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Norm's Pride and Joy

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Family folklore suggests that Norm purchased this beauty second-hand from a member of the Golden Lake First nations when he was a young bachelor, back in the late 1940s.  For the first few years, it carried him and friends on countless excursions around the Ottawa / Gatineau area.

The canoe remained a constant in Norm’s life once he married and raised three children.  It accompanied the family on long camping trips, often transporting all five of them, a heavily laden white metal cooler and various toys and towels to the far ends and hidden bays of lakes throughout Canada and the north-eastern U.S.

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As the children grew, they learned to paddle it themselves, developing independence and a love of adventure.  They retained a deep connection to this particular canoe.

The old canoe finally left its perch in Norm’s garage when he passed on a few years ago.  The family has decided it’s time to rejuvenate it so it can be lovingly used once again by his children and grandchildren - a fitting, engaging memorial to the man who paddled it.

What's in a Canoe Name?

Before I begin there is something on my mind, not that it will have any impact on the canoe itself, but more for my own sense of curiosity; I am interested in the name of the canoe and the company or builder. Time to sleuth...

There are a few things I already know: 

1. It is used 

2. It was thought to be purchased circa. 1940-ish

3. Bought in Eastern Ontario, possibly from the Algonquins of Pikwàkanagàn First Nation (formally Golden Lake First Nation)

4. The deck is a unique ogee design

I will start with the deck design. On the Dragonfly Canoe Works website, I can see three possible company builders for this distinctive design. 


Norm's Canoe


Penobscot Canoe Company

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Detroit Boat Company

Thompson Brothers Boat Manufacturing Company

These are close to the original but not quite the same. Also, none of these boat manufacturers were located near the site where Norm first bought the canoe. So, this lead is a bit of a dead end. TBC...

Peeling Back the Years

The smell is the first thing that hits when I peel back the canvas. It is fresh yet old.


After removing the skin, it appears the planks are still in excellent condition. Not bad for 80 years! However, as I look deeper into the canoe, I can see the stem bands will need replacing. I am actually excited about rebuilding these pieces as it will require some steaming and bending of wood.

Steam has a special spot in my heart as it reminds me of my time working on a steam train at Fort Steele Heritage Town in British Columbia. I would argue that steam, under pressure, was the reason for the development of a coast to coast Canada. However, today I will be using steam to soften some oak so that I can replace the stern and bow stems.  

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It appears the wood that holds the front of the canoe together had deteriorated. However, the planks look great!


I first had to make a jig based on the original stem band. Nice feet!

I used a plastic sheath to put the oak wood in and bent it while I steamed.

The Gunwales

For those that missed my gunwale talk, the gunwales run the length of the canoe and provide structure and strength to the top part of the canoe. For me, they are the most intimidating section of any canoe repair. You can purchase prefabricated gunwales but I am trying to do things as resourceful as I can so I will make the gunwales myself (with the help of my team).

Fortunately, the gunwales of Norm's Pride and Joy are in great condition! There is no reason to believe these gunwales have been replaced, so I am dealing with 80-year old gunwales! I just have to sand the old paint off and they will be good to go. Unfortunately, in order to be in great condition, many years of paint have accumulated so the stripping and sanding will take some time.

Ribs and Tips

There are several ribs and tips at the end of the ribs that need some help. In my mind, the purpose of a restoration is not to redo the boat with all new materials but rather to identify and support the original pieces that need it. I think of it like a hip replacement; we don't replace the whole body when its just the joint that needs attention.  

I will cut back the ribs that need it and replace with new pieces of cedar. 


In the past, I have been able to repair small sections of the wooden canoe stems. But sometimes there is just no way around the fact a whole stem needs replacing. Creating the rounded stem to match the original recurve has not been an easy task. I have been steaming oak and ash to bend the wood into the proper shape, but, after several unsuccessful attempts, I have decided to laminate smaller pieces. This will provide the curve I need. 


I had to remove the original stem from the stern because it deteriorated. 

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I used the original stem to create a jig that will hold the steamed wood.

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My first attempts yielded experience but not a workable piece of wood. 

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Using smaller pieces of wood, I used glue to laminate them together.

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Putting the stern stem in place.

Cracked Ribs

I was considering the best approach to the cracked rib found near the bow end of the canoe when I pulled up the hull planks to discover Norm had previously repaired several cracked ribs along the bottom of the hull. I will follow his lead and repair the cracked rib in the same fashion.


I am satisfied with wood repairs so now it's time to canvas. I will use the same system I have used with previous canoes. I stretch the canvas over the canoe using tension from a come-along fixed at two ends of my shop. Starting from the centre of the canoe, I use material pliers to pull the canvas tight to the hull then I secure the canvas along the gunwale using brass tacks. 


I am using a rubberized mastic as my filler. Filler is the barrier between the paint and the canvas It adds weight to the canoe but I think the benefit is the longevity of the canvas. Honestly, there are a number of different thoughts on this subject but for me, the filler I use has served me well and would recommend it anytime. 

However, before I cover the canvas with filler, I need to burn all the fuzz off and then give the canoe a good wash.

Paint, Gunwales, Stems, and Seats
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New Beginnings

The time has come to let Norm's Pride and Joy go back to the water. The process was not just in repair/restoring this canoe but getting to know the family that is tied to it. On a recent visit to the shop, Howard told me of a story where Norm would anchor the boat in shallow water so Howard could practice paddling strokes in circles. Once on performing a pry stroke he pulled so hard, he accidentally flipped  himself out of the canoe!

These are the stories I imagine as I replace boards, attach canvas, and sand gunwales. Like our hero's, this canoe becomes larger than life as I remind myself how fortunate I have played a small part in the legacy. My wish for Norm's Pride and Joy is that it continues to find strong paddles, calm waters, and the wind always at its back.

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