CBC Digital Archives

Paddle making, the old-fashioned way

The need to navigate the waters prompted native North Americans to invent the canoe. Hundreds of years later, their creation has become a favourite Canadian pastime. Many use canoeing as a means of finding tranquility in nature; others take it up as a sport. Some even view it as an art form. The CBC Digital Archives takes a look at the storied history of gliding along the water with paddle in hand.

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You'll never catch Don Meany mass producing canoe paddles. The rugged man from Atikokan, Ont. creates a line of paddles the old-fashioned way: by his own hand and without taking any shortcuts. "If it doesn't work right, forget it. I don't care what's in it. It's of no use to anybody," Meany says. Each model in his line of paddles is named for a famous explorer in Canadian history. In this 1991 report from On The Road Again, Meany shows off the Fraser, the David Thompson and the McGillivray, as well as his beloved Alexander Mackenzie curved paddle. He also recounts his participation in the 1967 Cross Canada Canoe race.
• According to author Jon Nelson, Don Meany started making paddles with his brother Joe in 1964 in the basement of the Rockton Hotel in Atikokan. "Don began making paddles because he was active in canoe racing and thought he could make paddles that were better for racing than what was available," Nelson writes on his website. "Two major innovations in canoe paddle design originated with Don Meany. He was the first to use the 'recurved blade' on a canoe paddle. The blade is curved from side to side in a similar fashion to what is used in kayak paddles. He also experimented with spooned and cupped blades but found that they did not work well. Don also placed a bend at the top of the shaft so that the wrist is in a more natural position when paddling."
Medium: Television
Program: On the Road Again
Broadcast Date: Nov. 12, 1991
Guest(s): Don Meany
Host: Wayne Rostad
Duration: 5:30
This clip was edited for copyright reasons.

Last updated: February 16, 2012

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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