Ralph Frese Canoe Collection Tour & Talk

Paul Miller

Canoe Nut
Hi All,

I am pleased to announce another wonderful event sponsored by the Great Rivers Chapter of the WCHA.

We invite all members from where ever you are to join us for this fun and informative event. Here is your opportunity to meet one of the most well know Canoe Nuts(as we lovingly call ourselves).

Here is the info:

Great Rivers Chapter of the WCHA

Ralph Frese Canoe Collection
Tour and Talk

Sunday, April 26, 10 a.m.

Ralph Frese, “Mr. Canoe” will welcome us to his shop, The Chicagoland Canoe Base, at 4019 N. Narragansett Ave., Chicago, IL. Ralph will discuss how the canoe shaped the history of our Continent. He’ll also tell about his canoe addiction and his contribution to preserving the heritage of the wooden canoe.

We will meet at Ralph’s shop and car pool to a portion of his collection in a near north suburb of Chicago and then to the balance of his collection in the area of White Sox Park. Ralph’s collection holds canoes of all types and numbers more than 100.

Bring a sack lunch to eat while we driving between canoe exhibits, or we’ll stop for lunch if necessary.

We will return to Ralph’s shop after the tour and invite those who can to join us for dinner at a local restaurant.

Please RSVP to Paul Miller


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Thanks Paul. I am a fan of Ralph and bought my first w/c from his shop. I never knew he had multiple locations with canoes stashed all over town. Maybe it will be cold and rainy that day so I won't feel guilty about not paddling or working on the current project. Hope to be there.
The Great Event is rapidly approaching.

Hi All,

I wanted to keep this event on the front page and remind everyone they are invited to join us for a great time with Ralph Frese.

I have had only 7 people confirm their attendance and I know that we all wait for the last minute.

Ralph and his wife are preparing a special gift for all that attend. I would like make this a well attended event and give Ralph a good idea of the number of people we expect.

There are a few people traveling in on Saturday and spending the night. I will be inviting all that will be in town Saturday to come out to my place for dinner and a tour of my workshop and canoe collection(at least those housed in Elburn, 18 or 20).

I do have bunk beds that hold 4 people and space on the floor for a bunch more so spend the night if you wish. I live on 5 acres so there's plenty of room for tents as well.

Please let me know if you plan to attend.

Contact me if you have questions.


HI All,

The list is growing and you don't want to miss out on this event.

The weather may be rainy and you won't have anything else to do any way, so please let me know you'll be there.


I'm really looking forward to this one - this is a bigger collection of boats than most nautical museums! See you all there.
I chose to make a new thwart to replace the one I cut too short last year. I also planed down my - way too heavy - seat slats all for my made from scratch Prospector. If I knew last year, what I know this year, I would have been touring with Ralph yesterday.

Any pictures? Reports from the tour?
Thanks again to Ralph, his wife, and Paul Miller for putting this tour together. It was a once in a lifetime experience, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

I came home with about 40 or so "okay" photos. The storage spaces were dark and cramped, which made for a great Indiana Jones atmosphere... but didn't lend itself to good photography. Maybe it will give you some idea of this incredible collection, though. Ralph is actively searching for a permanent home for these boats, and I hope one can be found. It was really remarkable.

Here's the link to my set:

P.S. I was pretty careful about not giving away any details about locations, for instance. Hopefully putting these online won't bother anyone.


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This event was an incredible journey... listening to Ralph's stories of each boat was fascinating. He can talk all day about canoes, and I, for one, can sit & listen for as long as he's talking.

So far I only got through deleting all of my out-of-focus pics... hope to sort through more tonight...
Brief description of a great event.

Brad has taken remarkable pictures of the event. You all must follow the link to his photos. This is true ART, not just pictures of canoes. I can not thank Brad enough for what he has captured in his pictures.

We began the day at Ralph's Chicagoland Canoe Base at the corner of Irving Park Rd. and Narragansett. People began filing in by 9:30 and milled about the show room and workshop, looking and taking pictures. Ralph had a newly restored Indian Girl and B.N. Morris on racks in the show room.

Ralph gave us a history of his shop that started as a movie theater a long time ago, along with an interesting topography lesson highlighting the namesake of nearby Portage Park, a Chicago park located a few blocks east of Ralphs shop. By the time the story ended we had some 29 adults and two boys in attendance.

After a tour of the workshop and more stories, we car pooled up to a storage facility in Morton Grove and were introduced to a number of fine canoes and kayaks. Everyone of us had our favorites, among them; a Walter Walker built Canadian Strip canoe, Rice Lake wood strip canoe, Willits Brothers, native birchbark, Swedish veneered kayak, seal skin on frame native kayak, Caribou skin kayak(my favorite) and a lot of other boats, all with great stories. We also had a look a part of his canoe paddle collection.

The next leg of the tour took us south of China Town on the south side of Chicago. The Cigar Butt picture Brad posted was taken at the entrance to the warehouse (we commented while Brad took that shot). This was a large warehouse that you could have easily been lost in without a knowledgeable guide. We took a number of twists and turns past collection of all kind of things stacked here and there in a manner that did not allow you much waring of what might be at the next turn. We finally came upon the entrance to the "Collection". After moving numerous obstacles and unlocking the chains, people entered the dimly lite area like young kids on Christmas morning, rushing to canoes they recognized or appeared most interesting.

Dugouts were all about on the floor many stacked inside each other, among them were canoes we could recognize from all wood to big square end canoes with sponsons. Then there were racks of canoe with everything from a Dean Sunnyside Cruiser with flush metal battens to a plywood stitch and glue canoe that won the 450 mile Mississippi river race paddled by two guys from Chicago in the 1960's.

Dimely lite and covered with dust, it was like being the first to find a great canoe that had been stored in a barn for the last 60 or 80 years. And of course Ralph had a story for just about every boat in the place.

After hours of looking and pushing dust around, and picture taking, 10 of us continued on to dinner in China Town for great food and more great stories from Ralph.

We canoe nuts could appreciate this collection regardless of how it was presented, even it is scattered about in cramped and poorly lite surroundings. The public would expect a bit more creature comforts. This collection has been a bit like the foster child moved from home to home and not shown the love it deserves. But we need more than a home, we need a network of volunteers willing to work to bring this collection back to life and maintain it into the future. We also need ideas to bring this to the awareness of potential corporate sponsors and anyone else that can help secure ongoing financial support.

Thanks to all that attended,


Don't for get my place for the Workshop 5/30
My Flickr account is dysfunctional. I loaded my pics onto Facebook; they should be accessible to anyone, whether you have a facebook account or not. My username there is the same as here: pklonowski. If you'd like to see them, but can't, send me a pm.
Wish we could have made it to the tour.

What great photo's. You mentioned Ralph wanted a place to donate--
ther is a new Canoe Museum opening in Wisconsin. I'm sure they would love to have some of these canoes. Our own American Canoe Museum!
Let me know again next year the time and date.
Denis and I had a wonderful time. A big part of the fun was the people: what a great group! And so much fun meeting folks we've chatted with on this board-- and sharing the experience of pouring over a treasure-trove of canoes!

Great pictures-- I hope to have a video of the event ready to upload Tuesday!



There it is: just what you've been waiting for! "Who are all those strange people," you ask.... well, many of them post in these very forums!

The music was chosen to give you a sense of the thrill of it all... it was impossible to capture all Ralph's information... but I strongly suggest you take a look at http://www.chicagolandcanoebase.com/ and check out the great professional YouTube video linked on that site.

Hi Kathy,

I am somewhat computer literate and could not find a link to a You-tube video.

Please provide a bit more direction.



Thanks for posting that news video. I have met Ralph a couple of times when I traveled to ChiTown and what a gentleman...if you show up near noon, he invites you to lunch, moving a canoe out of the shop is a real treat and the pet squirrel that he feeds a peanut out of his mouth is always present. I sincerely hope someone can help him out with his collection of boats and form a museum.

What a wonderful canoe collection. Bredlo and Paul, thank-you for posting the photos. I had an e-mail exchange with Ralph on the Boy Scout Orange Crate canoe. He told me that the Orange Crate evolved from the Howie LaBrant plywood racing canoes. Did Ralph say anything about them? Did anyone get any photos of either the plywood canoes or the Orange Crate?


Jim Kirk
Long Beach, CA