It’s mid-April and I turn off Hwy 60 in the heart of Algonquin Provincial Park and begin navigating the deep ruts of the still wintery access road towards the Taylor Statten Camps on Canoe Lake. I’m greeted by Leon Turcotte, the camp’s carpenter. Turcotte invites me down to the canoe shop to see the progress he and Dave Standfield have made on their latest project. Standfield is the camp’s head of maintenance and has been the resident canoe expert for the last 37 years.

Inside The Canoe Shop Rests This 42-Foot-Long Canvas Covered Cedarstrip Canoe

It is the largest canoe of its kind in the world and the Taylor Statten camps own two of them. They are still used by campers as they have been for 90 years as transportation between Camp Ahmek for boys and Camp Wapomeo for girls.

Originally constructed in 1926 by the Peterborough Canoe Company for Taylor Statten I. Back then the canoes cost $450 to build. These monsters of the lake can hold up to 30 paddlers and required a custom canoe form to build.

“Their last restoration was the first year I worked on canoes with Bill Statten. That was in 1979,” explains Dave Standfield. “That was the first restoration for them. The canvas had rotted away and needed to be replaced, but the main inside keel was still intact.”

Although The War Canoes Are Stored Out Of The Elements From September To June, The Summers Can Be Tough On Them

“We need to replace more ribs in the Wapomeo canoe. We’re probably going to end up putting 300 ribs in this one,” explained Dave. With between 500 to 600 ribs per canoe, there’s no shortage of work to complete.

“I’ve been holding the clinching iron from underneath the canoe, it is back-breaking work,” describes Leon. The clinching iron is a five-pound piece of metal used for bending over brass tacks as they are hammered into the cedar planks from above. With approximately ten thousand tacks used per canoe, it’s no easy task.

The First Canoe Restoration Was Finished On July 25, 2016

As I photograph their work, I’m aware the pressure is on for Dave and Leon. They are to have this canoe completed for the beginning of this year’s summer camp season.

The war canoes definitely hold a special place for me,” Dave remarks. “I’ve always got that feeling hanging over my head that I’m trying to get this thing done for the summer. I also say to myself, ‘If it doesn’t get into the lake until later in the summer, well, it’s a small price to pay to know it won’t have to go through this process for a while.’

Mike Last is a professional photographer and digital marketer living in Toronto, ON. 

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