Chestnut Canoe Co.
Fredericton, New Brunswick
[Chestnut Canoe Co. Logo]
Of the canvas-covered canoes, none has had such lasting renown in Canada as the Chestnut canoe. The Chestnut canoe was not made of chestnut wood, as even experienced observers have thought, nor named for the familiar shade tree. It took its name instead from the Chestnut family of Fredericton, N.B. which made its name in the 19th century in hardware and sporting goods under the name R. Chestnut & Sons.
Two brothers were responsible for the emergence of the Chestnut canoe shortly after the turn of the twentieth century. William and Harry Chestnut were born in Fredericton in 1867 and 1873 respectively. Their father Henry was an older gentleman from the era of the mid-1830s and was sixty-nine in 1904 when the family first organized the building of canvas-covered canoes in the woodworking factory of J.C. Risteen Co. on Queen Street in Fredericton. The Chestnut canoe caught the incoming tide of public interest in canvas-covered canoes (as opposed to the all-wood canoes of companies like Wm. English, Walter Dean, H.L. Bastien and Peterborough Canoe Co.). The canoe-building business of R. Chestnut & Sons stayed only briefly in the Risteen factory. In 1905, it moved around the corner to a vacant sash-and-door factory formerly operated by Tabor & O’Neill. There the first Chestnut canoes were built under a sign bearing the business name “R. Chestnut & Sons” in a bold script. Business prospered, prompting the Chestnuts to establish a separate firm in 1907 for the manufacture of canoes – henceforth known as the Chestnut Canoe Co. Ltd. Henry Chestnut – the father – was its first President. Harry, who ran the business, was called the Secretary. A fine four-storey factory of red brick was constructed that same year. Fire destroyed it in 1921 but it was rebuilt at once and is still standing. It was this structure on York Street that most people who remember the Chestnut canoe would call its home.
When they went into the canoe business in 1904, the Chestnut brothers looked far and wide to see what was already being built in the canvas-covered line. They seemed especially attracted by the canoes made in the State of Maine, and indeed, the development of the Chestnut canoe generally was greatly influenced by the work of canoe builders in the neighbouring state.
The Chestnut Canoe Company remained in its landmark factory until 1973 when a need for space and greater efficiency in production dictated a move to a new single-storey plant twelve miles away in Oromocto. The company was sold in 1977, but it soon became clear that the new owners did not see a long future for themselves in the canoe business. In 1978, Lock-Wood Ltd. of Moncton, N.B., the last owners of the Chestnut Canoe Co. Ltd., suspended production and closed the plant for good. “It just wasn’t worth it,” was the final benediction.