The History of Women and Canoeing


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My doctoral dissertation conducted under the aegis of the History Department at Carleton University in Ottawa, ON seeks to enrich and broaden the iconography of the canoe. To do so, it considers the ways in which women have encountered canoes over the course of a long twentieth century (1880s-present). My current vision of the project includes those who laboured in and around canoes, such as craftswomen and guides, as well as recreationalists, including those who paddled with local canoe clubs, at summer camp or the cottage, and on wilderness trips with family and friends.

As this is a field with a limited institutional archive, I am appealing to the public to meet my research objectives. I am interested in written sources (journals and letters), visual and material culture (scrapbooks, photographs, canoes, paddles, and related gear) and oral history. If you are interested in discussing the possibility of sharing your stories or source material or know of an archive that might be of use, please contact me (Jess Dunkin) at or 2-3 St. Francis St., Ottawa, ON, K1Y 1W6.

You will certainly want to look at "Fly Rod Crosby: The Woman Who Marketed Maine" by Julia A. Hunter and Earle G. Shettleworth, Jr. We hope to have Earle give a presentation on this topic at the Assembly in July. See for more information about the Assembly. Another obvious one is "A Woman's Way Through Unknown Labrador" by Mrs. Leonidas Hubbard Jr. Good luck,

I assume you are not looking for the obvious and most notable, Sacajawea.

Robert P. Ross
Ross Bros.
PO Box 60277
Florence, MA 01062
Thank You Both

Benson, I was aware of Mina Hubbard, but not of Fly Rod Crosby. I just read the synopsis of the book and have requested it through my local library. What a great suggestion!

Robert, I am embarrassed to say that I was not aware of Sacajawea. She is a bit early for my interests, but as my periodization may change, I will add her name to my list of possible subjects.

Thank you both!

Perhaps approach Pam Wedd, I recall reading an article where she noted another woman canoe builder who was active some years ago. And of course she would fit the bill as well for the contemporary side of your work.
Becky Mason, also a woman builder in Ely Minn. Though I don't recall her name, I'm sure others will.
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The current group of women builders, paddlers, and guides would also include: Andrea Myers at Island Falls Canoe Company (, Jane Barron at Alder Stream Canvas in Kingfield, Maine, Joan Barrett of Bear Mountain Boats (, Kim Gass in Raymond, Maine, Emily Schoelzel of Salmon Falls Canoe (, Linda Koski of Allagash Canoe Trips (, Monica Schnitger of Andover, Massachusetts, Polly Mahoney of Mahoosuc Guide Service (, Lisa Dehart of West Gardiner, Maine, Pam Wedd of Bearwood Canoes (, Shawna Patterson of Wilds of Maine (, Linda Whiting of Smallboat Shop (, Jeanne Bourquin at Bourquin Boats (, Alexandra Conover who has recently retired from North Woods Ways (, Becky Mason (, and lots of others. Many of these women and more are described at since they have been involved with the Maine Canoe Symposium or at from their involvement with the WCHA.

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you should get a copy of the book 'Bijaboji'. This lady canoed from Seattle to Alaska in 1937 at age 18 by herself, minimally equipped, and died (not that long ago) in the charlottes as a revered character. Her canoe is on display in Masset I think.
I think Denis means Jeanne Bourquin canoe builder and all around cool chick from Ely, MN.
Becky Mason is an canoe instructor, artist and environmentalist and daughter of Bill Mason of canoeing fame.
Both of these women deserve consideration in your project
The list of people to talk to should certainly include Jill Dean, as a founder of the WCHA, and canoe collector and activist extraordinaire.

Any researcher should explore the WCHA's journal -- Wooden Canoe. Three recent articles that should be of interest come immediately to mind -- Jerry Cassell's article in June 2009, Issue 153, "The American Canoe Association Camp Register 1884-1949" where he discusses women paddlers and their roll in the ACA and their participation in the ACA Camp; Jerry Stelmok's article on the Deans in the same issue; and my own article in the following issue on Janet Chase Hoyt, her 1877 canoe trip, and the article "Babes in the Wood" that she wrote for Scribner's magazine.

Of course, Hoyt's "Babes in the Wood" should be read --;seq=0494;idno=scmo0014-4;node=scmo0014-4:11

Another one...

Remember to include Frances Anne Hopkins who traveled with her fur trade executive husband along the fur trade route in canoes and painted the lives of those workers as early as 1860. Fabulous paintings!
Don't forget the author of my favorite canoeing book "Canoe Country" - Florence Page Jaques. There is an obscure woman who took a trip down the Missouri and Mississippi River with her husband in 1939 and wrote about it in serialized pieces for the Tacoma, Washington newspaper - Louise Lynd. Her story is captured in a book of her edited stories by Henry L. Armstrong called "A Missouri River Odyssey - 1939". Also, remember the women worked beside, or stood behind their husband canoe builders, starting with Nora Seliga of Ely, Minnesota.

This sounds like a fascinating dissertation. Let us know when it's finished!
Ms Harry

Ma Harry was with the Girl Scouts out of Hibbing Minnesota and lead her girls through the BWCA and the Quetico during a time when those who were familar with the area kept insisting that the park was to tough for girls. I knew Ma while I was guiding for Sommers Canoe base during the late 60's early 70's

Dorthy "Ma" Harry first took her Girl Scout troop into the North Woods in 1963 and directed the canoeing program from 1963 to 1977. For fourteen years she volunteered her time and managed one of the only, and in our opinion, the best, wilderness triping programs for young women. If you told her that the trip was to hard for her girls she'd say nonsense and show up in the most inacessable remote reaches of the Quetico.

"The first few summers Mrs. Harry outfitted the trips from the back of her pick-up truck. She would haul all of the trail gear and canoes up from Hibbing for each trip and park her truck in the parking lot at the Ely A& W Root Beer stand between trips. Eventually, the home of Ralph and Jean Swanson became the Girl Scout 'Base' for many years. Guides and Guides-in-Training slept in tents between trips, used the family garage for organizing equipment and stored the canoes up in the field."

Sam Cook, outdoor writer for the Duluth Tribune recently wrote an artical July 5, 2009 on a memorial held for Ma by the guides alumni on Moose Lake this July. I would contact him for more info on Ma as I know he personnaly interviewed some of those who knew her well. I also have some letters and postcards that Ma sent to me if you would like access to these or for more sources for info contact me via the personal message feature on this web site. I also have a copy of a letter I sent to the ladies hosting the reunion regarding my own experiances with Ma and how she was my hero at the time. What a 65 year old lady in the back reaches of the Quetico got my attention at the time, and made me realize as a young man thats what I want to be when I grow up.

Please feel free to contact me if you need more info.

Good luck and keep your feet dry
Tom Widney