by Rod Taylor member of the Finger Lakes chapter
Sometimes, things that bring us joy and beauty have unpromising beginnings. So it has been for our classic “barn find”, a closed gunnel, Type 1, grade A, B. N. Morris, 18’ wood and canvas canoe. She was built in Veazie, Maine, circa 1911, shortly before the factory burned in 1919 with all its records.
Based on a tip from a collecting friend, Dot and I traveled from our Fourth Lake camp to a legendary barn on a river in Brattleboro, Vermont, which was filled to the rafters with its owner’s livery business and his rescued wrecks, mostly popular and sturdy Old Towns and a few rare B. N. Morris relics, legendary for their elegant lines, select materials, and fine craftsmanship.
And there in the loft, 15′ up between heaven and earth, covered inches deep with decades of pigeon, raccoon, and bat droppings, she waited, seemingly intact, suffering only the loss of a flattened section of her stern stem from being dragged for miles behind a trailer years earlier. Unusable as a result, she was abandoned, awaiting salvation in the rafters.
Wishing we had brought surgical masks, we slid her down to dung dust covered, waiting arms. We were so filthy that we were too embarrassed to even make a pit stop on the hundred mile ride back to camp, where hose and scrub brushes awaited, first for us, then for the canoe.
But she was all there, including the floor rack, and we needed only to replace and rivet in a new cedar stem, to stretch and fill her new canvas skin , to strip out the old interior, and to renew her varnish and paint. Finally one August sunset, the family celebrated her re-launching with bourbon, lemonade, and song. Since then, she has never failed to show us that beauty or give us that joy, whether on misty shoreline cruises in the morning before the power boats roil the lake, or raucous afternoon paddles with the grandkids, or casting for bass among the lily pads in the evening.
The beauty of restoring wood and canvaslo canoes is that most of the work can be done by the dedicated amateur, in basement, garage, or shop with the help of available books and experienced friends. These friends and kindred spirits meet for a week annually at the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association (W.C.H.A) Assembly at Paul Smith’s College on the spectacular St. Regis Lakes in the Adirondacks. There, several hundred women and men from Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom, amateurs and professionals, display their finished and project canoes, share advice and information, paddle and sail for hours, and conduct business on the “field of dreams”.
These small, non-powered craft remain the gateway to our hobby, due to their beauty and affordability. Restorable or already usable canoes can be acquired for hundreds to the very low thousands of dollars, depending on their rarity and condition. Show ready, professionally restored examples of rare models can be in the upper four figures or more, but never as costly as an entry level mahogany runabout. We’ve owned both, and still enjoy the rapture of a rumbling, Chrysler powered launch, on plane, as well as the ecstasy of loon noted silence while paddling a remote lake or river.