16 foot Canoe From a Thomas Gordon Canoe Company Form Length: 4 metres 88 centimetres (16 feet) Beam: 79 centimetres (31 inches) Depth: 32 centimetres (12.5 inches) Weight: 35 kilograms (77 pounds)
The elegant shape of this canoe arises from a very old builder’s form originally developed by the Thomas Gordon Canoe Company in Lakefield, ON. Long-time museum supporter John Jennings commissioned this canoe from Walter in the same year that Walter made HRH Prince Andrew’s canoe using the same form and has loaned it for this exhibit. Note that, as with most of the canoes he made in the latter decades, his signature and date of manufacture were inscribed on the underside of the butternut forward deck.
Canoe Model and Builder’s Form
Length: 66 centimetres (26 inches) Beam: 10 centimtres (3.75 inches) Depth: 6 centimtres (2.25 inches) Weight: 227 grams (.5 a pound)
One cannot help but be struck by Walter’s uncompromising craftsmanship. This canoe model and miniature builder’s form are exact duplicates of the construction methods and materials of Walter’s full-sized canoes. The canoe planking has even been tapered and ship-lapped as with a standard longitudinal strip canoe. This wonderful model and builder’s form are cherished by his widow Maxine Walker, and have been generously loaned to The Canadian Canoe Museum for this exhibit.
Walter’s Basement Workshop
Length: 3 metres 84 centimetres (12 feet 7 inches) Beam: 61 centimetres (24 inches) Depth: 33 centimetres (13 inches) Weight: 50 kilograms (110 pounds) Donor: Walter Walker and the Walker family
Before his death, Walter made it known that his tools, patterns and equipment should be donated to The Canadian Canoe Museum. His workshop was situated in the basement of his century home in Lakefield and was known for being a confined and cramped work area. As with the careers of most long-established craftsmen, decades in practice result in the accumulation and refinement of precious patterns. One of Walter’s outstanding talents was the ability to recognize and preserve excellent design and many of his patterns date back almost 70 years. Some, such as the distinctive Lakefield canoe paddle pattern reinforced with a strip of iron down the shaft, date to the late-19th century.
Here we have arranged a portion of his workshop equipment and patterns to suggest his private operation. On the 13½ foot builder’s form, a sample of the various layers that go into building a longitudinal strip canoe have been arranged to show how these craft are constructed from the inside out. As the builder planks up a canoe or boat, a leather strap and drift are used to tighten the plank seams before fastening with copper nails. While this step would normally be assisted by another builder or apprentice, Walter extended the reach of the strap so that he could work alone.
See a video of Walter working in his basement workshop.
Canoe Builder’s Chest
Length: 94 centimetres (3 feet 1 inch) Width: 51 centimetres (20 inches) Depth: 46 centimetres (18 inches) Weight: 17 kilograms (38 pounds) Donor: Walter Walker and the Walker family
It was typical for new workers at The Peterborough Canoe Company to make their own chest for the safe storage of their tools. Despite its battered appearance this is a fine piece of craftsmanship. The toolbox, found in Walter’s workshop after his death, shows careful workmanship in its subtly raised panels and through-tenon construction in its frame and panel components. These techniques may reflect Walter’s brief stint working in a furniture factory. Among the materials found in the tool chest is Walter’s Record of Employment from The Peterborough Canoe Company dated July 1st, 1941 as well as a notebook that records the piecework duties (such as ribbing, framing and finishing) he had performed on various canoes.
See a close-up of Walter Walker’s original Record of Employment for the Peterborough Canoe Company here.
This short video, shot around 1950, gives us a rare and often playful glimpse into the working practices and culture at the Peterborough Canoe Company. By this time the company also made small boats, dinghies and runabouts as well as canoes. While several staff ham it up for the camera, be sure to watch carefully for a brief glimpse of Walter as he sets a blistering pace with his hammer. In this stage, Walter is setting or tightening the nails in a boat’s planking while a co-worker backs the clinched nails from the inside in perfect unison using a steel weight called a clinching iron.
15 ½ foot Canoe and Builder’s Form
Length: 4 metres 73 centimetres (15 feet 6 inches) Beam: 82 centimetres (32 inches) Depth: 30 centimetres (12 inches) Weight: 34 kilograms (75 pounds) Donor: Walter Walker and the Walker family
This arrangement is a portrayal of the “beauty and the beast” relationship of a canoe and its builder’s form. The snub ends of this Lakefield Canoe Company form are cut back to allow for the installation of the curved stems of the canoe. These are bent separately and installed during assembly. The lugs along the form’s sides ensure the even spacing of the steam-bent ribs prior to planking the hull.
30 foot “C-15 War Canoe” Builder’s Form
Length: 9 metres 15 centimetres (30 feet) Beam: 94 centimetres (37 inches) Depth: 51 centimetres (32 inches) Weight: 154 kilograms (340 pounds) Donor: Walter Walker
This impressive builder’s form, attributed to The Peterborough Canoe Company, is used for building large racing hulls popular with canoe clubs. Note that the residual marks left by the installation of the canoe’s ribs are spaced farther apart than with the other builder’s forms on display. These large canoes were typically made using the antiquated “wide-board flush-batten” method which produced a lighter hull suitable for competition.
The wonderful photographs arranged along the form’s spine were taken by amateur canoe researcher Donald Cameron in the 1970s and show Walter working on various canoes at Peel Marine. These photos are from The Canadian Canoe Museum’s archives.
13 1/2 foot “Pioneer” Model Longitudinal Strip Canoe
Length: 4 metres 12 centimetres (13 feet 6 inches) Beam: 72 centimetres (29 inches) Depth: 29 centimetres (11.5 inches) Weight: 26 kilograms (57 pounds)
Walter Walker built this canoe in the late 1990s as a gift to The Canadian Canoe Museum for its fundraising efforts. The fortunate winner of the raffle campaign, Trisha Jackson, has graciously loaned the canoe back to the museum for exhibition. The builder’s form used to make this canoe was originally made by the Lakefield Canoe Company and is featured in this exhibit’s recreation of Walter’s basement workshop.