Chestnut Canoe Company

Years in Business: 
late 1890s - early 1979
Company History: 

The Chestnut family started marketing canvas canoes in the late 1890s in Fredericton, New Brunswick. The early Chestnut canoes were modelled after a canoe built by B.N. Morris, and indeed, these early canoes clearly show the influence of Morris canoes. Chestnut incorporated in 1907 as the Chestnut Canoe Company, Limited. The Chestnut factory burned down in December of 1921, and was quickly rebuilt. 

Chestnut Canoe Company and Peterborough Canoe Company merged under the holding company Canadian Watercraft Limited. Canadian Canoe Company joined them in 1927. All three companies continued to maintain there own identity after the merger, and marketed nearly identical lines of canvas canoes. It is often said that Chestnut was responsible for the canvas canoe production for all three companies. While canoes built in one factory were often given a decal for one of the others, for the most part, evidence indicates that each company was responsible for the production of most of its own canoes. Models that are otherwise the same in the catalogs show subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) differences in hull shape, rib patterns, sheer lines, tumblehome, and the shaping of trim parts. 

The company left Fredericton and moved to a new factory in Oromocto, New Brunswick in 1974.

Chestnut shipped its last canoes in early 1979, then closed. Most of the Chestnut molds survive, and are being used in several wooden canoe shops in Canada. For more details about the history of the Chestnut Canoe Company, see Roger MacGregor’s book When the Chestnut was in Flower.

Identifying Features: 

Canoes built 1904-1921

  • Heart Shaped Decks: The decks are finely shaped, have signicant crown and are sharpely undercut beneath the lobes of the heart.
  • Stem-head Unshaped: The last 1 ½” or so of the stem is left full width rather than being bevelled. The sheer plank is trimmed to fit around the stem-head.
  • Cant Ribs: Cant ribs in pre-fire canoes are the same width as the regular ribs. In post-fire canoes, the cant ribs are much wider than the regular ribs.
  • Tapered Inwales: The inwales are tapered in their length moreso than post-fire canoes.

Canoes built 1922-1979

  • Inwales: not tapered.
  • Cant Ribs: cant ribs are wider (3″ approx.) than regular ribs.
  • Decks: usually shallow semi-circular cut-out.
Decal Photos: 
Chestnut deck decal - Oromocto
Serial Numbering: 

Highly variable. Most Chestnut canoes are not marked with serial numbers. Those that are may have five-digit numbers or a number starting with the letter “C”. Without accompanying paperwork that provides information about shipping, it is not possible to date Chestnut canoes using the serial number. Unlike Peterborough Canoe Company and Canadian Canoe Company, Chestnut never marked a model number on their canoes.

Models Offered: 
  • Pleasure Models: These are the general purpose recreational canoes offered by Chestnut. These are excellent paddling canoes, and are the most commonly found models of Chestnut canoes. The 16′ Pal is perhaps the most famous of the lot, but the 15′ Twozer/Gooseberry/Chum is a current favorite among solo paddlers.
  • Lightweight Pleasure Canoes: Built lighter than standard models. Includes the 11′ Featherweight and 15′ 50-pound Special (commonly known as Bobs Special).
  • Prospector Models: These are deeper and beamier than pleasure models of equivelant length. Meant to carry lots of gear for extended trips, there is a lot of canoe packed into a Prospector. Bill Mason’s hype about the Prospector aside, it is a fantastic canoe, and is perhaps the model most widely copied by modern day composite canoe builders. Prospector models were available in both double-ended and transom-sterned models.
  • Trappers Canoes: This is a loose grouping of smaller canoes that changed over the years. This class also includes lower grade pleasure canoes and the Bantam, which is a 2nd grade version of Bobs Special
  • Cruisers Canoes: Designed to go fast, these models are narrower, more rounded across the bottom and have finer lines than other models. The Guides Special models are Cruisers that have close-ribbing.
  • Freight Canoes: If the Prospector can be considered the pick-up truck of the North, the Freighters are the semi-trucks. Bigger and beamier, they have great carrying capacity. Available in both double-ended and transom-sterned configurations.
  • Ogilvy Specials: Named after famous guides of New Brunswick, these models are designed for shallow, fast water canoeing, like that found on the famous salmon rivers of New Brunswick.
References: 
  • MacGregor, Roger. When the Chestnut was in Flower: Inside the Chestnut Canoe. Plumsweep Press. 1999.
  • Solway, Kenneth. The Story of the Chestnut Canoe: 150 Years of Canadian Canoe Building. Nimbus Publishing. 1997.