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A Venerable Chestnut

Detail of Chestnut centennial canoe showing the decal of the famous Chestnut Canoe Company. (CSTMC)
The Chestnut Canoe Company, named after its founding family, the Chestnuts of Fredericton, New Brunswick, began operation in 1904. Although the canvas-covered canoe became popular in the market almost half a century after the wooden canoe was first commercially produced in Ontario, as a type it proved to be more commercially resilient to competition from new materials in the latter half of the 20th century. Chestnut canoes remained in production right up until 1978, almost two decades after the demise of the legendary Peterborough Canoe Co.

Detail of Chestnut centennial canoe, 1966. (CSTMC)

In the lead-up to the centennial celebrations of 1967, the Chestnut Canoe Company was commissioned to build 12 voyageur-type, canvas-covered canoes, one for each of the provinces and territories. In 1966, as a promotional event, these canoes travelled from Montreal to New York, following the ancient north-south corridor of rivers and lakes. Each canoe was 26 feet (7.9 m) long and painted to resemble the original birch-bark hulls used by the voyageurs and made famous by the paintings of Frances Hopkins. For the grand centennial canoe pageant in 1967, which retraced the old voyageur route in reverse, from Rocky Mountain House to Montreal, Chestnut was asked to build a second series of these canoes, identical in appearance, but with hulls of fibreglass. The company declined and the latter canoes were fabricated on the same model by Moise Cadorette of St. Jean des Piles, Quebec. The Museum's small watercraft collection includes one of the original Chestnut centennial canvas-covered canoes (680445).