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24 Feb. 1976

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Many people feel drawn towards wood canvas canoes for their looks, their natural materials, and rich historical connections that plastic canoes simply do not have. Durability: Wood-canvas canoes are much more rugged than you might expect from looking at the materials used to build them - very thin cedar strips and canvas cloth. However, a wood-canvas canoe will not withstand the level of punishment that you can give to a plastic canoe. Maintenance: Wooden canoes require some maintenance - they don’t thrive on neglect - but it is not particularly onerous. The design is the standard 16ft x 32" x 12" model that was produced by the Peterborough Canoe Co (and forerunners) with little modification from around 1888 until at least 1941.
Many people we have spoken to would really like to build their own wood-canvas canoe but have been put off by the need to make a full building form complete with metal bands for clinching the brass planking tacks.
We now are offering the opportunity for you to build a classic canoe under our guidance using our form in Chesterfield for the ribbing and planking phases; then finishing the hull at home. We will agree on a flexible scheme designed to match your woodworking skills and tools that you possess - from you sourcing the wood and preparing the individual ribs and planking, through to us machining most of the parts before you arrive for the actual construction of the hull. Clearly, the cost of the build will depend on how much of the woodwork you feel able to do on your own. Depending on the type of canoeing you want to do, this might well be a drawback but you can also regard it as a good thing. Also when landing on a rocky shore, we get out of the canoe before it grounds on the bottom.


However, all wood-canvas canoes put on weight as they take up water and can gain 5-10lbs on a wet trip. It was their most popular model having the "size, proportions and shape considered an optimum compromise to satisfy most canoeists looking for a general purpose canoe". The basic raw materials for making a wood-canvas Peterborough should be somewhere in the region of ?600. We chose this design because it is a fast, attractive canoe that has enough volume for tripping for two, but not so much freeboard as a Prospector, which unless well laden, is apt to catch the wind. There is just something about the beauty inherent in the rib and plank construction of both birchbarks and wood-canvas that makes these canoes look stunning.
Based on our experience of almost 20 years using our wood-canvas Peterboroughs, here is our impression of their performance. Wood-canvas canoes were used to explore many of the wilderness regions in Canada - a sure testament to their durability. Other than this, the boat does not need special handling and can be dragged out onto sand or shingle, as you would with any other type of canoe. Your wood-canvas canoe will probably need a new canvas every 10-15 years or so if used heavily in rocky environments, but much less frequently if used only very occasionally, or only in deep water. The wood then needs to be cut into strips and the ribs, decks, stems, thwarts and gunwales shaped.
Wood-canvas canoes are structurally the same as birchbarks except that canvas replaces the bark and brass tacks are used in place of spruce root lashings.


The design figured in the catalogue of the Ontario Canoe Company (which in time became the Peterborough Canoe Company) as Model no 44, and cost $50. They were developed largely in response to the explosion in recreational canoeing in North America around 1880. Having your canoe remain wet for long periods of time will greatly reduce the life of the canvas. The supply of birchbark could not keep pace with demand, and many people rapidly tired of having to re-gum leaky birchbark canoes. The earlier canoes had numbers rather than model names apparently because most canoes at that time were given names by their owners that were painted on (this could be done in the factory if desired).
The 32" beam model was advertised as being suitable for "avid" canoeists whereas the wider 34-36" flat-bottomed models were considered more suitable for ladies and children.
Many wood-canvas canoe builders sprang up, notably in Maine and Ontario, and their canoes have become classics which today change hands for rather large sums of money.


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