You're currently on the U.S. site. Canadian/International customers visit 🇨🇦

History in Every Canoe: Doug Brentnell's Repurposed Wood Craft

A dilapidated church in Saskatchewan, and the source of the repurposed wood for Doug Brentnell's canoe

When Doug Brentnell shared his building story with us, we couldn't resist asking him to write something for our blog. Doug's canoes are rich with history and personal significance, and we were moved by his comparison between canoe building and quilting. Here's the story of how he set out to build a canoe for each of his kids and grandkids using repurposed woods.

Above: The 1910 church that supplied the wood for the trim on one of Doug's canoes.

Hi, it’s Doug Brentnell from Regina. My goal by writing this down is to perhaps inspire more people to build a canoe—many of them, in fact.

My first canoe was built about 15 years ago or so. I thought I was done building, but then my daughter Sarah, the youngest of my four children, turned 40 this year and asked me to build her one. I said yes. The first canoe was built with repurposed wood, so I decided any canoes I build will use repurposed wood from different sources as find them.

About 10 years ago my son was upgrading the siding on his house. The painted green cedar siding dated from around 1960. When I helped him with the project I asked for and kept the siding, which was clear cedar in long lengths. I brought it out of storage to build a Nomad 17 for my daughter. 

A copy of Canoecraft positioned in front of a Nomad 17 stem mold

A woodworker wearing a mask and ear protection prepares to cut canoe strips

I cut and machined the material myself. The siding was hard to work with as it had a  sloped profile and some wear marks, but some of the green was purposefully left on to show its history. This canoe has fir trim board on the side, and the stems were also fir from an air base barrack block in Moose Jaw built for the war. The decks, seat frames, and thwarts as well as the inwales and outwales are made from clear fir baseboards salvaged from a torn-down church that was built in 1910. The suppers are made from a baseboard of darker fir from the same source.

On the front deck of every boat I will make going forward is a sunrise, which is special to me. It is made of fir and contrasting wood from a sign I made for our family in a woodworking class in grade eight. I will be making brass nameplates out of brass from the bottom of old door kick plates. The crow image on my daughter's Nomad 17 has a special meaning to her, so I found out how to print and apply it to the canoe by phoning West System for support. They were great people to ask questions about product, and the help was much appreciated.

I just received my plans for a second boat from Bear Mountain, a Ranger 15 for my daughter Carlie. The materials for this are also repurposed, of course. I bought 2 5/8" x 5 1/2" used cedar that came from a steam engine water tower in southern Saskatchewan built in the early 1900s. I have enough to build another 10 or so canoes, I think.

This all started with my daughter asking me to build her a canoe, but I was inspired by my wife Wanda, who created quilts over the years for our kids and grandkids. My mother also did this but the men never did anything like it, so I'm thinking this is my version of a family quilt but in the form of a canoe. I hope it will be a nice way to be remembered by future generations, and it may inspire them to canoe. It might even inspire them to build one. It truly is and has been a very rewarding thing to do, and I use it as a way to meditate. On each canoe will be mounting a brass compass (reproduction vintage) on the front deck with a flip lid and the engraving "Life is an adventure not a destination."

I have four children and eight grandchildren so will be making canoes for a while for sure. I'll forward pictures of the materials as I go. Just varnishing a canoe now and weaving elk rawhide for the seats next week!

I would like to thank the other canoe makers out there for sharing their photos and videos. The level of work is amazing and I've learned from them. My fibreglass work can only get better, as like most things, workmanship improves by doing. I think if it floats and it makes you smile, it’s a good start. Enjoy the adventure. Just some thoughts from a guy called Doug in his garage on the prairies 🛶😄👍

A crow image about to be applied to canoe

An unfinished canoe build with a bottle of Crown Royal sitting on it

Featherboards holding a canoe strip in place

One side of a partially planked wooden canoe

A fully planked but unfinished canoe hull in a workshop

Related Posts