(first posted 1/5/2017) 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
That was awesome, Doug! What a great trip down memory lane, or across memory lake as it may be.
I loved all the old pictures with the Canoe on top, there is something about 1960’s family scene photos that I love. And the cars in the background in 1989, nice Fuego and the Prelude Si as well. And that first Impala shot with you leaning on the fender, that is recognizably you and your tall guy posture.
On the 2001 Focus shot, are you running the front strap under the hood? It looks like it’s coming up from the tension.
Also the great re-use of the canoe in the end, that’s perfect rather than it just sitting in the rafters not being usable anymore. It’s nice to have interesting furniture with authentic history behind it.
That shelving unit is fanfrikkintastic !!
That’s a great story! I’m surprised the Plymouth made it to six years in those Canadian winters, perhaps they didn’t use a lot of salt where you grew up?
Oh they used a lot of salt alright, but Dad tried to keep them clean which helped a bit, and we always kept cars until they were good and ready to be scrapped.
In the Focus picture I think the hood hadn’t been fully closed when I took the photo, the straps are hooked into the fender supports which was the only convenient metal anchor point I could find.
Ok, I was skeptical of extending the CC world to canoes, but after reading it I have to say you nailed it. I love the succession of real family car photos. The story was interesting and the ending kind of sad. However, making it into bookcases was an inspiration and a good way to honor a faithful family friend.
Doug, Your stories are always among my favorites here, and I was overdue for a fix. And this certainly did the trick. The shelf at the end was the coupe de grace; or canoe de grace. 🙂
Amazing story. I’ve spent many days on long haul canoe trips including the same places you mention, and know how nice but how heavy the wood canoes are. But they are lovely.
The shelving unit is a nice reworking, and beats throwing the canoe out. I don’t thing I woild have the heart to decapitate a family heirloom in that manner . Broken or not I would hang it from the ceiling somewhere, so it looks as if it’s ready to go back home to the lake, just like old times.
I love those photos. For whatever reason I strongly equate 1960s leisure vacations with boats, lakes and camping.
Unexpected Renault Fuego in the 1989 shot. I don’t remember seeing many of those by that point or at all.
Esta un fuego forestal 🙂
It would be quite a coup to get an actual CC of a Fuego these days. I know that I have not seen one in the wild for 10 years. It’s probably been a couple since my last Alliance.
The distinctive stem profile (retroussé?) was a hallmark of some Thompson canoes, they called it the torpedo stem. Interesting that they were copied in Huron as they were made in Peshtigo, WI.
Great story, Doug! My dad and I did quite a bit of canoeing on a local river when I was young. After about 5 years of renting a canoe every time we went, Dad decided it was time to buy one. We never went canoeing on that river again, ironically.
One time shortly after purchasing it, he decided we would take it with us on vacation to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It was a windy day on the Mackinac Bridge, and it blew up underneath the canoe and proceeded to blow the pads off the edge of the roof of the 4 Runner we were driving. The truck was leaning so bad that Dad was considering cutting the ropes and letting the canoe blow into the lake! Fortunately it held on long enough for us to cross, and we didn’t lose any of the pads that I recall, though the roof was scratched up pretty good.
Nowadays the canoe just sits under his deck, as it’s much easier to transport 10′ kayaks than it is a 17′ canoe.
Nice article and it looks like the Canoe is mounted far forward on that narrow track Pontiac. I would be worried about breaking something with so much Canoe sticking out.
It might have been shoved forward temporarily so Mom could put stuff in the trunk. One issue with transporting that canoe was that it had so much rocker (banana shape) that it could impede forward vision.
Wonderful time travel with the canoe as the (red) thread. The forests in the background are a bit messy though. Too bad.
Thanks for this. Brings back memories for sure. Somewhere there’s a picture of my parent’s silver 72 Vega Kammback with my Uncle’s early 70s Old Town on it. (Not nearly as cool of a canoe as yours, but still…) The canoe was rather longer than the car.
Dad was pretty amazing at packing the car. We fit 4 of us and 2 week’s worth of gear in and on the Vega for the trip from Philly to Providnce (to pick up the canoe) and on to Parker Pond, a 6 mile long lake midway between Augusta and Farmington Maine. Who needs a minivan? Then, to get to the cabin you had to hike or boat a mile in.
Come to think of it, the little Evinrude 3 horse outboard on the cabin’s rowboat would make an interesting CC. I have vivid memories of Dad wrestling with it, especially the recoil starter, which seemed to fail each year.
I have a 17′ Kevlar one myself. You’re right in they don’t have the same character as the old ones, but at 42 pounds I won’t complain.
I didn’t get it out all last year, actually thinking of getting rid of it since I hardly use it. When I bought it I had visions of outings with the family but they just aren’t getting into it, it’s a pain to store and transport, and just about every campground we go to has rentals available. I’m also very hesitant to use it for what it’s intended for, a Boundary Waters trip, since those rocky lakes would beat the hell out of it.
We had a Grumman aluminum canoe for a while, but with my wife not being much interested in canoeing we didn’t get much use out of it, and I finally sold it at a garage sale. Typically, she grumped that I hadn’t gotten enough money for it. 🙂
Great story! I never had any experience with one of the old wood/fabric canoes, but only the Grumman aluminum jobs. I had not thought about how those things would sop up water and become so heavy, but it makes perfect sense when you mention it.
I understand the sadness when a useful heirloom becomes a useless heirloom. I think you made a good choice – sometimes you just have to let go. If you still need a wooden canoe in your life, I am sure you could buy a similar one for much less than the costs of repairs.
I always love pictures of that 72 Matador. Those semi fastback Matadors and Ambassadors were some of my favorite AMC cars.
This is terrific. Your ability to repurpose things is truly amazing.
Great article and photos. I think the decision to transform this well-loved canoe into two bookcases, in two family homes, was genius. They look beautiful! And the photo with your dad is priceless – I hope a framed print sits on each bookcase :-).
I grew up in the Maritimes, and the wood-and-fabric canoes seen everywhere at the same time were built by the Chestnut Canoe Company, now long gone, in Fredericton, NB. These beautiful, elegant boats made an impression on everyone who experienced them. But omg, they were heavy! Good memories.
What a great idea! Introducing us to your family, and your childhood cars and adventures through your old wooden canoe. A very unique perspective indeed. The story itself was great, but the ending with the canoe made into two bookcases just put it over the top. The ending reminds me of how Mike Mulligan turned his faithful old Steamshovel Maryanne into a boiler. Job well done!
PS just a thought. Some wood grain paint on the inside of your Kevlar canoe might invoke some of the spirit of your old wooden Huron.
Love the Mike Mulligan’s steam shovel reference–what a fantastic book that was!
Great story. Regarding that narrow track Pontiac: I understand how they came to be, but given that so much of the marketing of Pontiac in the US in the 60’s was about the “Wide Track” thing, how did GM get away with it? Did they have completely different ad campaigns in Canada? So many Canadians live close to the border, that they must have seen the US ads (and the cars) anyway. Was having semi-Pontiacs just accepted as the price you had to pay for better hockey teams and being able to sprinkle all kinds of extra u’s in your words?
it was interesting doug to see the matador in all its new car glory.
it certainly developed a well earned “patina” as the years went on! 😉
Great story, I felt there with your Family .
In the early 1960’s I spent many Summers at Canindaguia (SP?) Lake in Up state New York . (one of the ‘Finger Lakes’) .
Granny Bently kept two old wooden canoes from the 1930’s under the boat house and never allowed me to touch them, reading how easily yours was damaged I now know why !.
Wonderful story about the COAL (Canoe of a Lifetime). It’s gratifying that you got so many decades of service out of that canoe, and that you were able to repurpose it into something still useful.
Great story Doug.
You made me go back in time by mentioning Eatons, Simpson Sears. The photos were great and your dads old Pontiac was either a Laurentian or Strato Chief. One of my uncles on the farm had a Pontiac like that. Too bad about the Huron canoe as those old style canoes would be very collectable in some circles. Good idea to preserve something which played a role in your family’s history.
Thanks, good story. Well told. We have 2 plastic kayaks to motor around in. We trailer these behind our Kia Soul.
Excellent, excellent story! So strongly reminds me of my family camping trips and learning to handle a canoe…
In reference to madhungarian, many customers here on the Canadian side were confused by the “wide track” ads and genuinely believed they had one, including an uncle of my wife’s. No matter how much his brother in laws ragged on him. Lol, If GM said it it was true. Period.
Lovely old canoe–while it’s sad that It was damaged beyond repair, the bookcase repurposing is a great idea to keep a tangible reminder as well as a cool piece of furniture.
Pretty much all my canoe experience is with the Grumman aluminum models, as those were to be found at summer camp and also used on the excursions my Boy Scout troop took. Nowhere near as nice-looking as these wood and fabric beauties, and man did that unpainted aluminum get HOT really quickly in the bright sun!
Hey Doug. Just found your canoe story as I was researching the numbers stamped on the gunnel of my old what I believe is a Huron as well. 14 foot which was given to me by an aging client in Sidney B.C. I stored it in my garage for 24 years. It was in poor condition and I promised myself that I would restore it when I retired. It was torn, rotten in places but I could see the potential. 8 months later and a lot of learning curves, it is now a must see and it rides great on the Explorer when I go camping and a dream to paddle.
The original decal on it states only that it was made for Sears Canada. Any idea what these numbers may mean? 337306. Anybody? Thanks, Ken
My best guess would have been a Sears catalogue stock number, used to order the item. Six digit numbers was their mode for ordering.
No need to fear the loss of the old heirloom. The good thing about these old wood/canvass boat is you can always reconnect the existing pieces and re-create the old boat. great winter project for the grown up grand children to learn about.
Enjoyed the story.
Pretty cool I got a 16’3″ Huron I bought recently….It is a joy to paddle…been 61 I can relate to the photos lol
I bought a Huron this spring that is a little shorter: 15′ 2″ and only has one thwart. Did yours have the small stern seat sitting up in the back?
Since the original post I came across ‘Northern Scavenger’, a great YouTube channel containing a number of epic multi-day wilderness canoe trips in Ontario, Labrador, Quebec, and Nova Scotia. Well worth watching.
Beautiful canoe and a great story!
Great story Doug! I’m not a canoe person but do enjoy paddle boarding now with my wife.
Your mention of purchasing it at Eatons, and the trailer from Simpson-Sears . . . . . sounds like my childhood. Until Sears closed my mother referred to it as “Simpsons” or Simpson Sears, and much of our household purchases as a child came from one or the other, like most Canadian families through to the 80’s and early 90’s. Appliances, clothes, and good old Craftsmen hand and power tools.
This may inspire me to do a brief article on my ~1970 ish Sears 12′ Aluminum boat purchased in 1994 and still going today. Thanks for that!