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Gary and the Family Canoe


Gary purchased his Langford 15' Canvas covered cedar canoe in 1976.

It has seen many adventures over the 46 years,  most of them took place in the North Bay/Mattawa area including Trout Lake. Often on Saturday evenings when the kids were small Gary and his wife, Gezina, would walk the canoe across the street into Mud Lake (more like a pond) and chase beavers.

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Chasing beavers in Mud Lake, North Bay -1976 

There were also some overnight trips on the Mattawa River which included a fair bit of portaging and enough white water to satisfy their sense of adventure.  While taking a break from river paddling, gunnel bobbing* was a favourite pastime for family members. 

* Gunnel bobbing is a popular activity among canoe enthusiasts where the paddlers balance on the end of the gunwales and bounce the canoe up and down. 

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Portaging - canoe trip along the Mattawa River - 1979

During the years Gary and his family lived in North Bay (1975-1979), the Chamber of Commerce sponsored an annual North Bay-Mattawa 40 km canoe race. Gary's Langford canoe was a very versatile, sturdy, trustworthy participant.   As newbies, Gary and friend Rob decided to participate with two goals in mind; 1. To complete the race and 2. Not to come in last.


Both goals were accomplished.    


In looking at the website, the Mattawa River Canoe Race still exists but has been shortened to 13 kilometers and starts at Champlain Provincial Park. Certainly, a recommend fun family event.    

White water canoeing - Mattawa River  (not the Langford canoe) 1981

When Gary and his family moved to Ottawa in 1979, and subsequently to Kitchener in 1989 canoeing took a lower priority to other family activities.  


For a few years during the 1980s Gary and his son did use the Langford canoe to compete in an Ottawa summer triathlon that included a canoe race in Mooney’s Bay.


In recent years Gary has purchased another canoe; it, unfortunately, cannot compare to the design, manouvreability, and durability of the Langford. 

Paresseux Waterfalls - Mattawa River 1981

From a quick look, there will be a few steps that will be required to get this beautiful Lanford back in the water. First thing is to remove the old skin and see what the canoe reveals.


The canvas skin reveals a lot about past adventures. For example, the canvas patches on the inside show the small repairs as the canvas was worn or ripped. Pretty ingenious really. I would have just patched the outside of the canoe where the hole was, like a pair of pants, but the patch was applied on the inside facing out. this makes way more sense as the patch will not be open to removal if it catches on something. Thinking back to my pants, my mom always repaired the holes from the inside. 


Once the canvas skin is removed and I can get a better look at the wood, I see that most of the hull structure is in decent condition. There are a few small holes on the planking and water damage along the gunwales but overall not bad for 50 years old!


I will start by cutting back the cedar planks and expose the bow and stern stems. The screws that attach the gunwale to the decks are hopeless to get out so I may just cut the gunwales back 10-13  inches and remove the decks from there.  

I will use oak to fabricate new inside gunwales and use a scarf joint   (with a dowl drilled into for support) to re-attach them.

I had to lean into Reek (my structural consultant) to get the angles right for the replacement of the bow deck. There is a bit of water damage to the tip of the bow deck but I want to try and preserve it because of the Langford decal. I may use a section of the stern deck and graph it on the bow. 


Ok I am stuck. I want to preserve the front deck but the wood is rotting around the edges I took Gary's suggestion and I trimmed the rotted wood, making the deck a bit smaller and placed it back in. 


After a long break, I am back to rebuilding the stern end. The deck and stem had to be fabricated and then a few cedar planks replaced. It takes me a while to figure out the proper course of action and then more time building templates that will act as a model for the final product. 


It has taken a long time to get to this point but with the wood replaced and bow and stern end complete, I am able to put the canvas on, add filler and apply the first coat of paint. I am using a 1 part polyurethane marine paint.


The original keel was well worn and beyond repair, so I fabricated a new one and fitted it along the centerline of the canoe using filler as a way to keep it in place and seal it from the water.

Turning Point

I've been working on Gary's canoe for a long time. Each step of the process was thoughtful, deliberate, and sometimes unsure. But overall, as I try different approaches to various fixes, I realize there is no "one" right way. Each problem has many different possibilities, I am learning to be confident in the one I choose.

When I spoke with him the other day, he mentioned he wanted to name the boat "Turning Point", it was his wife's suggestion since the canoe had been part of a turning point in Gary's life back in the days when he paddled the North Bay-Mattawa race.

I think we all have our turning points in life and are sometimes fortunate enough to connect them to tangible things. For Gary, it is the family canoe.

I think it is good to recognize these moments in our lives because they become beacons of where we have been and shine a light on where we should go. For Gary and his family canoe, I hope it is on many more (but slightly less dramatic) adventures on the water. May you have calm water, strong paddles, and the wind at your back.

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