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William Miller paints his canoes with three to four coats of varnish. (Cole Burston/COLE BURSTON/FOR THE GLOBE AND M)
William Miller paints his canoes with three to four coats of varnish. (Cole Burston/COLE BURSTON/FOR THE GLOBE AND M)

Manufacturing

The Canadian canoe runs into rapids Add to ...

Mr. Swift, like Langford Canoes, was able to market his products on the back of the recent Huntsville and Toronto summits. The canoes displayed around the notorious fake lake, and thus featured in countless news clips, were Swift Canoes borrowed for the event.

But even Mr. Swift can’t get the old craft out of his blood. He is building a replica of Chestnut’s 16-foot Prospector model in carbon-Kevlar composite material and weighing only 14.5 kilograms. That, he says, is the future of the industry, which he believes is finally bouncing back after some choppy years.

He sees young families and baby boomers alike being pulled away from power boats by trends to fitness and environmental awareness, and attracted by the new lightweight, easy-to-maintain models. “The canoe market is moving back to where it used to be,” he says, but based on modern materials.

That will never, of course, satisfy the wood canoe zealots, but it means this most ancient of Canadian industries isn’t up the creek without a paddle yet.

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STAYING AFLOAT

It’s the love of craft that keeps Canada’s great canoe makers at work

Barry Sharpe

Sharpe Canoes

Mann’s Mountain, N.B.

Age: 39

History: Grandfather began the business in 1947, building the longer Restigouche canoes.

Output: 15 to 30 wood canoes a year, with a team of three to four people.

Price point: 26-foot canoe for $6,000.

Quote: “I’ve been doing this since I was a kid.”

Will Ruch

Ruch Canoes

Bancroft, Ont.

Age 47

History: Considered the Stradivarius of wood builders, he started 24 years ago.

Output: Cut back to a couple a year; keeps busy repairing boats.

Price point: About $5,000.

Quote: “My hands are on every stage of production. If you spend two or three months making something, it becomes a chunk of you, like for a painter.”

John Kilbridge

Temagami Canoes

Temagami, Ont.

Age: 56

History: Chicago boy came to summer camp in Temagami; in 1978, bought canoe business, which is now 82 years old, second oldest in Canada.

Output: Six to eight canoes a year.

Price point: Average 16-foot model for $4,250.

Quote: The survival formula in canoe making is “being married to someone with a real job.”

Doug Ingram

Red River Canoes

Lorette, Man.

Age: 47

History: Fine arts grad couldn’t get a job teaching during cutbacks; turned to canoe making.

Output: Two to five boats a year; 30 to 60 paddles; a few guitars.

Price point: Solo 13- to 15-foot canoes at $3,000; bigger tandems at $4,500.

Quote: “As someone said, canoeing is a fringe activity and wood canoes are the fringest of the fringe.”

Larry Bowers

West Country Canoes

Eckville, Alta.

Age: 49

History: Started fixing parents’ boats 20 years ago. First based in Powell River, B.C., moved to Alberta for his wife’s work.

Output: About one wooden canoe a month.

Price point: From $1,900 for 10-footer to $6,000 for bigger models.

Quote: “No one gets rich making canoes.”

Gordon Pitts

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