Constructing a more communal canoe 0
In his off-grid wood-working shop nestled in the scenic hills of Hastings Highlands local canoe builder Will Ruch has been carefully crafting a boat unlike any he has ever built before. He started assembling his latest project; a 26 foot long voyageur cedar/canvas bent wood canoe, last spring. As far as he knows, no one else has built a canoe like this since 1966.
Ruch has been an avid paddler for as long as he can remember. He began building canoes more than 30 years ago while in Muskoka. During this time he fell in love with the craftsmanship of the canoe builders of the boats he would repair.
“When you take the canvas off of an old boat you notice the level of craftsmanship of the person who built is,” said Ruch.
“On some boats you could see where the craftsman on one side might be better than the other.”
He believes that cedar/canvas canoes are a direct evolution of the birch bark canoes built and paddled by First Nations people. The original voyageur canoes were made from the bark of large paper birch trees stretched over a frame made of white cedar. The shape of the canoe he is currently building was inspired by a painting of famous Canadian heritage painter, Francis Ann Hopkins. Hopkins travelled with her husband Edward and a crew of paddlers across the country sketching and painting the voyageurs’ daily activities.
“I built the mould and the canoe from the shape of a canoe in one of Hopkins paintings,” Ruch said.
“A lot of the fibreglass canoes compromise the shape of the hull to be able to fit more people in it, or for the sake of easier mass-production. With everything you do you have to think ahead about where that piece goes, and how it is going to look.”
According to Ruch, his careful attention to detail will pay off in a faster, more stable and nicer shaped canoe. Because there are so many one-of-a-kind pieces that must be crafted in constructing the boat, he said that he plans to finish the project over the winter, having it water-ready for sometime in the spring.
“It’s really cool to be a part of it,” said Ruch.
“There are so many hours I have put into this thing it is going to be hard to let it go.”
Ruch admits that he has become attached to the project, and that it will be especially difficult to part with the finished product since the individual who commissioned it plans to take it to his home in the Georgian Bay area.
“When you buy a mass-produced canoe from a store it does its function and gives you pleasure, but there is not the same connection to it,” Ruch said.
“These things last forever if they are well-maintained. They are infinitely repairable. If you get a tear in it, you can put a new canvas on it. If a rib breaks, you can bend a new piece and fix it.”
Durability is not the only advantage of this type of canoe. Ruch explained that a big part of the enjoyment of paddling cedar/canvas bent wood canoe is the aesthetic appeal of how the wood looks on the water. This particular boat, he said, will also give paddlers another level of enjoyment, the communal experience of paddling a voyageur canoe.
“The neat thing about this canoe is that you could fit up to 10 people in it,” said Ruch.
“It’s so inclusive that even people who have never paddled before will have a good experience. If you have a good paddler in the stern and a good paddler in the bow the rest of the boat can be made up of almost anyone and you will still get to where you are going comfortably.”