Mike 2014 02_smMike Elliott was lulled to sleep in canvas canoes as a new-born baby with colic in Northern Ontario (at least that’s the story).  While working with youth-at-risk in 1994, Mike and a colleague helped a group of boys build epoxy/cedar canoes before taking the group on a canoe trip.  This project gained him local notoriety as ‘The Canoe Guy’.  Soon afterwards, he was given a rotting wood-canvas canoe.  Once he had restored it, friends and friends of friends started to ask him to restore their canoes.  What started as a weekend hobby developed into the birth of Kettle River Canoes in 2003.  The business became a full-time concern in 2006 and is now restoring about 25 canoes a year.

37 Responses to “About Mike Elliott, Canoe Artisan”

  1. Dirk Trost Says:

    Dear Mike,soory about my english, hopefully you can read it.
    I found your Blog by searching for “streching canvas” Nomaly I sell canoes and kayaks out of epoxi but now I found an old boot and I tooked it for some money when i was selling a new one. I gues it is an old town but don’t know. Of cource I will renovate the boot. May you tell me what kind of boot it is? You’ll see it here:http://koenigsboote.de/index.php/restauration/restauration-aktuelle-projekte/ It will be very kind if you see a chance to figure out what kind of canoe it is. It is 18 foot to 3.5foot. And, thats really fantastic, I found the boot in east germany near Berlin. Kind regards and all the best

  2. Mike Elliott Says:

    Dear Dirk,

    Thank you for the message. I’m afraid I can’t give you much information about your canoe. It is not a make I recognize. It appears to be an American-style canoe — wide, flat-bottom with no centre thwart. Beyond that I can’t say. The decks have a shape that I’m not familiar with. I hope you enjoy your restoration project. It looks like a fine canoe.

    Mike Elliott

  3. Logan Says:

    found you website today and have probably an odd request. I grew up on a river not far from where I live, and we spent every summer from the time i was around 3 until i was 16 or 17 canoeing, tubing (floating in an old intertube) and playing the river. With fathers day coming up, i have a couple of the paddles we used to use, and I have been trying to think of unique ways of making a display for the paddles. I realize i may have to break or cut the paddles, but wanted to see what ideas you may have for a case. Most of what i have been able to search is around sword display cases, either in a shadow box or shield….any ideas?

    Logan Maienschein

    • Mike Elliott Says:

      I would not break or cut the paddles. I would create a display case. For ideas on the design, I would talk to folks at the Canadian Canoe Museum – http://www.canoemuseum.ca – Jeremy Ward is the curator and would probably be able to suggest people to contact or resources to use.

  4. Don Reeves Says:

    Dear Mike,
    I have an old canvas on wood, open 3 man kayak. My dad bought it when he was 19 from the guy who built it. The man was in his late 50’s when he made it and was 19 then. That puts it in the 1930-1940 area.
    I recently found out that it may be a kit sold then. We used it while I was growing up in lakes for fishing. I was interested in fly tying so we bought a Herters vice and accessories and I began.
    The kayak has been haging in the garage upside down since then. It is now a fishing pole holder. Since it is in excellent shape I would like to find someone to enjoy it. I have had many fruitless searches for information. I had one guy interested a couple years ago but he never followed through. I live in SW Washington state. Could you point me in the right direction?
    Thank you, Don.

    • Mike Elliott Says:

      I’m afraid I can’t offer much in the way of help in your efforts to find a good home for your kayak. I suggest keeping it listed with Craig’s List and/or the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association (they have a classified ad page on their web site).

      Good Luck.

  5. Don Reeves Says:

    Mike, I made a mistake. The guy made it when he was 19 and sold it in his 50’s to my dad. I didn’t proofread it. Sorry, D

  6. Koen Says:

    Hello Mike,

    I bought a w/c canoe last year a New Brunswick Chestnut 16’ build late 50’s early 60’s, and it needs to be refinished. It is in very could condition and it has not been used for the last 20 years. I would like to strip the inside of the canoe; do I have to be concerned about paint remover seeping between the wood and canvas? The outside only need sanding and a fresh coat of paint. I restore old vehicles for a living so a lot of sanding is not a problem for me. The plan is to use this canoe.
    Thanks, Koen

    • Mike Elliott Says:

      Hello Koen,

      If you are not planning on re-canvassing the canoe, I advise against using chemical strippers on the interior varnish. What I do is scrub the interior with a solution of tri-sodium phosphate (TSP — available at any hardware store) or lye. Then wash out the interior with clean water and let it dry. Then rough up the existing varnish with medium steel wool and vacuum the interior. Get rid of any remaining dust with a damp cloth or a tack cloth. Then apply the varnish (thinned 12% with paint thinner/mineral spirits) and leave it alone for 48 hours before applying a second coat.

  7. Tony Manning Says:


    Just spent the last couple of hours reviewing your archived articles. Very informative.
    Couple of questions: first, is your book ready and if so where can it be purchased? Second, where can I find supplies to repair a Peterborough?

    Tony Manning – Toronto

  8. Jerry Fruetel Says:


    Your March, 2011 archive about babiche is deleted. Any chance you can email me a copy, or put it back on your web site?

    Jerry Fruetel

  9. Jerry Fruetel Says:

    Thanks, Mike!

  10. Jon Ridgeon Says:

    Hi Mike,

    I just wanted to say how much i enjoy looking through your blog… what a wealth of knowledge and lovely photos to look at. Thank you for the inspiration! Best wishes!


  11. Keith Babin Says:

    Hey Mike, I was doing research on cedar strips and came across this site. I am currently refinishing my grand fathers old cedar strip canoe. Not really sure where it was made. All I really know is that its 15 feet long (fiberglassed over) and it was given to my grandfather who lived in Bathurst New Brunswick. I was given a 17 foot length of ash for the gunwales but I don’t have enough to do all of them. I was wondering what your thoughts were on making a scarf joint to an existing piece that’s still healthy. Just trying to think of how I can do that. The guys from great spirit canoes here in fredericton mentioned they use gorilla glue with a 1:12 scarf joint. I also can’t seem to find any green paint for the outside. Just trying to get help from anyone I can really haha.

    Thank you

    • Mike Elliott Says:

      Hi Keith,

      Historically, many canoe companies made long length gunwales by splicing two pieces together with a 12:1 scarf joint. The people at Great Spirit Canoes certainy know their business — I too use Gorilla Glue for this joint. As far as paint is concerned, any oil-based alkyd enamel paint will do a great job (Tremclad or any other “rust paint”). In Canada these days, these paints are labelled “For Metal Use Only”. Just ignore that and apply it to the filled canvas.

      • Keith Babin Says:

        Thanks Mike! I read through your posts on Huron and chestnut canoes. Mines 15 feet long with 2 3/8 ribs with 2″ spaces between them and 3/8″ thick but the seats are laced. Just trying to find what kind it is. Might even be someone’s project.


      • Mike Elliott Says:

        The Chestnut Canoe Company built economy versions of their pleasure canoes that were sold through Eaton’s department store (and possibly others). The seat frames were laced with wide rawhide in a very sturdy pattern. The name of the 15′ model was the Doe.

  12. Michael Scott Says:

    Hi Mike, I’m currently restoring a 16’6″ Huron Village Canoe that my son-in-law found in the dump in Terrace Bay Ontario. Before ending up in the dump it must have been stored inside, as there was very little rot, just the stem ends, as you say, and some of the rib ends. Whoever had it last had the bright idea to put packing tape on all the spaces between the slats inside the canoe, and the literally pour varnish over the outside. I think they thought that the tape would hold the varnish in and seal the cracks (the canvas had been removed). Needless to say, the only thing it accomplished was to make a horrible mess of both the inside and outside, so it ended up in the dump. It took me all last summer to get the varnish off, then I put linseed oil on the interior and stored it for the winter. This spring I removed the inwales and lowered them 3/4″, to expose the ribs, and to get rid of the 1/2″ of rot on the stem ends. One of the inwale caps came off in pieces, so I have renewed it by scarfing in pieces of pine. I painted the inwale caps and the outwales in Tremclad chestnut brown. Almost ready to get the canvas on. I’m going to bring it to a restorer in Cambridge to make sure it’s done properly (I’m a woodworker, not a canvasser). I have one question for you. The brass builders tag is slightly different from the ones I’ve seen online. It has a slightly more rectangular shape. I could send you a picture if you like. It says the same things, though: Big Chief Canoes, Bastien Bros., Village Huron Quebec, Built to Please, Est. 1898. Do you think it’s possible to date it by the type of tag it has? When I work on it, I think it’s got to be about fifty years old. What do you think? Sorry for the long post, but I was excited to find your blog, and read about some of the problems I faced in the restoration. (Talking with Dick Perssons last year was a great help). Thanks, Mike Scott, Burlington, Ont.

  13. Hi Mike,
    I have taken to paint red canoes after I read a quote by Pierre Burton.” A true Canadian is someone who can make love in a canoe without tipping it over”.
    It is so evocative and so Canadian that I started to paint these Iconic objects. I like your images so much that I have been using them as inspiration. I hope that is all right.
    You can look at my website http://www.lorigoldberg.ca
    I do not paddle a canoe but I have done my share of kayaking over the years. I am not always getting the drawing of the cane shape correct but that is not always the end goal. It is the essence of the canoe in nature that interests me.

    I will keep on reading your blogs and looking at your images for inspiration.

    • Mike Elliott Says:

      Hi Lori,
      Thanks for the note letting me know that my images have been a muse for you in your art. Keep up the great work. Drop by Kettle River Canoes if you are ever going through Grand Forks on Highway 3.
      Cheers, Mike

  14. Greg Says:

    Hi Mike

    I was wondering, if the canvas sags a little on one side after the filler has been added, is it possible to stretch it some more ? Is this a normal situation when it is in the sun? Will the painting it tighten it?
    Thank you for your time

    • Mike Elliott Says:

      Hi Greg,
      If the canvas is sagging, it is an indication that there is not enough tension on the canvas while it is being stretched onto the canoe and tacked in place. The best time to correct this is while the canvas is being stretch. Take out the tacks along the sheer-line, tighten the canvas more with the come-along and re-tack the canvas along the sheer-line. It sound like you have finished stretching the canvas and applied the filler. You can try removing some of the tacks where the canvas is sagging, re-stretch the canvas with canvas pliers and re-tack. This may help a little. Otherwise, you are stuck with it — unless you want to re-do the whole job and get the tension better the second time around.
      Cheers, Mike

  15. Greg Says:

    Hi Mike

    I’ll try that out on Wednesday. I appreciate you taking the time to give advice to those who want to learn . Thanks again

  16. Claudia Reed Says:

    Are you interesting in acquiring an old wood/canvas canoe? My husband found it many years ago and has done nothing with it. We would like to give it to someone who needs a project. We are located in Eastern WA.

  17. Mark Says:

    Mike, just finished, restoration of a 45 yr old Chestnut Pal. Had your book out constantly. Thanks for writing it.

    Question: Do you ever recommend varnishing natural cane woven seats to avoid weather affecting the degree of tightness. It’s rather annoying- one day tight, the next a noticeable sag.

    • Mike Elliott Says:

      Hi Mark,
      Definitely, varnish the seat cane once a year. It wears off quickly and has to be done each year. The under-side surface is OK for many years, but the top surface gets a lot of wear and tear.

  18. Jonathan Says:

    Hi Mike, I have acquired a couple of old wood canoes to restore that have been fiberglassed. I’ve been told that one is an old Peterborough and the other one the previous owner has no idea. I noticed that both of them have caps over the inwales and I’m wondering if this is something that is specific to Huron canoes or if other makers also did this. Thanks for your reply. I’m really appreciating your blog and your book.

    • Mike Elliott Says:

      Hi Jonathan,
      Huron canoes were built quickly. The cap on the inwales covered the rough construction of these canoes. It also emulates the look of birch bark canoes built long ago in the same region of Quebec. If they both have caps on the gunwales, I doubt that one of them is a Peterborough. If you want me to identify them for you, send me some pictures — artisan@canoeshop.ca

  19. Gregg Says:

    Hi, Mike. I just found you blog. I’ve been a wood/canvas canoe fanatic for a while now — and my last name is Elliott. So this stuff must be in our DNA! BTW: I have your book, too. Thanks for taking the time to create this blog. Stay healthy.
    Gregg Elliott

  20. Joe Gladu Says:

    I’m restoring a chestnut canoe. I was wondering how to finish the ends of the canoe after you cut off the outer gunwale. There is gaps under the L shaped gunwale. Thinking maybe putty and paint or glue a piece of wood.
    Hard to find a good picture of the front just the deck in most pics

  21. Iain Baird Says:

    HI Mike,

    I am on the final stretch of restoring my wood canvas canoe and have followed your book to the letter. It has been an invaluable resource throughout the project and almost everything has gone smoothly. I do have a question regarding putting my new gunnels on. There are a few gaps between the planking and the gunnel edge where it looks like water could get in. Should I put down a bead of silkaflex or silicone where the gunnel meets?
    Thanks for your time and for the excellent book.

    Iain Baird
    Nanaimo, BC

    • Mike Elliott Says:

      Hi Iain,

      As long as the outwales are sealed with spar varnish on all of the surfaces before installation, you should have no problems. Don’t worry about small gaps, they are part of old wooden canoes. Do NOT, under any circumstances, use silkflex, silicone or any other material. It will create more problems than it is worth.

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