Native Labradorian Joe Goudie began building canoes in 1996 after a chance encounter with canoe builder Jerry Stelmok of Island Falls Canoe in Atkinson, Maine. Joe grew up around canoes and had helped his father and others build and repair them, so his interest was piqued when Jerry invited Joe to his shop in Maine.
Joe accepted the invitation and travelled to Atkinson where he spent three months learning how to build canoes. He produced two canoes and two forms – templates or moulds used to build canoes – and returned to Labrador to start building his own. In 1997 Joe started the Grand River Canoe Company.
A Chance Encounter
I came home from work one evening, no one around the property but there were seven or eight canoes out in my backyard with a stack of gear as high as that wall there. “What’s going on?” No one had contacted me about storing anything or anything else…
Anyway, I cooked up supper and just finished, watching the news and a bunch of people started coming in the driveway. I think there were ten of them, ten or twelve, all from the U.S., and two of the ten were outfitters and they were looking for a river in Canada, not too far north, where they could spend ten days paddling and bring their guests with them – so it was an exploratory thing. But one of the people in the party was a canoe builder: Jerry Stelmok, Island Falls Canoe in Atkinson, Maine.
They spent the night… and when they were leaving Jerry said, “if you ever want to build a canoe, come down to my shop.” I got thinking about it. The next year I arranged for my holidays to be taken at a certain time, I drove down, and three weeks later I had my first canoe.
I met Joe at his home in Happy Valley on frigid day in February two years ago. After watching the puck drop in the Canada vs. Norway Olympic Hockey Game on TV, we sat down with a cup of coffee and he told about how he ended up with a canoe shop in his backyard. At the time of our interview, Joe was no longer building, but he returned to his craft later that year.
Unlike his father’s canoes which were built for a single trip to his trapline, Joe’s canoes are designed for a commercial market. “He had to build a new canoe every year, as did a lot of other trappers. They used mostly white spruce and covered it with canvas and then painted it.” Using a pitsaw to cut the ribs and planks, Joe’s father would have been working with thicker wood and would have produced a heavier canoe in the end. “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. Whereas I was competing in a market where there are a lot of extremely beautiful canoes built by people both in Canada and the U.S.”
In addition to the fifteen and seventeen foot forms designed by Jerry Stelmok and built by Joe in Maine, the Grand River Canoe Company offers customers two additional designs: a sixteen foot white water canoe and an eighteen foot freighter canoe.
The freighter canoe was designed by Joe with a square stern to accommodate an outboard motor. Deeper than an average canoe, the freighter is made for the rivers of Labrador, but would not be suitable for bigger waters such as Lake Melville, said Joe. Designed to be outfitted with a 9.9 horsepower outboard engine, Joe says that it could accommodate motors up to 25 horsepower but the higher the speed, the greater the risk of damaging the canvas of the hull.
The white water canoe was designed by Joe’s brother Horace, formerly a trapper. It was modeled on canoes once used by Montagnais Innu and trappers, and modified slightly for rougher waters. “The white water canoe has more flare near each end – the gunnels are further out. The theory, and it works, is that when the canoe is working in the rapids, especially with a load, it pushes the water away more. With more modern designs, the gunnels are more upright on the front. It looks beautiful, but doesn’t work quite as well; you could take more water aboard in the rapids.”
In 2012, Grand River Canoe Company was named Cottage Craft Business of the Year and earlier this year Joe was awarded a Lifetime Acheivement Award by the Ulnooweg Development Group.