The Journal of Canadian

Wilderness Canoeing

  SUMMER 2004











In this issue

Front Page



Labrador Tragedy

Summer Packet


From the Editor


Back page




Canoelit II


Bark Canoes

The Art and Obsession of Tappan Adney

By John Jennings

Firefly Books, 2004

152 pp   $35

ISBN: 1-55297-733-1

Edwin Tappan Adney is a lynch-pin in the history of the North American birchbark canoe. The talented American, who became a Canadian, almost single handedly preserved the incredibly beautiful and functional bark boats of a bygone era.

This is an extremely attractive and elegant book about Adney along with photos of 110 of his remaining exquisite scale models of an array of perfect bark canoes. John Jennings, a Trent University professor and board member of the Canadian Canoe Museum was granted access to the Adney collection housed in

the Mariner’s Museum in Newport News, Virginia.

The book features a 16-page biography of Adney, but the bulk of the book consists of superb photos by John Pemberton, Mariners Museum photographer. The models took an estimated 20,000 hours of work by Adney over many years. He died nearly penniless in a small cabin in New Brunswick in 1950 at 82.

His story is a heroic one, the classic case of the right man at the right time doing the right things. Born in 1868 in Ohio, Adney led an itinerant life as a journalist, artist and model maker. A trip to New Brunswick, the home of his future wife would launch what truly became a heroic obsession with native bark craft.

Clearly Adney was a genius in his field. After some great experiences in the far west covering the Alaska gold rush in 1900 he spent the rest of his life trying to find a worthy place to buy and house his growing collection of model bark canoes. He chose a 1:5 scale replica since that size still allowed traditional crafting methods of root, spruce and bark to be worked.

Like Van Gogh, he tried to peddle his masterpieces he found no takers. His long association with McGill University who loaned him money and tried to keep his collection makes the school look pretty cheap. And, no doubt, like many brilliant men, Adney was tough to get along with. He and his ailing wife finally quite Montreal and moved to a humble shack where he lived out his days continuing to add and assemble a treasure trove of native knowledge on bark canoes.

It took a chance find by the Mariners’ Museum in 1940 to change his fortunes somewhat. The U.S. institution realized what a find these models were and purchased them, settling Adney’s account at McGill and providing him with some money - most of which he gave away to his native friends.

They also purchased his extensive research papers which were eventually turned into a classic scholarly book by Howard Chappelle who transformed Adney’s voluminous notes into The Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America.

Each of the model photos contains info about the boat and often references to the original full-sized models which are owned by the Canadian Canoe Museum.

It is a well known fact that no one makes money from the canoeing world. It is a love, a passion, that incorporates an esthetic sense, the stir of adventure and the love of history and nature. The reward is in the knowing, the satisfaction of a beautiful craft in a beautiful land. These are the true rewards. Like some bark-clad Lord of the Rinds, Adney held on to his belief and passion in the beauty and history of a craft built by a forest culture. And, thanks to John Jennings, we are all the richer for it.

— Michael Peake

A Canoeist’s Sketchbook

By Robert Kimber

Illustrations by Jerry Stelmock

Countrysport Press, Toronto 2003

202pp, US$14.95

ISBN: 0-89272-654-7

A Canoeist’s Sketchbook is yet another re-issue, being originally published in 1991. I assume they are not doing all these rebirths to make this reviewer feel old, that is the effect however. I recall with

fondness this gentle book from the North Woods of Maine. The new edition has a new watercolour cover artwork in addition to the classic pen and ink sketches by noted canoe builder Jerry Stelmock. These drawings are in the fine, evocative tradition of Francis Lee Jacques and Robert Hines.

Robert Kimber is steeped in the Maine North Woods canoeing tradition. He has

paddled with Garrett and Alexandra Conover as well as Jerry Stelmock.

The 37 short stories/essays cover a breadth of canoeing thoughts and actions - a sort of philosophy of paddling. Though mainly set in Maine, one of the longest stories is an appreciation of the unique QNS&L train which runs from the St Lawrence River to the Labrador plateau– it’s a favourite of the Conovers.

Kimber’s relaxed, gentle and observant style offers insight, hints and humour to like-minded folks who share that common love.

 — Michael Peake

A batch of re-hatched Kevin Callans

Synergies and shakeups in Canadian publishing industry have settled out and the rebranding of many books has begun.

Kevin Callan, the prolific and popular paddler has seen three of his previous books brought out with new titles that are

more fitting to the corporate marketing culture, i.e. not as clever. They are now .part of the series of A Paddler's Guide to ..

Brook Trout and Blackflies has become Algonquin Park; Gone Canoeing is now Weekend Wilderness Adventures; and

somehow Ontario's Lost Canoe Routes kept its title!

The bottom line is they are all superb guide books written by a knowledgeable and entertaining author. All have up-to-date colour maps and are loaded with excellent colour photos.





 Summer 2004         Outfit 117 

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