Down a dusty country road, on a rolling hill overlooking the Otonabee River, sits the Bear Mountain Boats workshop, the workplace and home of Ted Moores. Along with partner, Joan Barrett, Moores has been building fine cedar-strip boats and sharing that expertise with the world for more than 40 years.
The man behind the sawhorses at Bear Mountain Boats
A legend in the paddling community, Moores pioneered woodstrip/epoxy boat building and wrote the canoe-builders bible, Canoecraft, in 1983. It’s become the definitive guide to wood-strip canoe construction, selling more than 300,000 copies worldwide. Canoecraft was rereleased this year in a glossy color, expanded edition—a rarity in such a niche hobby.
Nowadays, Moores spends more time teaching than building, holding workshops for students across North America. He’s had students as young as 11 and old as 87.
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that anyone with the proper attention span can build a boat,” says Moores. “I enjoy sharing the craft with other people and getting them started. I feel honored when people allow us to be a part of their lives.”
People make the memories
After four decades of boat building and more than three decades teaching, Moores says it’s the students, rather than the boats, he remembers most: a pilot due for a second triple bypass who wanted to build a canoe as a keepsake for his daughters; a corrections officer who started building a boat in his office to relieve stress and ended up bonding with his rebellious clients who offered to help; a family that came, three generations at once, to build a boat together.
I met Moores during a filming project last summer. His friendly and forward manner immediately put me at ease. Walking up to shake my hand, he introduced himself by saying, “Hi, I’m Ted Moores. I’ve been building boats for about 40 years and really like it.”
In his workshop, I admired meticulously organized tools and framed articles and photographs on the wall.
Moores’ boats are beautiful. It’s no wonder that, in 1981, former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau presented one of Moores’ canoes to Prince Charles and Lady Diana as a wedding gift.
Starting from square one
Ted built his first canoe in 1972 without any formal woodworking skills. “I wasn’t a paddler, and I wasn’t a woodworker,” he says. That first experience inspired Canoecraft, published after 11 years of refining his craft. “I thought, if I can do it, so can anyone,” says Moores.
The form and function of the canoe is what Moores loves. “A canoe is unique—it has to be adaptable. It’s got to be light enough to carry, seaworthy enough to get across a lake in a blow, and big enough to carry your moose home. It’s beautiful because that design is driven by meeting an objective.”
When not teaching and handling Bear Mountain Boats matters, Moores volunteers with the Canadian Canoe Museum.
“I really enjoy being in this business. Canoes are fun, making stuff is fun and paddling is fun, but I think it’s the people that we’ve met that have been the most rewarding and satisfying,” says Moores. “We didn’t get rich but we have a very rich life.”
“You can’t take it to the bank,” he adds, “but I’ve had good experiences, I gave something back, I had some fun—and I’ve seen a whole lot of beautiful boats.”
Watch Canoe: Icon of the North, featuring Ted Moores:
Jason Eke is a filmmaker and canoe builder. He was inspired by Moores’ Canoecraft to build his own canoes.
The man behind the sawhorses. | Feature photo: Jasmijn Decuyper