Wooden Canoe Heritage Association displays boats

PAUL SMITHS – The Wooden Canoe Heritage Association is meeting at Paul Smith’s College this week for its annual assembly.

The association’s executive director, Annie Burke, said about 300 people from around the country are expected to attend, bringing 200 wooden boats with them.

“The Wooden Canoe Heritage Association is a nonprofit membership organization devoted to preserving, studying, building, restoring, and using wooden and bark canoes, and to disseminating information about canoeing heritage throughout the world,” according to its website. It’s based in New Hampshire, but its members and officers live throughout the U.S.

The event kicked off Tuesday and continues until Sunday morning on the big lawn near Lower St. Regis Lake. Canoes and other boats are lined up in rows and surrounded by tents, set up for programs throughout the day on topics such as canoe restoration and paddle carving.

The event is open to anyone who wants to participate, not just association members.

“The public is absolutely welcome to just come in and walk around and look around at the canoes,” Burke said. “If they want to join any of the programs, all they have to do is pay a daily ($15) registration fee.”

This year’s theme is “Thompson Brothers Boat Manufacturing Companies.”

Dan Miller, who is on the association’s board of directors, said the Thompson brothers had a company based in Wisconsin that started up in the early 1900s and produced canoes into the 1960s. The founders, Peter and Christ, were originally from Sweden. They expanded operations to Cortland in the 1920s.

“They are actually better known for their powerboats than they are for their canoes, but they made nice canoes and lot of them,” Miller said.

Miller said the company, at its peak, made an estimated 5,000 canoes annually, or about 38 per day. They are known for their appearance, he said.

“You look at one, and if you’re familiar with one, you can just tell it’s a Thompson,” Miller said, “the way the curve of the stem is, and you can tell by the shape of the deck.”

Although Thompson canoes are featured this year, there are only eight or 10 of them on display. The canoe manufacturer most represented is Old Town, which is normal for these events because Old Town was such a prolific manufacturer, out-producing all other wooden canoe companies over the past century. Old Town boats were featured last year.

Still, Ken Kelly, of Grand Rapids, Mich., said there are a good range of canoes present this year.

“Each one has a story, including all the brand-new boats that builders just made and all the historic boats that are here,” Kelly said. “They are all special, and they are all wonderful in the water. Paddling a wooden canoe is just not like anything else.”