Saturday, June 17, 2006

A Gift from the Past

Sometimes the receipt of an item that had belonged to a relative will give you an emotional hit that is unexpected. This is what happened to the Kerfoot family this week. When Bruce's mother Justine passed away, one of the items left in her garage was an Old Town canoe. Mom had owned the canoe forever. One of her unfinished tasks was to recanvas it. The new roll of canvas was sitting in the canoe.

We all hemmed and hawed about what to do with the canoe. It was in terrible condition but we didn't want to trash it. Even Bruce was somewhat daunted by the restoration project. After a couple of years, Robert got moving. He found a woman in Ely who did canoe restoration and contacted her. It turned out that Jeanne Bourquin is one of the top old boat restorers in the country. They talked. A deal was struck and she picked up the canoe.

Last week Lee received word that the canoe was done. Jeanne would be bringing it to Grand Marais for the Wooden Boat Festival. Today Bruce and I went down to bring the canoe home. We had quite a time finding Jeanne since we had never met her and had no idea what she looked like. We went to her motel and got a general description. Finally I approached a woman who seemed about right and said, "Excuse me but are you Jean Bourquin?" She nodded yes.

Bruce and she quickly took off for the motel in our small Ranger pickup to load the canoe. It seemed to take forever. When he returned the canoe was sheathed in a canvas sack. I had to take his word that it was wonderful.

Immediately upon getting home, we called Lee to come down. As Lee and Bruce removed the canvas, this fire engine red canoe emerged. It is perfect! The inside looks brand new. The cane seats are solid and ready to take a paddlers' weight. No detail was overlooked. The slot of every screw is lined up the same way. A little later Eva was able to come down and breath in the magic of the canoe.

Jeanne had even researched the origins of the canoe with Old Town Canoe Company. They keep exact records of all their boats. Canoe #102497 was sold to Mom in 1929. It was the same year she and Grandma Spunner bought the lodge.

But the emotional impact of this canoe came from all the memories it brought back. Mom told me that the Native Americans across the lake taught her the "J" stroke. She paddled back and forth in front of the lodge until she mastered the stroke. Decades later I watched one day as she and her great friend, Charlotte Merrick, paddle into the current and up Little Rock Rapids on the north side of Magnetic Lake. Then there was the filming of "Lady of the Gunflint Trail." At 72 Mom portaged and paddle this canoe in the film.

We only know a small fraction of the tales this canoe could tell but it was wonderful to welcome it home.

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