Mystery canoe


canoe restorer
We have just brought a new canoe into the Wooden Boat Workshop for possible restoration.
I have no idea what it is, but hope someone on this forum will be able to help.
First of all, I think it is very old. Not only the construction, but the provenance: the existing owner is in his 70's, and his grandfather used the canoe as a boy.
Here are the clues:
17', 8" long, with a 33" beam, exagerated tumble-home. Really round bottomed.
closed gunwale- ribs end well below top of rails (they are nailed into rebate in bottom of inner rail). Outer rails are missing.
Three thwarts, two caned seats- thwarts and seats both very light .
The real identifying feature is the ends; the two inner rails come together about 18" from the ends, and run parallel to the stem. Decks are just little wedges about 1" wide and 2" long! So the ends are essentially lens shaped, (if you took a vertical slice), and very fine in plan-form.
Planking is 2 1/4" around the middle, or where the curves are gentle, but split into1 1/8" at ends. Planks are actually partly sawed in half in places.
Okay, guys, what is it we have?

Dave Jackson
Hello Dave,

Your description of the fastening of the ribs to the gunnels makes me belive that it could possibly be a George Stephenson built canoe.
Please post a couple of photos of the decks and the rib fastening.

Dick Persson
Headwater Wooden Boat Shop
Buckhorn, Ontario, Canada

Attached below are two photos of a George Stephenson built canoe.

Dick Persson
Headwater Wooden Boat Shop


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Thanks for the suggestion and photos. Our canoe doesn't look anything like that. I'll try to take some pictures and post them showing the stem.
There really isn't any deck at all - the two rails just come together and run side by side for the last 18" at the bow and stern.

Continuing the saga, as we get into the restoration, I have had a chance to look at how our mystery canoe is planked. As stated previously, the planks are 2 1/2" wide in the middle where the curves are more modest, but split (sawed) in half towards the ends, probably to take the curves without steaming. That is, the same plank, if necessary, is split- it looks like with a table saw.
Furthermore, each of the thinner, 1 1/4" planks, is fastened to each rib with only one tack- not your usual canoe tack, but a large copper tack. Because the ends are fastened in this manner they are extremely limber- you can raise the ends an inch or so before the middle moves at all!
I'm torn between the thought that the mystery canoe was built by someone who had never built a canoe before or looked at one with the canvas off, and the possibility that it was built very, very early on.

Dave, is there any way you can post some photos? I'm not knowlegeable about old canoes but sure would like to see what you got. Never heard of the inwhales coming together for 18".
Regards, Dave.
pictures of mystery canoe

I'm going to try to attach pictures to this message, but, so far, the WCHA program says they are too large.
In the meantime, two new pieces of information. First, on a short thwart or handle in the bow there is the word "Nicatous" in gold letters. My research suggests this is the name of a lake Northeast of Bangor, Maine. Maybe that is where the canoe was used at some point in its career, or maybe the name of a hotel or lodge?
Second, lacking any leads, we went back to the owner to see if he had any recollections whatsoever. He states that the "tradition " or lore in his family is that the canoe was built by an individual who did not build many canoes- thus not a full-time builder, but perhaps a guide or other outdoor worker who built a canoe or two in the winter.
The construction we are seeing tends to bear this out, in that none of the materials are specialized, but all "hardware store". Of, course, this could also be due to the fact it is very old. (Supposedly it was paddled by the grandfather of the present owner when the grandfather was a boy- and the present owner is in his 70's).
(Still having troubles with pictures. Will send later).

Dave Jackson
mystery canoe picture

Hopefully, I at last will send the forum a picture.

Dave Jackson


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I'm glad to say that the restoration of the canoe which was the subject of this thread was completed and returned to its owner some weeks ago. We fabricated a new keel and new rails, repaired ribs and planking, recovered with canvas, painted and varnished.
In order to stiffen up the structure, which was extremely limber when we started, John Geier from our shop painstakingly added a new stainless ringnail where each rib joined the inner rail (the old iron nails had almost given up), and a new canoe tack where each plank crossed a rib (believe it or not, there was only one copper carpet tack joining each plank and rib).
With a little luck, this canoe should soldier on for years more.
wow, never seen that before. Nicatous is a lovely lake and a link in the east west route from the St. Croix to the Penobscot. There is a lodge there that has been there for quite a while. I'd love to know the provenance of this one. I'm not sure who owns the lodge there now but they might have info , or for sure be interested. This is not the type of place you'd have a canoe shop.
Looks like the builder was working with a paradigm that referenced birchbark canoes. The gunnels would come together like that.

Definately a curious artifact.
The list of old Maine canoe builders at includes several builders from the Nicatous lake area. Amassa P. Darling was building boats in Enfield around 1910-1942, Ira Sibley was building canoes in Burlington around 1869-1898, Augustus Fogg was building canoes in Lowell around 1890-1891, D. B. Barker was building birch and canvas canoes in Lowell around 1889-1890, and Jonathan Darling was building birch and canvas canoes in Lowell around 1889-1898. I agree that this canoe looks like it was built by someone who had previous experience making bark canoes.

That has got to be the most YANKEE list of names I've seen since the roll call of the 20th Maine.