by Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes

Frequently, I get an email from someone who is looking to sell their wood-canvas canoe.  Typically, they tell me, “The canoe has been stored under-cover for the last twenty or thirty years and is in excellent shape.  What would be a reasonable price to ask for my canoe?”  Conversely, a person is considering the purchase of an old canoe and wants my opinion on whether or not the asking price is a reasonable one.  In both cases, the best I can do is refer them to what I see on classified ads offering other wood-canvas canoes for sale.

I guess the simplest answer is: “It is worth whatever someone is willing to pay.”  I have a hard time seeing these canoes as commodities.  That is why I am in the business of repairing and restoring wood-canvas canoes.  My clients tend to value their canoe based on a set of criteria far removed from monetary concerns.  That said, wood-canvas canoes are bought and sold.  Most of them are at least thirty years old and range in condition from pristine to ‘ready for the burn pile’.  So, let’s look at the market and what tends to be ‘the going rate’.

Fully restored wood-canvas canoes tend to be listed in classified ads in a range from about $3,500 to $7,000.  Bear in mind that a brand-new Old Town 16′ Guide canoe – made by hand on the original mould – currently sells for $9,000 USD.  Serviceable canoes that need some work tend to be offered somewhere in the neighbourhood of $1,500 to $2,500.  Canoes requiring a full restoration can be picked up for $50 (or free) to $500.

When people ask for my opinion on a specific canoe, I base my answer on what a professional canoe restoration shop would charge to bring it back to ‘like new’ condition.  Any ‘original canoe in mint condition’ will require a new canvas.  Unfortunately, the original canvas will only last about forty years (Oh, how I long for a return to the days before planned obsolescence).  If the work is done by a professional canoe restorer, you are looking at spending about $2,000 to $2,500 after you have bought the canoe.  If the canoe ‘needs a little work’, be prepared to pay $3,000 to $5,000 for a full restoration.  And if it is a ‘basket-case’, the bill can often far exceed the cost of a brand-new canoe (not unlike the cost of renovating an old house versus building a new one from the ground up).  So, when you see a fully restored canoe listed in a classified ad for $4,000, they are probably just trying to recoup the cost of the restoration.

About twelve years ago, I bought an original Greenwood Canoe for $900.  The bulk of the woodwork was in excellent condition and the interior varnish was still in very good condition.  The canvas was original (about forty years old) and although it was not rotting, it needed to be replaced.  Greenwood canoes are well-known to wood-canvas canoe enthusiasts in British Columbia.  Bill Greenwood built canoes in Richmond, BC from 1934 to 1975.  His workmanship was unequalled not to mention all of the Philippine Mahogany used in components such as gunwales, decks and thwarts.  Anyone who knows these canoes bows their head in reverence whenever they speak of Bill Greenwood and his canoes.

In my shop, I brought the canoe back to life.  The original mahogany outwales were shot, so I replaced them with exact copies.  I added a couple of coats of varnish to the woodwork and painted the new canvas the dark green that was typical for Greenwood canoes.

The next spring, I replaced the original slat seats with mahogany-framed hand-woven cane seats in the style of Greenwood canoes.  I removed the bow-quarter thwart, installed a mahogany carrying yoke and moved the stern-quarter thwart to a position halfway between the stern seat and the centre yoke.  I had no intentions of selling this canoe and, at that time, I had not seen a restored canoe sell for more than $2,500.  So, when anyone asked me how much I wanted for it, I told them, “The canoe is all yours for $4,500.”  In 2008, someone fell in love with my canoe and handed me a check.

Chestnut Prospector fully restored

This spring (2016), I finished restoring a 16′ Chestnut Prospector for myself.  I replaced the original solid-wood slat seats with hand-woven cane seats replicating the Chestnut style of cane seats.  I then painted the canvas the original light green colour and installed copies of the original Chestnut deck and hull decals.  If anyone asks me how much I want for it, I will say, “This Chestnut Prospector would be all yours for $10,000 — but it’s not for sale.”

If you are selling, it is possible to get the price you are looking for.  Just be prepared to wait a long time for that ‘special someone’ to come along.  If you are buying, be prepared to factor in the cost of a full restoration once you have purchased the canoe.

by Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes

People email regularly asking me to identify their canoe and/or give them an estimate on a restoration.  When I ask them to send me some pictures, I often see a big difference between what people regard as a helpful image and what I require, so here is a little tutorial on the art of photographing a wood-canvas canoe.

1.       A General Picture (3/4 Profile)

The first picture I ask for is a general picture in a three-quarter profile.  It is a view taken from an angle to show both the inside and outside of the canoe.  You are standing off to one side near one end.  The picture shows the decks, seats and thwarts as well as giving a good view of the hull shape.  Many people send me a series of pictures of the bottom of the canoe from every conceivable angle.  Other than the presence or absence of a keel, these pictures do little to help identify it or determine the condition of the canoe.  For identification purposes, along with a picture like the one presented above, it is useful to let me know the overall length from tip to tip as well as the maximum width and depth in the centre of the canoe.  If the canoe has a serial number (often stamped into the stern stem), that information is also useful.  This canoe is 16’ long, 33” wide and 13¼” deep.  I can see two caned seats, a centre thwart, a stern-quarter thwart and two hand thwarts (one at each end near the deck).  From this single picture and the accompanying dimensions, I can identify this canoe as a Chestnut Cruiser (called the Kruger).

2.       Both Decks (Top View)

Take a picture of each deck from directly above.  Be sure to show the entire area from the tip of the canoe to the base of the deck.  If a hand thwart is present (as illustrated above) include it too.  These pictures help me see the condition of the various components at the ends.  There is almost always some degree of rot in this area.  The decal on this canoe shows it to be a Chestnut Canoe built in Oromocto, NB.  The Chestnut Canoe Company was located in Fredericton, NB from 1897 to 1974.  They moved to Oromocto in the mid-1970′s and stayed there until they went out of business in 1978.  Therefore, this canoe was built in the period between about 1974 and 1978.

3.       Both Stem-Ends (3/4 Profile)

It helps to have close-ups of the ends taken at an angle off to one side, near the end and slightly above.  In some cases, as in the bow deck above, the damage is obvious.  However, in most cases, it is helpful to remove a few screws from the outwales (and perhaps the stem-band) to reveal the ends more fully.  In this canoe, rot in the stern-end is seen only once the interior surfaces are exposed.

4.       Both Seats (Above 3/4 Profile)

Take a picture of each seat from above at an angle.  Stand to one side near the centre of the canoe.  This view shows the bolts and spacers as well as the seat.  In this canoe, the original 3/16” carriage bolts have been replaced with 1/4″ threaded rod and nuts.  The original cane is in good condition.  Although it is weathered, it could be revitalized with a mixture of boiled linseed oil and turpentine followed by the usual finish of shellac to seal it followed by a number of coats of spar varnish.  However, in most cases, it is best to re-cane the seats (hand-woven with natural cane — rattan).

08 gunwales

5.        Gunwales and Thwarts (Above 3/4 Profile)

The rails along each side of the canoe are called gunwales.  They consist of an inside rail called the inwale and an outside rail called the outwale.  Stand near the bow seat off to one side and take a picture (or two) from above to show the inwale and outwale as well as the centre thwart.  In most cases, it was difficult for the builders to find full-length wood for the gunwale components.  They spliced pieces together by gluing a scarf joint.  Often the glue lets go and needs to be re-glued.  In the final years of the Chestnut Canoe Company, they attached the ribs to the inwale with steel tacks.  Over the years, they corrode causing the entire canoe to come apart.  Most companies assembled their canoes completely before applying paint and varnish.  As a result, the inside surface of the outwale is bare wood and the top-edge of the canvas is raw as well.  If the canoe has been used at all over the years, water collects under the outwales creating a moist environment for the fungi that cause rot.  Often, the canvas rots and begins to fall away from the canoe.  The outwales may look fine on the outside but are often rotting from the inside out.  Most canoe builders used steel carriage bolts to attach the thwarts and seats to the inwales.  Again, the original carriage bolts often look fine until you try to remove them. I replace these with silicon bronze bolts as a matter of course in most restorations.

6.       Obvious Damage (Above 3/4 Profile)

Please photograph any areas with obvious damage.  As with most photos of the canoe, take these at an angle (to one side and slightly above).  Sometimes the canoe is stored away in the back of a shed.  It may be a real hassle to haul the canoe out into the daylight, but please make the effort.  Good lighting is essential for these photos and taking the shots from an angle emphasizes areas of light and shadow.  In this canoe, the broken rib and cracked planking are brought into clear view by the angled light.

All of the pictures are best in a fairly large format (between 500 KB and 1 MB). It is not necessary to overload an email with huge picture files.  As long as the photos are large enough to allow close examination, they will work well.

09 restored

In all of this, there is light at the end of the tunnel.  All of the damage can be repaired and all of the rotted components can be replaced.  The restored canoe will be part of the family for many decades to come.

mockup 02

The entire canoe restoration process is described in my book – This Old Canoe: How To Restore Your Wood Canvas Canoe.
If you live in Canada, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the USA, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the UK, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
Si vous habitez en France, CLIQUEZ ICI acheter le livre.

mockup 02

Conor Mihell is an editor-at-large for Canoe&Kayak Magazine.  He has just posted a review of This Old Canoe: How To Restore Your Wood-Canvas Canoe.

Check it out:

Review of This Old Canoe – Canoe and Kayak

Murat Vardar writes a fascinating blog about Paddle Making (and other canoe stuff).  He has also written a review of This Old Canoe.

Review of This Old Canoe – Paddle Making blog

If you have read the book, post a review of your own:

Buy the Book and write a review

by Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes

This Old Canoe Book signing Penticton

The book tour for This Old Canoe starts in Penticton, BC at the Penticton Public Library on Friday, April 15 at noon.  The fun continues with a presentation at the Penticton Museum on Saturday, April 16 at 2:00 pm.

Table Poster_sm

I look forward to seeing you there.

by Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes

mockup 02

This Old Canoe: How To Restore Your Wood-Canvas Canoe will be launched next month – April 2016.  This will be celebrated in a variety of ways.  There will be reviews posted online by prominent bloggers.  There will also be reviews published in a couple of print magazines.  I will be interviewed on CBC Radio.  However, the thing I am looking forward to the most is my book tour.  It will begin in April and continue through the summer into the fall.

Each event will feature a presentation where I will be talking about wooden canoes and their influence on our lives.

O Cananoe 01_sm O Cananoe 02_sm

The first presentation is titled O Ca-na-noe: Canoes and the role they play in the development of the Canadian identity.  It examines the role of canoes in Canadian history and the influence canoes have had on the way Canadians operate in the world.  It also looks at the influence of the canoe on Canadian art as well as the canoe as part of the family.

Canoe Connections 01_sm Canoe Connections 02_sm

The second presentation is called Canoe Connections: Wooden Canoes and their people — the ties that bind them and the restorations that bring them back together again.  In this talk, I discuss the way I approach the business of canoe restoration.  I focus on stories about the importance of wooden canoes in the lives of individuals, families and communities.

Here is a schedule of events so far.

April 15 in Penticton, BC at the Penticton Library – 12 noon presenting O Ca-na-noe

April 16 in Penticton, BC at the Penticton Museum – 2:00 pm presenting Canoe Connections

April 23 in Grand Forks, BC at the Grand Forks Library – 2:00 pm presenting Canoe Connections

April 30 in Richmond, BC at the Britannia Shipyards National Historic Site – 2:00 pm presenting Canoe Connections

May 14 in Shelton, WA at Camp Bishop for the Northwest Chapter of the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association (WCHA) Spring Meet – 9:30 am presenting Canoe Connections

June 16 in Peterborough, ON at the Canadian Canoe Museum – 6:00 pm presenting Canoe Connections

June 17 in Parry Sound, ON at the White Squall Paddling Centre – 7:00 pm presenting O Ca-na-noe

June 18 in Midland, ON at the Wye Marsh Wildlife Centre – 7:30 pm presenting O Ca-na-noe

July 12-17 in Paul Smiths, NY at Paul Smith’s College for the 2016 WCHA Assembly – presenting Canoe Connections

July 22 in Spooner, WI at the Wisconsin Canoe Heritage Museum – Time to be determined presenting Canoe Connections

September 15-18 in Manning Provincial Park, BC at Lightning Lakes Campground for the Northwest Chapter WCHA Fall Meet – presenting O Ca-na-noe

Poster - Peterborough_sm

If you would like me to give a presentation in your area, approach your local library, museum or canoe association and make arrangements.  Then, contact me to work the event into my travel plans.  I can prepare a poster for the event and send a PDF file for you to print and display.  Send me an email artisan@canoeshop.ca