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Did Edwin M. White ever build birchbark canoes?

Discussion in 'Birchbarks, Dugouts and Primitive Craft' started by Benson Gray, Jul 1, 2021.

  1. Benson Gray

    Benson Gray Canoe History Enthusiast Staff Member

    Roger Young and I have been trading some messages recently about Edwin M. White and bark canoes. The article at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E.M._White_Canoe_Company quotes page 25 of Jerry and Rollin’s book saying “White gave an interview in 1901 in the Old Town Enterprise” where he reports that "I saw a man by the name of Evan Gerrish of Bangor riding in the Penobscot River in a canvas-covered canoe. I quickly saw the advantages of that kind over my birchbark." It is not clear if this means a birchbark canoe that Edwin made himself or simply one which he owned. This newspaper is available online and I haven’t been able to find any article about White from 1901. I’ve asked Rollin if he could provide any more details but he indicated that good notes about all of his research are not available. The Old Town Enterprise had become the Penobscot Times by August 7th, 1941 when there was an article with a very similar wording. My guess is that there is simply a typographical error in the citation date. White also described the origin of the company in another newspaper article from 1948. Edwin listed his occupation as a “Stone Cutter” in the 1880 census. Therefore, it appears that he was clearly the owner of a bark canoe in the late 1880s and certainly knew how to repair bark canoes but I’ve not yet found anything to indicate that he was building them before he copied a canvas canoe made by Evan Gerrish. Please let me know if anyone has more to offer on this topic. Thanks,

    Benson



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    Last edited: Jul 8, 2021
    1905Gerrish, MGC and JClearwater like this.
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    Benson Gray

    Benson Gray Canoe History Enthusiast Staff Member

    Chris Pearson has asked what documentation exists for E. M. White's start date in 1889. The earliest reference to that date that I've found is shown at http://www.wcha.org/catalogs/white/covers/1912.jpg on the cover of his 1912 catalog. The local newspaper mentions him building canoes starting on August 1st, 1891 as shown below. He was first listed in the 1894 issue of the Maine Register. Does anyone know of any earlier references or other details? Thanks,

    Benson

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    Last edited: Jul 8, 2021
  3. Rollin Thurlow

    Rollin Thurlow member since 1980

    E.M. White was born in 1889 so he would of only been 11 years old by the 1880 census. His fathers name was William so it doubtful that it was either one of them would of been the "stonecutter" listed in the census. The family lived in Gilman Falls just above Old Town on the Stillwater River. His father and older brother were lumberman. Lumber, riverdiving and sawmills dominated that area and the family must of been experienced in the use and repair of bark canoes.
    In an article in the Bangor Commercial in March, 25,1952 it quotes E.M. White as saying around 1885 he stated building canoes at the family home using a horse on a treadmill for power. Around 1887 he had moved his canoe building operation to a small shop in Old Town. In 1890 he moved the operation to a much larger, three story, building which became home of the E.M. White Canoe Co for the next 70 years. He must of been an experienced canoe builder and had some kind of successful business in order to afford such a large facility. The start up date of 1889 seems like a reasonable date for the start of the formal White company. E.M. White would of been all of 20 years old at that time.
    The 1910 company catalog has the start up date of 1889 on its front cover.
    The "City of Old Town" 1906 Souvenir at the U.of M. Special Collections list the canoe company as starting in 1886 which must of been around when E.M. moved to his first small shop in Old Town.
     
  4. Glenn MacGrady

    Glenn MacGrady New Member

    I have no historical information or sources but, logically, Mr. E.M. White was surely of the opinion that E.M. White & Co. began building canoes commercially in 1889, given that the front page of its/his catalogue says so. Who could possibly be in a better position to know that than he, and hence what source could possibly be stronger to prove a different date?

    I assume Rollin Thurlow meant to say that White was born in 1869 not 1889.
     
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    Benson Gray

    Benson Gray Canoe History Enthusiast Staff Member

    I stand corrected. The E. M. White in William's house was identified as Eddie during the 1880 census as shown below. The "City of Old Town" 1906 Souvenir is also attached but I don't see a reference to an 1886 start date. It does say "The business has been established 16 years" which implies an 1890 or 1889 start date.

    Benson



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    Last edited: Jul 25, 2021
  6. Rollin Thurlow

    Rollin Thurlow member since 1980

    1869- right.
    I see in my notes that I subtracted the 16 years from the 1902 date to get the 1886 start date. Rereading the article I can see they must of meant 16 years from the date of the publication, 1906. In the sentience, what is the 1902 date referring to? Maybe it means The White company has been at the present location since 1902?
    Hinckley was certainly a very silent partner. He worked in the business until he died in the 1930's.
    E.M.W.'s wife was Delia Grant.
    Delia's sister was married to Hinckley, so that must of been how Hinckley and White got together.
    Delia also had twin brothers Walter and Wendel.
    Wendell always work for the White Canoe Co.
    Walter worked for the Morris Canoe Co. According to my notes from an interview with EMW's grand nephew, George White, , Walter bought the remains of the Morris Co. in 1920, and went to Waterville to work for the Kennebec Canoe Co.
    Family reunions must of been interesting (if you were interested in wooden canoes).
     
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    Benson Gray

    Benson Gray Canoe History Enthusiast Staff Member

    The 1902 date is probably when Hinckley and White started working together since is says later that he "became a partner here in 1902." Both of their names are on the deed at https://www.wcha.org/forums/index.php?attachments/34293/ when they purchased the factory on Water Street in 1909. Their prior use of that factory must have been some sort of a rental or lease arrangement since the seller appears to have held it since 1835. White purchased a residential lot in Old Town during 1897. See https://www.wcha.org/forums/index.php?threads/14097/ for some more related canoe company deed information.

    My understanding of Walter Grant's work history is slightly different. The 1900 census at http://www.wcha.org/forums/index.php?attachments/30642/ indicates that he was a painter in Eddington, Maine. Eddington is just across the river from Veazie. Dan Miller has found some confirmation that he worked at the Morris Canoe Company. This appears to be where he learned how to build canoes before starting at the Kennebec Canoe Company in December of 1909. His son Clifford Walter Grant was born on May 24, 1905 in Veazie so that also implies that he was living there then. He was in Waterville for the 1910 census and identified himself as the "Supt." at the "Canoe Fact." as shown below. Morris clearly worked with Kennebec in the 1920s but I've never heard anything else about Walter buying "the remains of the Morris Co." at that time. I agree that a Grant family reunion would have been a great place to learn about canoes. See https://www.wcha.org/forums/index.php?threads/14800/ for more about similar canoe building brotherhoods.

    Benson



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    Last edited: Jul 27, 2021 at 1:15 PM

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