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What have I Got Here?

Jun 15, 2022
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Spartanburg, SC
I would like to pick the brains of those in this forum and see if you know who may have made this canoe. This is my first wood canoe since I started paddling over four decades ago, so my knowledge is limited in this area. I hope to learn more about wood and canvas as I progress.

I just pick up what was originally a wood and canvas canoe, though it has been subjected to the “heresy” of being covered in fiberglass. There are no maker’s marks except for the number 7970 cut and apparently burned into the bow stem. The fiberglass shows no delamination, voids or hollow sounding spots. The hull looks good to my eyes with no visible rot, cracks or patches. The gunwales and thwarts look to be in serviceable shape, needing a good sanding and varnishing. The decks are heart shaped and also in good solid condition. The seats are in nice shape and appear to be rawhide or perhaps babiche. The deck ring and screws have a fair bit of corrosion and the gunwale and keel screws take a square bit, though some are rounded out. The stem bands look to be in nice condition. The keel is bare wood, and will have to be treated (varnished?) before use.

The specs that I have measured are as follows:

Length: 16’2”

Width: 35 ½” across the hull; 36 ¾” outside gunwale to outside gunwale

Depth: 17” bow, 13 1/2” amidships, 17” stern

Keel: 1 ¼” wide by 1” deep

Ribs: 2"wide in center and 1 3/4" nearing ends

Rocker: not sure proper measuring point, but looks to be around 2” at an approximate 3” waterline

Weight (on a bathroom scale) 68.0 lbs.

The backstory that I have on this canoe is that it was purchased around fifteen years ago in upstate New York from an “elderly gentleman in his eighties” who had purchased the canoe new over forty years earlier. According to the teller it was made by “Indians”. The gentleman replaced the canvas with fiberglass sometime after the original canvas wore out. It had been a family canoe and stored indoors by the second owners who sold it to me during downsizing.

With the heart shaped decks and the story of “being made by Indians”, I wonder if it may be one of the Huron canoe builds. I have found nothing about the four-digit number stamped on the stem though.

I have a lot to learn on wooden canoes, and any information that you can share will be greatly appreciated.


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My guess would be a Huron area builder but I have not studied Canadian canoes in depth. I'm not aware of any existing serial number records available for any of the Canadian builders so the number may not help much.

Our school club used to use quite a few Huron canoes from the bastien brothers company in Quebec. I couldn't tell you if that one is a Huron, but I have never seen the canoe number wood burned into the stem. I seem to recall they were punched in with wood punches. I've got one in my back yard right now, I'll try to have a look later today. They were functional canoes that could be bought quite cheaply at the time.

The angle of the stem doesn't look like the Hurons I have. Here's a link with some info.
Nice canoe, looks to be in great condition. Those Robertson screws and the sanding marks around them on the gunnels says Canadian built by one of the First Nation builders.
If it’s stored properly out of the weather, and not used in white water or salt water, it should hold up well with that fiberglass covering.
Pretty sure your canoe is a "Northland" built by Albert Maw of Huntsville, Ontario (not a native builder). Identifying features are the burned in serial number, stubby heart-shape decks made of cherry (with angled edge), your 2" rib width. Assuming the seat is original, the seat hole/weaving pattern is also consistent with a Northland. Northland seats (and Rilco/Richardson) were the only ones that had offset seat caning holes around the entire perimeter of the seat in order to weave in that simple square pattern. In nearly all other seats, the holes were drilled in line or offset on one side only.

"Hurons" were all made by various builders in Quebec (Bastien, Gagnon, Picard, etc) and serial numbers aren't always found. Seats on many Hurons tended to be woven with wider strips of rawhide in the snowshoe weaving style so holes were not required.

Northland Canoe Co actually started on the same lake as my cottage. Originally the company was called "Grassmere Canoe Co" established by Guilford Brooks in the mid '50s. The business then moved to Huntsville and was right along the highway route to Algonquin park for greater visibility. Albert Maw was an employee and eventually purchased the company. The name was changed to Northland Canoe Co in 1967. Unfortunately, the factory buildings burned down in 1995. Maw then moved to his current location in Novar, Ontario where he still operates as a small one-man operation, mostly doing repairs on his old boats.

If the backstory of your canoe was that it was purchased 15 years ago and the previous gentleman got it 40 years before that, it would place it around 1969. Maw used a 4 digit serial code where the last two numbers indicated year of production. Yours reads 7970 which would place it to 1970. Pretty close.

The Grassmere company canoes were originally canvas covered, but Maw switched to using polyester resin fibreglass very early on and continued to do so for the rest of the production run. There could be a chance that the fiberglass is original to the canoe.

For comparison, there's a similar canoe to yours on this dated post on the WCHA forums:

The canoes are well known tripping canoes that are highly cherished locally around the area. I still see a few devoted folks tripping in Algonquin Park with them every summer.
Nice boat. I own a mystery canoe with similarities and differences. Mine was originally wood/canvas built in the middle of the last century, fiberglassed in this century. I believe mine to be a Faber, but it may be another built in the same area and style. Mine has a similar profile to yours, arched bottom, rub strips and keel. Decks, seats and ribs differ. I like it very much.
Thank you Murat V!
Wow, this canoe sure looks like and has all the earmarks of a Northland canoe. I had seen a Northland for sale on craigslist last year, but the asking price was a bit too dear for my wallet. I looked up info on it at the time, but had not remembered the Northland until your reply. That is the leading contender in the identification!
Thank you for the detailed information, especially about the seats. Since Albert Maw was the only one using that hole pattern, along with the heart shaped decks, the four-digit serial code and other details from the attached photos , that seems to pretty much confirms it.
Thanks to all!
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Found a pic of me portaging a Northland down to the cottage lake (photo is from 2007). I was storing it for a friend back then and would take it out for evening paddles. The keel on this one looks unfinished as well.

Northland portage.jpg

Northland Paddle02.jpg
Thanks for the photos; it looks like a sibling of mine. I am in hopes that mine will clean up that well.
I am looking forward to sanding and finishing the gunwales and thwarts to pretty things up, but my first task will be to "waterproof" the keel. I am also wondering whether to use an oil, varnish or a polyurethane based product on the keel since it will be underwater during use. Any suggestions?
I think most keels on wood/canvas canoes are either painted or varnished with the same varnish that is used on the interior, the gunwales, and the outside stem (if there is one). Spar varnish is what I'd prefer.

Although anything on the keel will eventually scrape off, varnish seems to me to be a more impervious water barrier for submerged wood than oil. I prefer varnish over oil on gunwales because i'm Iazy, have a lot of boats, and have found that X coats of spar varnish will last MUCH longer than X coats of oil. Years vs. months.
Thanks Glenn,

I will probably varnish the keel along with the trim when the weather gets a bit warmer. The temps will top out in the 40's to low 50's this week. That is WINTER in the South!

I usually wait till it hits the 60's before varnishing, and hope it is well before the pollen season hits. I do my varnishing/painting/epoxy work in an open, unheated garage so I am a bit at the mercy of the elements.
Thanks to all for your input, but now the mystery is solved; the wood and fiberglass canoe is a NORTHLAND!

I printed photos of the canoe along with the serial number and mailed them to Albert Maw in a letter along with a request for a Northland deck sticker, if he had any remaining. This week I got a reply with the sticker; it is officially a Northland!

I have been waiting for the temps to get into the 60's, then I will sand and varnish the wood on this canoe. Hopefully that will happen in the next week or two. I am chomping at the bit to try it out, but the keel is bare of varnish and I want to seal it well before I drop it in the lake.
A great boat. I would take the keel off. I paddled an OT Guide for years before I took mine off. It made rivers much easier.
The fiberglass seems to rankle people easily but that one is in really good shape. I would leave it alone and just paddle it.