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Barren Grounds by Skip Pessl

Discussion in 'Books, Videos, and the Like' started by mccloud, Jun 1, 2015.

  1. mccloud

    mccloud "Tiger Rag" back on the tidal Potomac In Memoriam

    BARREN GROUNDS – The Story of the Tragic Moffatt Canoe Trip
    Fred “Skip” Pessl, Dartmouth College Press, 2014

    Students of canoeing in the far north of Canada have heard of the 1955 expedition lead by Art Moffatt to the Dubawnt river. After 51 days on the river, and following a major storm with snowfall, the group of 6 young men in 3 Chestnut wood/canvas canoes entered a long rapid in a section of river with islands partly obscuring the view. Big waves at the bottom of the rapid filled and rolled 2 canoes, the third half-filled. The four swimmers were pulled to shore, severely hypothermic, with Moffatt never awakening. This book is composed of the transcribed daily diaries of Skip Pessl and Peter Franck, two of the participants.

    In this book are a few photos of the canoes. On these forums there was a discussion recently about the Chestnut decal applied at an angle (5-22-2015 Cloutier, and Gray reply). A photo shows exactly this. The caption of a different photo identifies these as 18 foot, 90 pound, “Chestnut Peterborough Prospector” canoes. Can someone explain this terminology? I've seen the term 'Peternut' on these forums. The canoes seem to have performed well – at least they weren't the cause of complaint, though some cracked planking is mentioned. I have to wonder what became of these 3 canoes. Here is a quotation from the text describing an incident which happened on the 39th day of the 55 day trip, p.77: “While looking over the rapids, we left our canoes tied in the lee of a point and they scraped against some of the sharp rocks. Result, Skip's canoe had several bad scrapes down to bare canvas and one hole right through to the wood. Mine had one big scrape to canvas about 4” long. I never would have thought a little gentle rubbing and scraping could be so hard on that tough paint and canvas, but these rocks were sharp and cut right through. Skip patched the hoe with tar. I used a liquid cement to keep the canvas from rotting.”

    So if canoeing literature of the far north interests you, then add Barren Grounds to your library. Tom McCloud
  2. Rob Stevens

    Rob Stevens Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    Will be interested to compare this account to the classic Death on the Barrens by George Grinnell, originally published in 1996.

    George, a 19 year old student, was the youngest member of the party.

    He was a professor at McMaster University where I studied and worked.
    When last I saw him, he was retired, working as a bicycle courier in Ottawa.
  3. OP

    mccloud "Tiger Rag" back on the tidal Potomac In Memoriam

    I have both books and have heard both authors give talks at the Wilderness Canoeing Symposium. Their respective outlooks on the events of 1955 are quite different. For those interested in the topic, read both books and draw your own opinion. I won't muddy the waters by offering my opinion here, but welcome a discussion at Assembly. Tom McCloud
  4. Fitz

    Fitz Wooden Canoes are in the Blood


    Chestnut 18 foot Prospectors were referred in the catalog as the, "Voyageur". I restored a 60's vintage one for a friend and it did indeed weigh 90 - 95 lbs. when finished. I am not sure what a, "Chestnut Peterborough Prospector" may refer to.

    A picture of the 18 foot Chestnut Prospector is below. They can carry quite a load.

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Jun 1, 2015
  5. Benson Gray

    Benson Gray Canoe History Enthusiast Staff Member

    I am not an expert on Canadian canoes but I believe that both of these terms refer to canoes built after 1923 when "the Peterborough Canoe Company and Chestnut Canoe Company were collected together under Canadian Watercraft Limited" as described at in the KnowledgeBase here. The page at describes the Prospector Models as being "deeper and beamier than pleasure models" with other details. Others may be able to offer a better description.


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