A craftsman I am not. I’m more of a hammer swinger, accurate to the eighth of an inch. I don’t do cabinets, soldering or anything requiring a router. As such, when I took on the job of re canvasing an old cedar strip canoe it was a risky proposition to say the least.
I spoke at great length with what I can only describe as a “wood guru”. A Dutchman with anal retentive tendencies (if you can believe it) and a penchant for finding just the right piece of wood for the job. Case in point when I asked him to cut me a new deck piece, as the old one had rotted out. For landlubbers, the deck is the triangle at either end of the canoe where the gunnels come together. A simple task this was not, as I found out when he brought me in the new piece a few days later. You see, such was the artistic integrity of this man that he wouldn’t allow me to have a deck piece from just any old hunk of wood, it had to be special. When the Shanty Bay Church purchased a new organ, he asked to have the old one because of the beautiful wood it was made of, and so I now had a piece of the dismantled antique organ for the deck. He said it would give a soul to my canoe. Imagine the vibrations that have flowed through that piece of wood over the years. Hundred year old hymns now traveling through the ribs of the canoe as it makes its way through new waters. Something about that still makes me feel good when I think about it.
The next big problem was to find a big piece of canvas to cover the canoe. I began looking up suppliers on the internet, but the Dutchman said no, he knew a guy who would sell me some. Oh okay, says I. Just tell me where he lives and I’ll go pick it up. No, says the Dutchman. He’s kind of funny and I’ll have to go with you. Ah, says I, now very intrigued.
He picks me up and we begin the drive out to the backwoods of wherever, going to meet the canvas guy, the Dutchman coaching me as we go. “You can’t just walk in there and ask for the canvas,” he cautions me. “He doesn’t work like that.” Okay, this is going to get weird. I’m driving with one eccentric who talks to wood going to meet an even stranger one. Where do these guys find each other? I’m thinking about how I’m going to convince this guy I’m worthy of his canvas. A gift, I should have brought a gift.
We pull into his place, driving slowly to avoid the meandering groups of chickens and ducks that seem to be everywhere. An old dog greets us as we get out. The property is littered with husks of old boats, ancient looking farm machinery and various wood pieces that could be art or old furniture, hiding amongst the overgrown weeds. There is a pond with several small boats and an old dock. The shop itself is a log cabin with mossy cedar shakes on the roof. I follow the Dutchman in and we make our way through the clutter of half-finished pieces of furniture, paint cans, tools and machinery. Jack himself is at the very back, working on something. He and the Dutchman exchange greetings and he introduces me. So far so good.
There are two canoes on work tables, in different states of repair, but neither Jack nor the Dutchman mentions them. They are talking about gardening. “Come out and look at my corn” he says.
We follow him out and begin a tour through the massive vegetable garden behind the shop. It looks like all the plants are on steroids, growing this way and that, one row meshing into another. It’s very ramshackle with only a cursory semblance of order. He begins picking peppers off the vine and handing them to us. “Try this; they’re really good this year”. We try them, and they are. He pulls up a mysterious looking white root vegetable. “Look at that. You put that in a stir fry.” A plastic bag materializes from somewhere and he drops it in. He hands me the bag and as we wander through the rows, he begins to pick vegetables for us, loading us up. It’s like Halloween for vegans.
By the time the garden tour ends the Dutchman and I each have a full bag or organic produce. We walk past his rustic house which is as eclectic as everything else on the property. You wouldn’t think plank siding and stained glass would work together but somehow he made it look good. Right beside the house is a raised square wooden structure about three feet high with a fountain at one end. “These are my koi.” The fish are huge. I almost ask why he doesn’t keep them in the real pond but that’s maybe better left alone right now. I’m curious about the koi, because at this point I didn’t have my pond so we chat for a while on fish keeping. Eventually we meander back to the workshop, meeting and greeting several cats along the way.
Just inside the door of the workshop is a set of dressers that he has recently salvaged from the roadside. “Neighbour left these out. That wood is cherry. Couldn’t just let it go to waste.” Indeed. I appreciate a good roadside score, so I’m warming to this guy.
We make our way to the back of the shop and finally start talking canoes. It’s very evident that the Dutchman and Jack are way out of my league when it comes to boat building talk. I’m listening for tips without trying to appear too much of a moron. Kind of like standing around at a surgeon’s convention and blurting out that you are going to try and do your own appendectomy. My fears are put to rest as the two of them are very helpful, walking me through the procedure for when I’m home alone with the canoe. The Dutchman explains what I need in the canvas department and we help Jack pull down an enormous roll of the stuff.
“You’ll need some proper canvas primer too” Jack says. Okay, so where do I get that?
“You have to order it from California” says Jack. “Takes about six weeks to ship.”
Jack starts rummaging through the stacks of paint cans and comes up with half a gallon of the coveted marine primer. He throws it in with the canvas for an extra twenty bucks. The deal concluded, we drive home with the canvas, the veggies, and for me, an appreciation for how to do business in the slow lane.