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William Ganong's Canoes

Discussion in 'Research and History' started by Murat V, Oct 14, 2011.

  1. Murat V

    Murat V LOVES Wooden Canoes

    Few questions about the canoes in the pics to the knowledgeable folks here on the forums. They are from the Ganong collection in the New Brunswick museum. William Ganong travelled extensively in the interior of New Brunswick and documented a lot of the geography as well as capturing shots of local Maliseets. Many of the pics show an evolution in wood canvas construction from 1901 to late 20s.

    In his various journeys, he seemed to have used a variety of canoes, including a closed gunnel type in the first pic (dated to 1904). What got my attention was the elevated seat set right into the gunnels. Was this a common feature in early W-C canoes? Can't imagine it being very stable since you'd be quite high up above the waterline and the centre of gravity would be quite elevated. I'm assuming that since Ganong was based in New Brunswick, he would have likely been using early generation Chestnuts. Any other builders use this feature?

    Another canoe also from the same period has an pronounced ridged, crowned deck (sorry if my terminology is wrong). Haven't seen this style of deck too often either but would like to replicate it as part of fun restoration.

    A pic dated to 1912 shows him poling his personal canoe...another closed gunnel without seats but lengthy decks. Common feature in courting canoes, I know, but this guy was a wilderness traveller. Not sure of the long decks' advantages in the backcountry

    By 1919, Ganong seems to be using an open gunwale Chestnut as seen in the last pic.

    Attached Files:

  2. Greg Nolan

    Greg Nolan enthusiast

    Seats fastened directly to the inwales are not uncommon. For some discussions of the issue, see: .

    Seats bolted directly to the gunwales provide structural stiffness comparable to, or greater than that provided by a thwart (greater because the two rails of a seat frame effectively act as two thwarts). A canoe seat hung down a few inches from the inwales by spacers provides little or no structural benefit, and it is not unusual to see older canoes with the gunwales a bit wider than original at the seats. On my 1931 OT 50-pounder, the spread is about 3/4 of an inch or a bit more, and the spacing dowels are not perpendicular to the seats, as they were originally, but are played out a bit. In canoes fit out for sailing with a mast support sea, that seat is commonly attached directly to the inwales precisely because of the increased rigidity provided.

    Further, at least for the stern seat, the raised position provides a somewhat better view forward.

    As you note, the higher location can increase instability. This can be mooted simply by kneeling when more stability is needed, with one's derrière resting against the front rail of the seat -- basically the same position a paddler would take with respect to the thwarts in a canoe with no seats. Of course, simply kneeling can simply increase discomfort, especially for those of us with older joints that are getting creakier as the years go by. These days most paddlers most of the time prefer to sit, and so it seems that more canoes now have the seats in the lower, hanging position.

    Here are a few pictures: an old Gerrish ad, Denis and Kathy's early EBW, my 1931 OT 50-pounder as bought (seats have been recaned since), and Benson Gray's earlier OT 50-pounder.

    gerrish ad.jpg sm Copy of 100_4391.JPG cropped 100_2563.jpg sm 100_2578.jpg 3.jpg
  3. MGC

    MGC Scrapmaker

    I've puzzled over the decks on my Gerrish.
    They are also oddly very long but clearly not a courting canoe design.
    Having paddled some of the big lakes in rough conditions, my thought is that these big decks (in working canoes) were an attempt to keep water out and not for "flash".
    I suppose that they were not popular because of the added weight.
    That's my theory, right or wrong.
    Interestingly the lines on the long decked boat look quite a bit like the lines on my Gerrish.
  4. OP
    Murat V

    Murat V LOVES Wooden Canoes

    Many thanks for your logical response, Greg. I've checked out those other threads and photos, but have one more observation. Those seats are mounted to the underside of the inwale (which makes complete sense to me). Maybe it's the shadows playing tricks, but in Ganong's boat the image looks as though the seat is a thin plank that is mounted on the top of the inwale and sandwiched below the gunwale caps on this closed system. I've cropped and zoomed the original photo in the attachment below. That is what seemed different to other canoes I've seen before.

    MCG, I suspected the same thing regarding the long decks on Ganong's 1912 poling canoe...before the era of splash covers, this would've limited some water entry. But the weight cost?

    Attached Files:

  5. Greg Nolan

    Greg Nolan enthusiast

    The seat detail you have shown is similar to how thwarts were sometimes attached on early canoes. Here are some pictures of the thwarts in an early (1880's) Gerrish that Steve Lapey had at the 2010 Assembly, and a detail of the carry thwart in Denis and Kathy's EBW.

    This seems to be a variation or adaptation of the way thwarts were attached on some birch bark canoes. The last picture is a detail of the birch bark canoe that is kept on the back porch of the Roosevelt summer home on Campobello island (Ted Behne is of the opinion that this canoe was built by Tomah Joseph, a well-known and highly-regarded builder of bark canoes). This picture shows a carry thwart fully mortised into the inwale -- the Gerrish and EBW have only a partial mortise -- not as strong, but easier to do.

    Some early canoes also had lower seats, not hung from the gunwales, but fastened to a stringer or stringers in the inside of the hull -- as on the last picture, my Dan Neal canoe/guideboat which still has its original finish and canvas, from some time between 1907 and 1922. In early days of wood/canvas canoes, lots of experimenting was going on, and there was lots of variation in building techniques.

    Copy of 100_6739.JPG Copy of 100_6731.JPG Copy of 100_6734.JPG sm 100_4353.JPG Copy of 102_7331.JPG sm 100_5459.jpg

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