering canoe companies in the Peterborough, Ontario area. Incorporated in 1883, the OCC built a variety of cedar and basswood canoes using the techniques originally developed and patented by John Stephenson. The company flourished until May 9th, 1892 when it was completely destroyed by fire. Despite having lost everything and having no insurance, the founders decided to rebuild and on February 15th, 1893 a new factory opened at the intersection of King and Water Streets in Peterborough. This time, the sign on the building read “Peterborough Canoe Company.”

I think my new boat is a Model 200 “Ontario Canoe” as depicted in a late 1880s OCC catalogue.

occ catalogue profile view with rig

occ catalogue model 200

The dimensions and specifications match perfectly, as does the fabulous shape of the coaming, with its long, raking forward end. There are some interesting things about this boat, though, not the least of which is that it was never completely fitted out to sail. As you can see from the catalogue illustration above, it was intended to be sailed with a two-masted “Mohican”-style lug rig. The mast holes are there in the deck caps, but I can’t find the screw holes that would have been left by the deck hardware, and nor is there any sign on the keel of mast steps or mast tubes having been fastened in place. There is also no indication that a rudder was ever fitted to the sternpost. Most tellingly, there is no centreboard!

The catalogue says “Centre-boards fitted to any of these canoes at extra cost.” The OCC offered two choices for folding fan centreboards: the Brough, which used 5 overlapping plates of brass, and the much more complex Radix, whose leaves telescoped inside each other when retracted.

occ catalogue radix and brough

Along with the canoe, I was also able to acquire a #2 Radix, though I did pay slightly more than the 1880s price of $20.

radix 1

Stay tuned over the coming months as I work to bring this beautiful little canoe back to life. Should keep me out of trouble for a while.

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A little late for Mother’s Day (we’re clearly running on Cultural Standard Time here at Playing With Boats, which is always a bit behind real-world time), here are some images of women in canoes from my collection, all from around the turn of the last century.

Entitled “Landing,” this card shows our friend alighting from a handsome little lapstrake cruising canoe.

Some time later, in the same canoe, with the same lacy shawl (or a gill-net, but somehow I think it’s a shawl. . .) but with a different outfit (but a no less fluffy hat), she bids “Goodbye.” We can only speculate about what’s happened in between these two cards. Judging from how straight the post is, I’d say we’re looking at the stern of the canoe here.

Scenes suggestive of shoreside trysts notwithstanding, the theme of womens’ independence shows up often in these postcards–we might call it the “canoe of one’s own” motif. In a sporty sailor suit, charmingly encircled with two lines of rope and with a decorative background of paddles, our subject is clearly enjoying being out for a paddle. As she’s out on her own doing a sports activity, a pleasure all-too-rarely afforded women of her era, perhaps the most important word is “yourself.” She certainly seems to be firmly in control of her canoe.

“Paddling my own canoe” is another motif that shows up frequently in popular culture images of canoing. I wouldn’t say she looks altogether comfortable, and there’s at least a chance that she’s holding an oar and not a paddle, but the point remains that women like her can and did paddle their own canoes at the turn of the last century.

She’s definitely holding a paddle, but she’s kneeling aft of the bow seat, and I have a feeling that the line tied to the seat frame is holding her fast to the shore, so this shot strongly suggests “studio.”

The more of these cards you look at, the more interesting they get. Here we have several elements from other images, including the same initial “D” painted on the bow as above, albeit on a bright-finished canoe. The red and white striped fabric and the shawl lying on the deck sure look a lot like those in the first image, and come to think of it, her dress and hat are also pretty similar. That’s a pretty wide-shafted paddle she’s holding, too.

OK, strictly speaking Kate Vaughan isn’t in a canoe, but she is wearing the colours of the American Canoe Association in this 1890s card from the Duke Tobacco Company, part of their “Yacht Colors of the World” series. Kate Vaughan (1852-1903) was a well-known English actress and music-hall performer.

While you’re reading the impressive list of yacht clubs on the back of the card, take a moment to enjoy the exquisite typography of the titles at the top and bottom. There’s a font that’s worth reconstructing.

Until next time, when we might have done enough work on it to get back to our sailing canoe design. . .

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One of the things I’ve always found almost as interesting as boats is images of boats, especially pop culture and advertising images. Pop culture? Really? But it’s so, well, so popular. What does it really have to say? A lot, I think.

The same argument is sometimes levelled at pleasure boating as not being a subject worthy of serious study because it “only” deals with pleasure (as if the pursuit of pleasure hasn’t been a constant of human affairs for some time now). The thing about pleasure boating, and its wealthy cousin yachting, is that they’re of significance precisely because they’re not serious (unless you’re trying to win the America‘s Cup, perhaps), and this is what makes them important. The purchase of a pleasure boat is the ultimate discretionary expenditure. There’s no practical reason to own it unless you want to, or you think it’s beautiful, or it makes you happy, or all three. If you think about it, then, these purchases can tell us about what we really want, unfettered by the practicalities that constrain our everyday acquisitions. If pleasure boats are an interesting place to study people, therefore, then advertising for pleasure boats, or that uses pleasure boats, is a great place to find out what we all desire.

I’ve been collecting images of pleasure boating for a while now, and for me it’s a real pleasure because I only acquire things that interest me. No scheme, no system, no need to have footnotes or be representative of a particular historical style or period. I just get things I like. I think I’ll share some of these with you from time to time, so here’s a few to start us off. These are all on the theme of canoes and double paddles.

Our 1890s friend here with the snappy beanie, striped shirt and moustache to match is paddling a sturdy little Rob Roy type. He’s also advertising coffee while he enjoys boating. Here’s what the back of the card looks like:

And the connection between Lion coffee and canoeing is, well, it is what ever you would like it to be. As it it says at the top, you had to buy the coffee to get this charming trade card.

On a less muscular and manly note, we have some very slender 1880s young ladies paddling some very slender Rob Roy canoes. I’m not sure what the displacement of the hull in the background is, but I would think that it’s not suited to rough water use. This is a lovely, serene pastoral image, perfect to accompany your note to a friend.

Skip ahead a few years to the 1920s, and this trim couple have been so rejuvenated by taking Dr. Roussel’s anti-anemia remedy that they are able to paddle in perfect synchronization–as the tag line says, it gives you strength.

And here’s a personal favourite. Once again, nothing says Rob Roy canoe like a striped t-shirt. One of the earliest pieces in my little collection, this tiny tobacco card, measuring 3″ x 1  1/2″,  is from 1888, one of a set that depicted a rather ecclectic group of watercraft ranging from iceboats to battleships.  It is also one of the earlier instances I’ve seen of the slightly disturbing pairing of canoeing [think healthy, outdoors, clean] with tobacco and smoking [think the opposite]. This ran all the way through to Camel cigarette ads in the 1980s that showed our hero lighting up as he paddled.

There’s so much to like about this image, including its well-proportioned canoe, the tam on the paddler’s head, the artful spray of water fro the upper paddle blade and the large, pointillist printing dots. Two nice boats in the background too, one with a dipping lug to the left and another canoe or two to the right.

Until next time. . .

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In the December, 1886, issue of Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly magazine, the noted American journalist and yachtsman W.P. Stephens, about whom I’ve written before, published an article called “Why We Canoe.” You can read the text of the article online here, courtesy of Google and the Hathi Digital Library.

Stephens was a tireless promoter of the sport of canoeing, and especially canoeing under sail, and with his canoe Jersey Blue was a fixture in the early days of the American Canoe Association. A copy of his wonderful Canoe and Boatbuilding: A Complete Manual for Amateurs should be on the shelf of anyone with even a passing interest in canoe sailing and late 19th century small craft. The book went through many editions, and original copies can be found for sale at a reasonable price. It’s also been reprinted. My friend Dan Miller over at Dragonfly Canoe Works has kindly made it possible to read the book online. As important as the book, but much harder to find, are the plates, which originally came out in a companion volume. In 1987, as the date on the cover of my well-thumbed copy says, Mystic Seaport Museum collated and re-published a complete set. Mystic also holds Stephens’s drawings and papers, a veritable treasure trove of canoeing and yachting history.

The article is vintage Stephens, arguing strongly in favour of his preferred type of sailing canoe, the all-’round paddling/sailing boat, suitable for extended cruising. He notes with approval the recent development of classification rules by the American Canoe Association, designed “to prevent, as far as possible, the construction of racing canoes.” Unfortunately for Stephens but fortunately for those of us who enjoy 16-30s, ICs and other “dangerous racing freaks,” as he condemned them, racing craft did develop.

His article contains some charming engravings of mid-1880s canoes that were just on the verge of the bifurcation in design that began to occur under the pressures of racing under sail. The four illustrated here are exemplars of what Stephens considered to be wholesome types.

Atlantis was owned by the noted Adirondack writer, photographer and artist Seneca Ray Stoddard.

Robert Tyson’s Isabel was well known on the Toronto waterfront and at the Toronto Canoe Club, as was her skipper and his characteristic tam, with its cap ribbons hanging down behind. Like many canoeists of this era, Tyson tinkered incessantly with his rig, and Isabel exhibits one of his interesting innovations. The unique bent mast serves least two purposes. The first one is to get the rig as far forward as possible without putting the mast right up in the eyes of the canoe. Combined with the heavy roach, held out by battens, this gives a big mainsail with a low centre of effort. The spar extending below the boom also permits a vang to be used, something not normally possible because of the low boom on sailing canoes which would create too shallow an angle for a vang to be effective.

Marion B ‘s mainsail displays the turtle totem of Albany, NY’s Mohican Canoe Club, one of the powerhouses of organized canoeing in the late 19th century. The standing lug rig with its two reefing battens is an early example of what would become known as the Mohican rig. Later versions pulled the whole sail aft of the mast and did away with the small portion extending forward, using elaborate hardware to attach the yard, battens and luff. Owned by General Oliver, Marion B was be decisively outsailed in the 1886 ACA meet by Commodore Gibson’s new Rushton-built canoe Vesper.

Siren represents one of the main types of early sailing canoe, the Nautilus (the others being the Rob Roy and the Shadow) The Nautilus type originated with a number of canoes of that name sailed by Warington Baden Powell. In their first incarnations, they were solidly constructed seaboats with moveable inside ballast and heavy boilerplate centreboards, sailed semi-prone. As the caption indicates, this American canoe, though ostensibly a Nautilus type, is already being sailed from the deck and not below. It was but a short step (a short slide, actually) from sitting on the weather edge of the deck to sitting outboard on a sliding seat, so notwithstanding Stephens’ misgivings about racing canoes, the wind of change was already filling these small sails.

Until next time. . .

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Back in the second post in this series, I was thinking about how to translate the arc bottom of the original sailing canoe into something I could build in stitch and glue. Using the original linesplan, I’ve modeled several different version of the hull in Delftship that allow me to make some numerical comparisons between them. All I’ve changed in each case is the number of chines and the underwater shape–everything else is the same (with the exception of some small changes to the bow profile to accommodate an additional chine). The design waterline and draft of 4″ are as on the original plans, and all these hulls are shown in a full bow-on view.

Here’s the original arc-bottomed hull, which displaces .117 short tons, or 234 lbs.

Here’s the same hull with all of the arc taken out of the bottom sections so that there’s just a straight section from chine to keel. This results in a significantly lower displacement of only .075 tons, or 150 lbs. How much displacement do we want or need? Well, I’d say something at least equal to the original hull. I’m also keeping in mind the displacement of my hard-chine 16-30 hull, which is .133 tons, or 266 lbs. From my experience in building and sailing those boats, they float pretty much on their marks with a sailor of average weight, so there’s a good comparison for what displacement we should shoot for in a two-masted, decked 16′ sailing canoe built in stitch and glue. I don’t think 150 lbs is going to do it.

Here I’ve added another chine and pulled it down amidships to make a nearly flat bottom. I may have overdone it on the extra volume, though, because now our displacement is up to .139 tons, or 278 lbs. I’m not sure we need quite all of that.

If I introduce just a little deadrise into the midships sections, leaving the ends unchanged, the displacement decreases to  .128 tons, or 256 lbs, which is pretty close to our 16-30 hull.

So far, so good. The next step is to add the deck and deck camber, put the bulkheads in the right places instead of just at a uniform 1′ interval and expand the individual hull panels. Then, I’ll buy some balsa wood and make a 1 1/2″ – 1′ model.

Until next time. . .

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