MacKenzie 20' Canoe (My First Canoe)


Curious about Wooden Canoes
I just purchased my first canoe and it seems to have a neat back story, which some here may appreciate--or even have some knowledge of. It is a 20' wood and canvas canoe of unknown builder. The neat back story I referred to is its ownership by Tom MacKenzie.

The 20' length of this canoe is what initially caught my eye, but its "pedigree" quickly intrigued me, as well. The seller provided significant information about Tom MacKenzie's ownership of the vessel, including a photo of Tom in the canoe, documentation from Tom's estate sale (from whence the seller acquired it), emails between the seller and Tom's widow, Mrs. Karen MacKenzie, etc.. According to Karen's emails, not only was this Tom's last canoe, it was also one of the earliest he purchased for restoration, he completed an extensive restoration of it, and it was taken to many "boat float" events through the years. Apparently, this ship was handy at events because four people could float together. Based on my initial research, the MacKenzies moved a number of times, so this vessel moved with them from the Midwest, to the Northeast, and then to the Southeast, where Tom died, (and where the boat and I reside). He owned it more than a half-century. The fact he took this giant with him when he moved his home 1,000 miles on two different occasions is very interesting and surprising. I think most people would just sell such a large item, rather than manage the logistics of moving it. This canoe has clearly floated in a lot of different bodies of water in multiple parts of the Country.

I feel honored to have a canoe Tom owned, let alone his last, one he restored, one of his earliest, and one which he took to events. I'll take care of it, but I do plan on using it with my family.

I have multiple questions, including the age and builder and whether anyone here knows anything about it. Being new to wooden canoe ownership, I also have technical questions, like what I should put on the hull and interior, and whether the cracks I see in the ribs should concern me, but I can ask those in a separate thread, if need be. Regarding the origin/builder question, one of Karen's emails to my seller said she seemed to recall this canoe was a Thompson, but she disclaimed she wasn't sure and I don't see any 20-footers in their products lists on the builders information page here. Considering the abnormal length, I expect this could have been a one-off by any builder and, as such, we may never know the build date or builder.

Sorry for the long post. I greatly appreciate you reading it and thanks in advance for any information you can provide.

See attached for photos.
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Your last photo is the one that sheds light on the likely maker of the canoe. The so-called arrowhead decks are a unique feature of the Penobscot Canoe Company. Pecaco's are somewhat scarce and in some circles even a 20 footer would be desirable.
20 foot canoes are an acquired taste. They usually tip the scales north of 100 pounds. By the 2nd mile of a long carry, the temptation to leave it in the woods becomes quite least that's been my personal experience. On the water they can carry anything from a moose and a camp stove to a family with several weeks of camping gear and supplies. Fully loaded in big rough water is when these boats really shine.
That particular canoe is stunning and in very good condition. The key to keeping it that way is to make sure that it is always properly stored.
Penobscot Canoe Company | Wooden Canoe Museum
MGC and Benson, thanks very much. Karen said the owner before Tom stored the boat on the ground upside down and, therefore, Tom's restoration included work to the ends, so that does increase the chances the decks were replaced and Tom may not have stayed with the original design. I wonder about other ways to isolate the age and builder.

Certainly, I understand the length is an acquired taste/for specialized usage. I bought this for my entire family to fit in, hopefully with camping gear, as well. The weight seemed light for the size, to me, but I am a novice. How do you guys weigh these things?

Also, Karen said Tom believed the bit of pitting/holes in the floor was a result of the user wearing hob-nailed boots. I thought that was interesting.
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Tom was also known for using decks like that as shown at for example. My guess is that he replaced the decks, rails, and seats on this home made canoe with his own designs. The two known Penobscot catalogs don't list any 20 foot canoes and serial numbers are commonly found on the stems of Penobscot canoes.

The rails and seats do look "fresh". It never crossed my mind that he might have taken such broad liberties with a deck replacement. It certainly is possible.
WRT the length, Dan's site mentions a 20 foot guide model.
To my eye, the canoe does not have the appearance of being homemade but it's certainly possible.
I could not find the PeCaCo catalogs on this site. I only see .jpegs of covers of two catalogs under the catalogs page. In case there is some login needed to access such records, I am a new WCHA member. However, I just joined, so I haven't yet received anything about membership. I saw a website that indicates the Smithsonian has a PeCaCo catalog, but it appears inaccessible online.

Does the attached picture assist in identification of the vessel? It shows these recessed nuts which are in the center of every-other rib (many are missing, but is clear where they were). Are these receivers for attaching floorboards or sailing equipment or something? Call me an idiot if this is a stupid question, but I promise I am researching online and in the forums before I ask these questions. However, being a novice and knowing little of the deeper terminology and research locations, I may not be researching appropriately.

I also attached a few photos of the interior stems. These look to me like they may have been replaced because they don't have the damage the rest of the interior bottom has (including the ribs under the stems). The stems also aren't perfectly centered and one has an end that is trimmed/tapered
Some pages from the Penobscot Canoe Company catalogs are available at and the pages describing their 20 foot canoe are attached below from their 1917 and 1920 catalogs.

The holes and cup washers in the centers of the ribs indicate that this canoe was originally built with a keel. The double holes at the end(s) are unusual.

It is difficult to tell if the stems have been replaced. Stems are commonly made of hard wood so they don't tend to show damage as frequently as the ribs and planking which are made of softer cedar. My guess is that Tom didn't replace them since his fit and finish was usually much more meticulous.

Good luck with your research,



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Benson, thanks a lot. I only see four images for PeCaCo on the catalogs page (2 catalog covers, their signature deck, and their "notacrack" construction), so I appreciate the guide canoe excerpt pages you sent.

I felt and looked under the decks and noticed that the underside of the decks are significantly carved out, such that their depth (wood thickness) is much less in the center (port to starboard) of the deck. That may be a poor description, but hopefully my photos adequately identify the characteristic in question. Do you know if these deck underside carveouts were a signature (or, at least, indicative) of Tom, PeCaCo, Thompson (who Karen thought may be the builder), or another builder?
I live in “Thompson Country” and have never seen a 20’ Thompson.
I didn’t see any Thompson traits on this canoe. As previously mentioned, Tom probably took artistic liberty rather than restore to original.
My first thought is that it may be a White.
Dave and Benson, thanks so much. I checked out the White page on the museum site. Of the three identifying traits listed there, the canoe matches two and it seems plausible the third has been replaced. The canoe appears to have beveled edge planking and the inwales and outwales extend beyond the stem, but Tom likely redid the inwales and outwales. I also lack the knowledge as to how unique to Whites those traits are. I attached a picture of the bow and you can barely see the forward-most edge of the stem. The bent seat frame is not present, but it seems likely the seats were replaced.

Also, Benson, I realized my error regarding the available builder documentation. I was looking on the WCHA catalogs page (, instead of the museum's builder and catalogs pages.
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Beveled edge planking is usually a good indication of a White canoe since few other builders ever did this. The picture at shows that most White rails extend considerably further past the stem than the ones on your canoe. Tom probably replaced all of this as you pointed out. The seats also appear to be very modern replacements so they can't help much. The only other indicator you might have is the planking pattern. The image below shows a White from 1948. Does yours look similar?


Well, here is my best planking schematic and some photos. The right side of the drawing is the most accurate representation (the planks do look like they would come up, to taper off well before the end of the boat but then they bend on their thin plane to go straight to the ends).

To my untrained eye, it seems very similar to the photograph you sent. The builder sought to keep all but the top-most planks the same size for the entire length of the boat. For my 20-footer, there are 5 planks, from the bottom-up, all of which are almost exactly the same size. Only the center-most/bottom-most plank barely tapers at the end. The top two planks are where the actual tapering/adjustment to the boat's curve up takes place (like the canoe in the photograph you sent). These top two planks are jointed by a half butt joint cut out of the top plank. My drawing is close to scale regarding these two planks. I have assumed the 90-degree half butt-joint linking the top and second planks, as the joint is actually behind a plank. With such a quick transition in plank widths, it seems the only reasonable possibility. I also included photos of these joints, since they're the most interesting.

Regarding the photos: I tried to include the seats in those photos that don't include the stem or other identifying parts.

She has 63 ribs total. There is one planking patch, I assume it was by Tom during his restoration. It is about 10"×5" or so.

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The ends don't appear to be the typical E.M. White profile to me.

Regarding using 20 footers; I agree, that they shine when loaded up. We use our Old Town 20' guide with a side mount motor. It is a wonderful lake transport, but weighs about 110 lbs. Takes two of us to get it up on the truck racks, and that is even a struggle.


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ShellDrake, thanks for the information. I was going to refer to this canoe as "Great White", but it sounds like that may not be accurate. I thought the shear plank (I think I'm using the right term for the top plank) on this one might be a plausible adaptation, for length, of the White boats. However, again, I don't know the nuances and what is similar to me could actually be far from it. I'd call the shear plank a half-arrow shape; it's like a double-tipped arrow cut in half lengthwise.

On weight, I don't have a reasonable estimate, as its length throws me off when I try to give it the feel-test. I have just been assuming mine is around 120 pounds. I would like to weigh it, but I haven't yet determined a reasonable way to do so in my few days of ownership. A few friends of mine own machine shops and ship parts, so I might ask them if they have scales which could hold this, unless someone has a simpler accurate method.

I really like that table behind the bow seat on ShellDrake's 20-footer; I'll have to consider something like that.
Determining the planking pattern from the inside of a canoe is always difficult since most of it is hidden by the ribs. Planking commonly starts along the center line with the pattern shown in your diagram. Extra planks are required to fill in the middle. The uniqueness is usually in how the ends of these extra planks are merged into the rest of the pattern. Old Towns for example, commonly have a 'foot ball' shape along the turn of the bilge with the points at about the tenth rib from the end (depending on the overall length of the canoe) as shown in the pictures below. The White style shown above has a very different pattern in this area with several points spread out over a few feet. Other builders had completely different styles. It was also not unusual for a builder's style to change over time. This is further complicated by employees who would learn one style and then move to a new employer but continue to plank in the style they originally learned at their first employer. These canoes are fundamentally hand made so there are always variations.

I've not found a picture of a twenty foot White with enough detail to count all of the ribs. The WCHA sold one in 2019 as shown below and the profile is similar. I've contacted the buyer to see if they still have it and can count the ribs. Good luck,





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I agree with Dave, I don't see any "Thompson" in that canoe, and I looked at my T sheet, and didn't see any offerings longer then 18 ft.
Also, not sure what it might be.

I live in “Thompson Country” and have never seen a 20’ Thompson.
I didn’t see any Thompson traits on this canoe.
Canooh, That's a trip box, or Wannigan behind the bow seat. Regarding the maker, I found a profile photo of one of Jerry Stelmok's E.M. White 20' Guides. I think he is building it from the original White form. If the stems in your boat were replaced, the profile shape could have changed. Counting ribs is a good idea.


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I am only replying because I am looking at an EM White in my driveway right now. I think they had more recurve than shown on Jerry's. I flipped the photo to get the full effect. This canoe is original, 1930's vintage. FWIW, my first impression on the subject canoe was "maybe a White".


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