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Grand Lakers, square back cedar canoes from eastern Maine

Jun 12, 2012
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Appleton, Maine
Grand Lakers are to eastern Maine's Grand Lake Stream area what drift boats are to the great fishing rivers out west. They came about in the 1920's or so, Guides would get their big 20 foot traditional canoes towed up lakes via lumber steam barges with clients (Sports) and paddle back fishing for trout and salmon.

When outboard motors came about, they added a square back transom, but still kept the ability to paddle a Sport into quiet coves to fly cast for the fish. Today, the Grand Laker is the boat of choice for guides in the Grand Lake Stream area and the Sports are atracted to these craft as they where almost 100 years ago.

After my recent canoe trip to the area with fellow members of the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association, we stopped at a canoe shop in Grand Lake Stream to meet Dale Tobey and see his work. Dale is a Maine Guide and takes clients fishing on the local lakes in his Grand Laker, and he builds, repairs, and restores Grand Lakers in his shop.
Here is Dale in the green checkered jacket explaining a restoration he recently completed.

Inside the shop, Dale shows us a recently completed new canoe. That's a one piece mahogany transom, cedar ribs and plank and a fiberglass covering to stand up to the rigors that a working canoe like these see.

This is Dales working canoe, the one he uses to guide Sports with. Lots of different fishing poles stored above the canoe. Being a guide, it helps to have a way with words to pass the slow times out on the water. Dale is a real Mainer and his personality showed that he has the gift. I was happy to hear that he uses a cold handle frying pan when he cooks a shore lunch for the Sports.

Dale Tobey can be reached at djtobey@maineiac.net
Thanks for that insight. Any idea how these relate to the Canadian freight canoe? My guess is the evolution was about the same. I was surprised to see about a half dozen old freight canoes with outboards pulled up onto the beach on Baffin Island on my Arctic kayak trip in 2010. My camera was back at camp so I never got a photo. This area traditionally used kayaks and umiaks but now use aluminum boats which replaced fiberglass which replaced wooden hulls, except for the freight canoes.
I have seen freighter canoes on the Yukon and the Peele (farther east) and on James Bay as well as the Grand Lakers. All must have evolved independently with materials dependent on availability.

All seem to differ on width and length and maneuverability. The Moosonee canoes are quite maneuverable. The Peele one I rode in was quite...leaky!

This website seems to affirm that there is no one freight canoe design.


None IMO have the grace of a Grand Laker though and its great to see they are still being made. The hamlet of Grand Lake has miniature Grand Lakers for the background for their street signs.
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Thanks for your appreciation of the grand Lakers and the nice short story of there history. If I knew you was a cold handle fan I would have showed you my collection of them , I could supply a small fleet!!!!!!! It was great meeting all of you and hope you can make it back again. Don't hesitate to ask if you or anyone has questions about this aria. Hope to see you at the assembly
Welcome Dale, Yes it was neat meeting you and hearing about your shop, canoes and the local history, it really capped of a great weekend.
Your offer to help with information about the Grand lake Stream area in Eastern Maine is generous. The place is loaded with streams, rivers, ponds and lakes and lots of wildlife, and some great campsites. Thanks, and I hope to make the Wooden Canoe Heritage assembly too.

I have a few Cold handles, and I enjoy cooking on them over a fire.
How do you season them, Dale?
Anything else about their use and care would be helpful. Thanks, Robin
I just keep them coated in oil. I only wash them one time a year. That's usually the day before or morning of my first guiding job of the year. They usually have a good coat of mold growing by then. I scrub them out with dish detergent and a Scotsh pad dry them good coat them with vegetable oil and start using them. I cook with oil ( fry taters onions and fish ) Pore of excess oil when done and just wipe out with paper towel. I will put them into a brown paper shopping bag then into my cooking bag. It's mostly to keep my cooking bag clean. I also put my coffee pot and boiling pot in brown bags as well. I have a 12"(my tater pan) and a 10" (fish pan) I use daily when guiding then I got the 20" big daddies for big parties.

Yellowcanoe Start looking in yard sales or E bay there out there Or I mite have an extra !!!