Canoe Classic: 1963 Huron 17′ Wood Canoe

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This is a 1963 Huron canoe. It’s probably not too interesting to most CC readers, but what it has sat atop of may well be..

A bit of history first, these canoes were made by a collection of affiliated boat shops in the small town of Village Huron in Quebec Canada.  Built from the traditional canvas covered wood plank and rib construction, they are notable for their exaggerated stem curves at the bow and stern, and their rawhide laced seats.  My father bought one at the Eatons department store in 1963, and this treasured family heirloom is still with us today.  Sort of.

Because the camera usually came out at vacation time, the canoe got regularly photographed and I have a picture of it atop almost every car Dad owned between 1963 and now.

 

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Here’s Mom and Dad with their new canoe and their 1957 Plymouth Plaza.  The processing date stamp on the photo is September 1963, but it must have been taken during the summer.  As a teacher Dad wouldn’t have been going camping in September.

You can see the rust bleeding through the front fender, Dad said it was the worst car he ever owned.

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During the late 60’s the canoe rode on the 1960 Pontiac, here at Pancake Bay Provincial Park near Sault Ste Marie. This image is from a vivid Kodachrome slide, the digital photo doesn’t do the colours justice.  This is very obviously a Canadian market “Narrow Track” Pontiac, and yes that is me in front.

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I don’t have a photo of the canoe atop either of our twin Rambler Americans Brownie and Bluee, but here’s a 1971 shot of a different red canoe and my Grandfather’s 1964 Rambler Classic. As you can see I am far more interested in the car and the canoe, while my sister is petting the dog.  Bluee the 1966 Rambler makes an appearance in the lower right.

 

matador

During the 1970’s and 1980’s the canoe was hauled by the faithful 1972 Matador.  I think the curve of the hardtop roof is well matched to the rocker curve of the canoe. By the early 80’s the original canvas had become weak and leaky.  We had a local boat builder redo the canvas which cost about the same as the original purchase price of the canoe.

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The roof racks are still there, but we just missed the canoe in this 1990-ish photo of the 1981 Impala, and I know why. The gas struts wouldn’t hold the trunk lid up, and you couldn’t fit the broom handle in unless it was fully opened so the canoe had to come off right away.

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Magnetawan Lake Access 1989 – 70 pounds of canoe + 50 pounds of water

By the way, the Huron was a sweet paddling canoe in the water, fast and maneuverable.  I learned to paddle solo in it, spending hours exploring small lakes where we camped.  It was a bit of a pig on land, lacking a comfortable carrying yoke and being quite heavy.  A friend and I took it on an Algonquin wilderness trip only once, by the second day the wood had absorbed so much water it could hardly be carried over the portages.

I bought a used Kevlar canoe after that, and the Huron was mostly relegated to the garage rafters.

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Here’s the Impala’s replacement, a 1994 Dodge Grand Caravan.  You really get a sense of how long this craft is. 17 feet is a long canoe.

Actually the Huron did many more miles on the highway than it ever did on water.  This was one of the last years that Mom and Dad used the 1968 Simpsons-Sears trailer.  By this point we are also nearing the end of my parents’ involvement with the canoe.  When they downsized to a townhouse the Huron took up residence hanging from my garage rafters.

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In this photo our 2001 Focus is carrying both my Kevlar Prospector and the wooden Huron. This is a significant day in the canoe’s history: Thanksgiving 2012, the last day it was ever used.

We had decided to travel the Grand River from Cambridge to Paris, and since our children were old enough to paddle we elected to take both canoes.

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The day was an utter disaster; Mrs DougD dunked her BlackBerry in the river, we underestimated the time required for the trip and were late for Thanksgiving dinner at my sister’s house.  To top it off I failed to notice a rock just under the surface and my son and I hit it square on with the Huron.  I watched the impression of the rock slide towards me along the hull, snapping the dry spruce ribs like they were nothing.  Pop, pop, pop, pop in horrible slow motion.

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Fourteen ribs were broken.  It was my fault, I should have sprayed the inside with water a few times before use to give the dried out wood some flexibility, and I should not have brought it to a rocky river during low water level.  I felt sick about it, and blame was duly assigned by my father.

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Actually this is a staged photo; he wasn’t mad.  He figured to have gotten his money’s worth out of it over almost 50 years.

The wounded Huron retreated to the garage ceiling and we had a family decision to make.  Like a beloved old car, there comes a time when the repair cost exceeds the value.  I didn’t have the woodworking skills to fix it properly, and specialist repair would have amounted to a full restoration costing multiples of the canoe’s value.  And if we repaired it, what would we use it for?  It would still be a fragile garage ceiling queen.

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Here’s the Huron with its replacement.  Another used Kevlar canoe took it’s spot in the garage. We’ve since enjoyed many wilderness trips with our two modern canoes.  I appreciate the light weight and puncture resistance of the Kevlar, but they sure don’t compare on aesthetics.

The Huron went to my brother, who knew a retired fellow with some woodworking skills.

shelf

I got the bow end, and he has the stern.  Each shelving unit is about 7′ high, and the 3′ out of the middle might make an end table someday.  I enjoy having it in the house but the good feeling is tinged with a pang of regret.

Nothing lasts forever, not even family heirlooms.  But as a bookshelf our Huron canoe literally gets an unexpected final chapter.