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Couldn't Resist: 15' B.N. Morris Customized Reproduction by Rollin Thurlow in As-New Condition

Glenn MacGrady

Staff member
Oct 24, 2012
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I saw this 15' custom, soloized B.N. Morris 2007 reproduction by Rollin Thurlow of Northwoods Canoe Company in Atkinson, Maine, appear on FB Marketplace 40 miles from my home. It turned out to be essentially an estate sale of a canoe/kayak lover who had moved out of state. Hoo boy, I've been wanting a centrally-seated, solo-able, wood-canvas canoe ever since my 17' OTCA disappeared in the hands of a canoe restorer 16 years ago.

I've passed up several W/C's over the years, including Harold Deal's unused custom Loon Works Aria by Tom MacKenzie a year ago, mainly on the grounds of price and too much similarity to my Bell Wildfire.

But a Morris is historic. E.H. Gerrish, E.M. White and B.N. Morris are usually given the credit for popularizing wood-canvas construction in the mid to late 1880s near Bangor and Old Town, Maine. Morris was in business from the late 1880's until his factory in Veazie and all his canoe forms were burned up in a massive fire on December 15, 1919. This 15 footer canoe is a reproduction by Rollin Thurlow from lines taken off a Morris canoe at the Adirondack Museum. Thurlow and Jerry Stelmok, both in Maine, are probably the two most famous remaining W/C builders, and they are both in their 70's. Moreover, Thurlow now has a two-year waiting period for new canoes and restorations.

What a find: a B.N. Morris made by Rollin Thurlow in as-new condition, and only an hour from me!

This 15' Morris reproduction is exactly the length I like for solo canoes and it has a customized, centralized solo seat in addition to a trapezoidal stern seat. It is 30½" at the gunwales, 33" at max tumblehomed beam, 12½" deep, with high-swept 25" ends. I believe the inwales, outwales, decks, thwarts, carry handles, and rub rail (trim rail) are all mahogany, and that the outside stems and keel are oak. But I'll try to contact Thurlow to verify all the woods and paint colors.

The two-tone paint is a cream or ivory off-white and a sort of dark russet or mahogany brown. Here are several pictures of the details, and then I'll discuss what an amazing purchase value this canoe was.

The canoe has been stored indoors since 2007 inside a Sue Audette (The Bag Lady) canoe cover. It appears completely unused without a mark on the bottom even the keel. Essentially brand new condition with a little dust.

15' BN Morris Day of Purchase0 at Don Barese Antique Shop.jpg

Note the centralized solo seat aimed at the stern. Note also the slots under the inwales in front of the solo seat (on both sides) into which slides a custom carry yoke.

15' Morris3.jpg

Here you can see the detachable yoke lashed up with leather straps and snaps under the solo seat.

15' Morris.jpg

The next three photos show the half ribs, trapezoidal stern seat, and mahogany (I think) woodwork, and the lashed-in carry yoke.

15' Morris2.jpg

15 Morris Canoe4.jpg

15' Morris5.jpg

Here is the yoke in its slots while the canoe is upside-down on my car.

15' BN Morris Day of Purchase3 with carry yoke in slots.jpg

A B.N. Morris canoe can always be identified by it's splayed inside stems of cedar (not hardwood), which are about 3" wide at their ends. Rhinelander canoes supposedly also had a splayed inside stem but made of hardwood.

15' BN Morris Day of Purchase4 splayed stem.jpg

Here are the heart-shaped decks, one having an exact reproduction of the B.N. Morris sticker and the other being Rollin Thurlow's metal identification tag.

15' Morris6.jpg

15 Morris Canoe7.jpg

Some pictures of the canoe at home after I hosed it off a little, with the carry yoke on the hood.

15' BN Morris Day of Purchase2.jpg

15' BN Morris Day of Purchase1.jpg

This canoe currently retails for a base price of $4,400 on the Northwoods Canoe website. Adding up the additional custom details, which include hardwood trim ($250), two-tone paint ($275), keel ($170), half ribs ($225), trim rails ($325) and outside stems ($175), would yield a total new price of $5,820—plus a Bag Lady canoe cover, which now sell for $235 (plus tax and shipping), for a total new price value of over $6,000. Way out of my league.

But I got the canoe and cover for $2,000 cash! From a professional antique dealer and estate seller (who admittedly didn't know anything about canoes).

Now for the less good news. I'm sure this canoe is heavier than its listed weight of 60 lbs., or I'm getting exponentially weaker. So, I'm not sure I can safely lift it and have no place to store it. However . . . I recalled Robin saying the same thing on this site when he bought his 17' Chestnut Prospector earlier this year, but he bought it anyway. So I decided to GO FOR IT and become a member again of the wooden canoe cult.

I want to paddle this thing, which will force me to meet some other canoeists for the first time in many years, just so someone can help me lift the work of art on and off my vehicle—my real canoeing vehicle being a very high full size van.
Couldn't resist? I can't blame you! She's a beaut and a fair price as well. Can you say canoe envy....

Happy paddling'!
NOW, I wish I had been to this event:

2015 WCHA Assembly featuring Morris Canoes.jpg

Here is what Jerry Stelmok wrote about Morris canoes in his book The Art of the Canoe with Joe Seliga (2002):

"E.H. Gerrish launched the wood-and-canvas canoe industry from his Bangor shop in the late 1870s. In the Old Town area, both E.M. White and Guy Carlton had head starts on an eventual giant, Old Town Canoe, which would quickly dominate the business. However, in the eyes of many aficionados, the finest of all the early wood and canvas canoes were manufactured in the little town of Veazie, exactly midway between the two better known cities, by the B.N. Morris Canoe Company."

Joe Seliga was reportedly very influenced by the Morris designs.
Wow. A bargain, and the first wooden not-a-project boat that I’ve seen posted on this forum! You should definitely bring that down to Tallahassee!
the first wooden not-a-project boat that I’ve seen posted on this forum

Not sure it's the first, but this site has certainly become a great destination for wooden boat builders and restorers.

You see, I'm a not-a-project kind of guy. Just ask my wife. She'll tell you the limit of my home improvement skills is screwing in a light bulb, and I frequently do that in the wrong direction and then violate the home's no profanity rule.

In fact, with canoes I'm sort of the contra-project guy—i.e., I turn beautiful canoes into projects via my finely honed skills of inattention, failure to do maintenance, and outright neglect.

That, however, a good and necessary thing in the great Yin-Yang of canoe life. Without guys like me, the canoe project lovers and restorers would have nothing to buy for a farthing, nothing to work on, nothing to do.

But even if I projectify my beloved new Morris somewhat over the years, no one is ever getting it for less than two grand.

Sort of speaking of that, I drove around for hours today but couldn't find a place to put the canoe safely in. There has been such a drought that many of the usual culprit rivers and lakes are low. All the put-ins were long concrete ramps, exposed rocky shorelines, or big drops down to the water. I was afraid of dropping or scratching the Morris on all of these abrasive places. No gentle grassy slopes to crystalline waters.

Morris may stay married to Mercedes for a while. I did get a nice compliment on the couple at the local deli. Here they are before they formally tied the knot:

Morris and Mercedes before tie down.jpg
I didn't even notice the boat wasn't tied down in the above picture. That's too bad about not getting it in the water. Unfortunately you have the hardest type of vehicle to load a boat on, in my experience. I would try to get one of those extensions for your front rack, an EZ Loader I think it's called, or make one. I would also bring something to protect the bottom. like a carpet runner or blanket that you can set the boat on at one of those concrete ramps or other hard surface. I have some indoor/outdoor carpet that I use to slide my boat in and out of the water at home.

With the EZ loader and the carpet you may be able to come up with a system that you could do it yourself with a little practice and some applied physics. If you can't do it yourself, having a good system will make it easier and practical to have someone help with the step you are unable to do, (like getting the bow on the EZ loader bar) under your direction. Having someone help is a good idea but it would have to be someone that knows how lift canoes or there would be a good chance they would drop it.

Good luck, I hope you get it on the water soon.
I didn't even notice the boat wasn't tied down in the above picture.

Shucks, I try hard for puns or word plays sometimes ("before they formally tied the knot").

That particular photo was taken after the estate agent helped me put Morris on Mercedes and we were inside completing the financial transaction. I had brought exactly $2,000 in an envelope, anticipating I could negotiate down the $2,850/OBO asking price. The agent told me after my offer that his instructions were a $2,000 minimum, and he was happy to get rid of the big object so quickly. He had five other canoes and kayaks from the same estate.

I would try to get one of those extensions for your front rack

I have extensions on my Thule van racks, but I don't know yet whether I have the strength to get this particular canoe up that high. My composite solo canoes are still manageable. The rack on the Mercedes is a car specific, elliptical, closed-end rack, which would not be amenable to extensions. If I can hoist the canoe onto my shoulders, which I haven't tried yet, I can easily get it onto the Mercedes racks by walking it sideways onto them.

However, I may have to use a one-end lift with the other end pivoting on the ground. That would be abusive for the nose and stems of this canoe. So your rug recommendation is a good one.

I would also bring something to protect the bottom. like a carpet runner or blanket that you can set the boat on at one of those concrete ramps or other hard surface. I have some indoor/outdoor carpet that I use to slide my boat in and out of the water at home.

I'm going to look for some outdoor rug scraps today and also some foam pipe insulation for my van's Thule bars. The polished mahogany rails on this canoe are more elegant than any furniture I own.
I myself am the proud owner of two northwood canoes, love the traditional lines and natural materials, elevates the tripping experience to a new level, now comes the hard part picking the appropriate paddle and gear. Enjoy !
I myself am the proud owner of two northwood canoes

That's interesting to hear, forest runes. Which models? I saw another member's Atkinson Traveler.

now comes the hard part picking the appropriate paddle and gear

Oh, after owning 14 canoes over the past 43 years I have plenty of paddles and two traditional Duluth packs for my excess of gear. I'll be using attractive wooden paddles with this particular canoe, not my carbons.

Canvas, leather and wood . . . are good! (Can't say the same for the old body.)