Archibald and Trixie
I’m currently restoring an old canoe that came from dear friends of mine on Mazinaw Lake, where I spent a good deal of my childhood. I’m not sure of the age of it, but we speculate it’s from the 40’s. I have peeled the canvas off and have removed the gunwhales. It was filled with leaves, pinecones, and sand. So much sand caught between the cedar planks and the old canvas. The boat smells like the lake and I know this because I lived in that lake for many years. My childhood was spent swimming and jumping off the cliffs and spending the better part of a day just floating around in Mazinaw’s waters. Some of this sand is maybe from the 1940’s or 50’s, some of it probably fell in there on its maiden voyage down the lake, maybe down to Bon Echo rock, the boat pulled up on the beach and flipped over in the sand. Maybe some of it found its way in there on the adventure my friend and his buddy took down to the dam when they were kids, close to the nude sunbathers he told me they saw. I can imagine at some point my father has been in it, being a neighbour to this boat. Surely he fished from it or sat in it at sunrise on the lake, where he too spent a great chunk of his life. He probably used it to explore the lake with his friend, following the shoreline looking for frogs, and then falling asleep in the late-afternoon light, across its ribbed bottom with a life jacket as his pillow.
I have a photo of this boat, presumably taken from another canoe. It’s a picture of my friend’s dad, Archibald, with his dog Trixie, paddling down the lake, his body language loose and relaxed. I think I know the point on the lake where the photo is from but it’s hard to tell because so much has changed since the photo was taken. Some of the sand on my workshop floor maybe fell off his paddle or was caught in the paws of the dog while jumping from the shoreline to the boat, and laid to rest in between the ribs and the planks of the canoe. I can get a sense of the weather there. The smell in the air. How that breeze feels coming across the lake.
The old screws I removed, slotted ones, driven by hand by some person who is probably long since passed. The craftmanship of the fitted wood pieces so precise, and installed by hand, with archaic yet perfectly functioning tools. The pencil marks on both sides of the body, an X marking where the shape of the boat starts to work itself to its tips. The bend from the middle to the bow. Its curvature precisely mapped out and marked with pencil. The quality of craftmanship. This thing was built to be rebuilt. Made so that every so many years you could take it apart and replace the canvas, patch the wooden planks that have been damaged, and make it new again, like I’m doing now. The majority of things are not manufactured that way anymore, they’re built to serve us for a couple years, and then discarded when the next model comes along. That idea is now designed into so many things that we buy. This canoe was built to last, and was fixable with simple tools if needed. I think much about this as I work.
I’ve removed multiple layers of paint. Layers of hunter green and carmine red, each one faded to different tones from the summer sun. Every few years I can imagine the boat being flipped upside down, placed upon sawhorses by the lake, and covered with a thick coating of whatever paint was leftover from painting the cottage’s window trims and the boathouse doors. Maybe an old radio buzzing in the background, a coat hanger as its antenna.
There’s a great deal of work left to do. Replacing the gunwhales and the keel. I hope to have these cut by a local sawyer who lives south of here. The seats both need to be rewoven. We will do that ourselves. The thwart needs to be cleaned up and re-installed but seems to be in decent condition. The outside, once I repair a few planks that have been damaged, will be re-canvassed and then filled, and then painted, hopefully to its original colour, if I can decode the nearly illegible serial number stamped on its stem.
I’m trying to be present throughout the whole process. Trying to enjoy the small parts of this canoe that tell large stories. It’s much more to me than the turning of a brass screw, although at the same time it’s not really. Maybe that’s the most important part.
I hope to have this boat for the rest of my life.