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A Thanksgiving weekend to be truly grateful for

Discussion in 'Scale and Miniature Canoe Models' started by Roger Young, Oct 12, 2015.

  1. Roger Young

    Roger Young display sample collector

    This is Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, and I have a lot for which to be truly grateful.

    It has taken a last-minute, whirlwind trip to Calgary, in the midst of this Thanksgiving holiday weekend, to attend an auction (Hall's), while scrambling to make airline schedules, find a room, rent a car, etc., but I'm quite elated and very thankful indeed to have been able to acquire what has to be the most important factory 'display sample' canoe model ever to have come before the public, not just in recent years, but perhaps ever (IMHO). Here are some photos of a 50" vertical rib model complete with Ontario Canoe Co. decals on its fore and aft decks, large company name plates along its sides, and all its bits and pieces in very remarkable condition, given that it dates to 1883 - 1892, and likely earlier rather than later.

    Innovation of a 'vertical rib' canoe was patented by John S Stephenson in the 1870's, just prior to his selling out to Col. J Z Rogers, who then formed the Ontario Canoe Co. That company was later succeeded by Peterborough Canoe Co., following the disastrous fire which destroyed OCC. So, this model is likely unique, given that the vertical rib style did not become very popular. Full-size specimens are highly prized by collectors; this 'sample' is likely one of a kind. I know of only two other 50" OCC sample models, both of which I have sought, unsuccessfully, to acquire over the years; each is of 'wide-board and batten' construction (more commonly seen). Learning of the existence of this historic, vertical rib piece compelled me to make a renewed effort at acquisition. It came home with me earlier today and, while it may seem like bragging to some, I really just wanted to be able to share this rare and outstanding piece of Canadiana with many other canoe fanciers. It represents not only ingenuity in canoe manufacturing, but also qualifies as antique advertising, as well as early, historic watercraft - it is decorative and utilitarian at the same time. And what a superb finish! Can't ask for more.

    Here are a half-dozen photos, which I shall quickly follow with six more in order to provide a number of views.

    Attached Files:

  2. OP
    Roger Young

    Roger Young display sample collector

    another six photos of the OCC 'vertical rib' model

    Attached Files:

  3. Dick Persson

    Dick Persson Canoe builder & restorer

    Congratulations Roger, what a find!

  4. Cliff Ober

    Cliff Ober Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes


    What a beautiful canoe; congratulations on acquiring it! It is in stunning condition.

  5. pklonowski

    pklonowski Unrepentant Canoeist

  6. chris pearson

    chris pearson Michigan Canoe Nut

    Aaaaaaaa, OMG!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Roger, what a work on art, history, etc, etc.. What a true treasure and example of maximum craftsmanship. As a professional model maker for 34 years, I cannot imagine the talent that went into building this model, the detail is unreal. Congrats, you deserve it!
  7. 1905Gerrish

    1905Gerrish LOVES Wooden Canoes

    Wow! Not to shabby.
  8. Andre Cloutier

    Andre Cloutier Firestarter. Wicked Firestarter.

    Wow, thats incredible. Did you see this one that was auctioned in Cornwall? I saw it too late, and the auctioneer told me it went to a picker for $1800. ouch.

    Attached Files:

  9. OP
    Roger Young

    Roger Young display sample collector

    Hi Andre:
    That Chestnut model is completely new to me; never heard a thing about it, though I try to stay abreast of these things and keep a close watch. Condition looks a little rough, although the size appears to confirm what I have learned to date: that Chestnut samples seem to be much larger than most; usually like half-scale canoes, around 7' long. At least that's what the only other two I know of have been. Years back, I heard there might be one in Eastern Ontario. I scoured the area and sent out feelers and fliers, but came up empty-handed. Later, I was told that there was a home-made copy of a Chestnut model, done by a chap from Ottawa. Would be nice to get a close look at this thing if you do manage to locate it. The price is a steal.

    For the moment, I'm just happy to have been able to bring home the OCC piece. I think it has to be the most significant factory sample ever built, just given its attachment to old John Stephenson, pioneer builder of wood canoes (maybe North America's earliest - 1850's), and the fact that it represents a patented innovation in the race to try to improve canoe design. I'm thinking it could well be just about the earliest of the North American factory samples out there, and very likely a totally unique piece. I was surprised there wasn't a lot more interest, since it went in a fairly well publicized auction. The fates were good to me, and I appreciate all the kind words from others. A special 'Thanks' to Chris P. for the insight from the model builder's perspective - it truly is an amazing piece of construction.
  10. goldencub

    goldencub Carpenter

    That is, indeed, a beautiful model!! BUT, can someone tell me why anyone would build a full size canoe that way? What were the perceived advantages of verticle ribs? How did they abut each other so as to prevent leaks? What about weight? Wouldnt the construction time be almost prohibitively longer? Just curious! Al D
  11. OP
    Roger Young

    Roger Young display sample collector

    All very good questions; here are some comments in response.

    First, you have to take into consideration the historical perspective. Board canoes (built of planking) were just beginning to come on the scene in the late 1850's, in Ontario. They were an early invention of Peterborough and Lakefield, Ontario builders like John Stephenson, Thomas Gordon, Wm. English, Dan Herald, among others. The development of the board canoe was an effort to cut down on the weight of dugout (solid) canoes, and also have something more substantial and rugged than a birch bark canoe. Plank canoes were first built using a dugout as a form or mould over which the planks could be shaped and fastened.

    Wooden planks will dry out and shrink when not in the water. They need to be soaked and swell up in order to close the gaps at the seams. Even then, internal battens were used to cover (overlap) the seams to help prevent leakage. Various types of batten designs were tried over the years - raised battens; inset (or smooth) battens; metal battens. Men like Dan Herald later developed a double-thick plank canoe (Herald Patent, 1871), with a fabric between the plank layers (one cross-ways, one longitudinal). This was an early attempt to make a plank canoe with greater structural integrity as well as better protection against leakage. Herald and Stephenson were innovators, always looking for ways to improve. In 1879, John Stephenson obtained a patent for his vertical (Patent Rib) design. It was thought of as being stronger and also less inclined to leakage. However, as you surmise, the building process was difficult, time consuming and expensive. Time and cost factors made it less feasible. Repair is difficult if not impossible. Such canoes had to be built incrementally, and no one is quite sure today just how this process was carried out. The ribs are joined by tongue-and-groove technique, with only the keel, keelson, bilge stringers and outer rail for longitudinal support. Weight is probably not much different from a plank canoe, since the amount of wood is similar. Eventually, introduction of canvas-covered cedar canoes tended to supplant all-wood types. While these full-size 'vertical rib' canoes continued to be built for some time by Ontario Canoe Co., and its successor, Peterborough Canoe Co., their numbers do not seem to have been great, and they are fairly scarce, at least in my experience. They seem to have gone out of fashion by the 1930's, and it is said that when Peterborough made one in the late 1940's as a gift to Queen Elizabeth II, workmen at the factory could barely recall how to replicate the process. It seems likely this display model may be unique, and likely dates to the early 1880's. I do know of one other (possibly two) wide board display sample with Ontario Canoe Co. decals and logos.

    Hope this helps. Others are welcome to add thoughts.
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2015
  12. goldencub

    goldencub Carpenter

    Roger - thanks so much for taking the time to respond in such detail. I appreciate all that new knowledge! I have a little bit of woodworking experience of various kinds, but I'll tell you that I cannot even begin to imagine the time, effort and skill it must have taken to do a tongue and groove match from verticle rib to verticle rib given the compound curves and tapers that would be encountered from bow to stern. It's mind blowing even to contemplate!!!

    Thanks again - and have a happy T'giving! Regards, Al D
  13. walt

    walt Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes

    Wow, wow ,wow...a true rib-fest at thanksgiving! Beautiful Roger, thanks for sharing and keep it safe!
  14. OP
    Roger Young

    Roger Young display sample collector

    I should perhaps mention that this model was placed on loan in mid-November with the Canadian Canoe Museum, so visitors there can see it up close.

    Hopefully, it will also be on view at WCHA's July, 2016 Assembly, at Paul Smiths, NY, along with a good number of other factory display samples representing a very broad range of early North American canoe manufacturers. Plans are currently under way. If you have a sample model and wish to participate, please contact either Benson Gray or myself and let us know so that we can coordinate exhibit arrangements. Many thanks.
  15. walt

    walt Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes

    We were at the museum a couple of weeks ago and didn't see it...rats. Hopefully we'll get to check it out at the assembly. It certainly puts these to shame. BTW do the canoes look older when dead guys paddle them?
  16. Benson Gray

    Benson Gray Canoe History Enthusiast Staff Member

    There is a full sized version of this model on display over the Main Street entrance to L. L. Bean as shown below with the catalog description from the 1914 Peterborough catalog. A similar one is shown and discussed at if you want more details.


    Attached Files:

  17. Andre Cloutier

    Andre Cloutier Firestarter. Wicked Firestarter.

    Benson, photgraphed that one this past summer, struck me at the time that shoppers wouldnt realize how rare it is, and also as how out of place it is in the context of early canvas canoe construction and the history of LL Bean and Maine guide canoes. I offered to supply a more appropriate craft consistent with their history as a supplier and outfitter but the guy folding sweaters wasnt too impressed and i suspect didnt escalate my concerns.

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