“I can’t remember not using them,” said Joe about canoes, “either being a little passenger in them or paddling them myself.” Born in 1939 into a family of trappers in Mud Lake, Labrador, Joseph Goudie grew up around canoes. His father, Jim, and brother, Horace, would paddle for five weeks each fall to reach their trap line. Leaving the canoe behind, they would snowshoe for twenty-two days home to Mud Lake, towing a toboggan of pelts.
“He had to build a canoe every year, as did a lot of other trappers,” said Joe, “They used mostly white spruce and covered it with canvas and then painted it… They were probably not as fussy as I am because it was only going to be one trip right? Paddle it in the country and leave it.”
In 1941, Jim and his wife Elizabeth moved their family to Happy Valley-Goose Bay. With a decline in the fur trade industry, Jim found work building the Goose Air Base and continued to work as a carpenter once the base was constructed.
Joe attended the first school in Happy Valley, completed high school and went on to postsecondary education. His varied career included working as a broadcaster with CBC, sitting in NL House of Assembly and working for the Department of National Defence.
Joe’s Ferry Service
“I guess you could say I operated a ferry service here for one summer. We lived right out here on the bank, just behind where this house is now, and there was a canoe there. There was no road there, no Hamilton River Road, just here in town and it didn’t even have a name then.
So if you came down from the base or you were going to base, you have to get across this creek out here and walk up Birch Island up as far as the boat club, it used to be called. Then there was a road down to the river from the base. That was about five kilometres or more.
We’d get visitors, some of the military guys on their days off would be down around town… I’d be out on the bank here watching and see them show up on the island. If there was no other canoe there, I’d paddle across and paddle them back for twenty-five cents a person…
I made big bucks when I was ten or twelve years old. When you consider at the time, you could go to the Astro Theatre on the ‘Canadian side’ we called it (the ‘north side’ they call it now) and for twenty five cents you could see a movie, buy a coke and a little paper plate full of chips and gravy. Man, what a treat for twenty-five cents! Of course, you had to walk there six or seven miles to get it, but hey, we were running all over the country anyways.”
“Before the base came, we lived by the season. A lot of fish in the summer, meat in the fall, and so on,” Joe said. “When I was growing up, if you got aboard a canoe and paddled for fifteen minutes you would be out in what would refer to as the wilderness – you were out in the country,” he described. “We hunted ducks and geese from the canoe in the spring and used them for trapping until freeze up.”
In the spring, migratory birds would arrive on Grand River (also known as Churchill River or Mishtashipu) before the ice had broken up, so hunters would paint their canoes white, dress in white, and put a white “fly” in front of them across the gunnels of the canoe to camouflage themselves.
“That one on the right, the short white one,” said Joe pointing to a paddle hung in his shop, “that’s used for duck hunting.” Joe explains that in order to get to the ducks, they had to have a paddle that was short enough that your hand wouldn’t reach up over the fly and silent enough that it would not startle them. “That’s why the wool is on her, so if she touched the gunnels it wouldn’t make any noise.”
Joe learned how to build canoes in 1996 and started the Grand River Canoe Company the following year. “This was more of hobby for me than a business. It was a business, I made them commercially, and they were a custom build, but it was also a hobby.” After taking a break from building for almost three years, Joe returned to his craft in 2014.
Read more about Joe Goudie’s canoes in our next post.