Thomas Gordon – Manufacturer of Canoes


The rib-and-batten canoe, “the canoe of the Canadian” as one of the early builders called it, was the refinement of the original plank canoe, sometimes called the “board canoe.” Tradition has it that the first efforts to build this new canoe took place in 1858. J. S. Stephenson of Ashburnham, across the river from Peterborough, and Thomas Gordon of Lakefield, nine miles up the Otonabee River, are considered most prominent in the early development of the style.

[Thomas Gordon Logo]

By 1883, John Stephenson had sold the assets of his canoe building work to the Ontario Canoe Company under J.Z. Rogers. Thomas Gordon of nearby Lakefield was well established as a leading figure among canoe builders, and employed a small number of hands at his two-storey “factory” there. Most if not all of the canoe builders of Lakefield acquired their knowledge of the trade from him. This includes older men like Capt. Charlie Grylls and Jack Richardson who for a time did business together under the style Grylls & Richardson. It also includes J.G. Brown who established his own canoe shop in Lakefield by 1887. This was the business which later became the Brown Boat Company, well-known during the period for its “Red Feather” boats and canoes.

In 1904 Thomas Gordon amalgamated his business with that of another local firm – Strickland & Co. – established in 1892 by Robert A. Strickland, eldest son of the pioneer settler Sam Strickland. These two old names in Canadian canoe-building vanished into the Lakefield Canoe Co. of later reputation and distinction.