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Vintage canoe research project.

Dialogue with others about this project.

In researching the history of this canoe, I have had the opportunity to come into contact with some very knowledgeable individuals. It is mostly through their interventions that I have been able to make as much progress as I have. In addition, other people with an interest in this specific canoe or in the era in general have contacted me. Such is the wonder and benefit of the Internet in conducting research.

What follows are some edited communications with various people who have become involved in this research project. Where possible, I have provided links to their personal or business websites where additional information may be found about wooden canoes, their history, their construction and their restoration. The chronological dialogue will also assist in the reader understanding how this research project progressed since its initiation. I also have included information on books and other sources of information I found relevant.

NOTE: This is a long page and has been broken into several sections as follows:


Phase I of the research - Early 2005.

In February 2005, while doing some initial Internet research on the subject of old canoes, I came across the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association Ltd.. and its forums. This proved to be a gold mine of information as well as a link to many very knowledgeable individuals. I joined the organization and posted the following message in the Research and History section of the forums under the title Decked sailing canoe research:

I have inherited from my father-in-law's estate a wood sailing canoe which I believe to be from the 1930s or 1940s. The construction is all wood. The bow and stern are covered and include an opening for a mast. The canoe does not have any seats. The key dimensions are: length 15.4 feet; beam 33 inches; forward mast position from bow 42 inches; mast 80 inches tall; boom 8 feet. The sail is shaped more like a mizzen or a reversed bailey (bafter). I am doing lots of web searches, but have not found anything exactly like it. I have pictures attached. Any assistance you can offer would be appreciated.

The pictures I added to the posting are numbers 4, 5, 7 and 12 in the photos gallery for this project.

The following day, I received a response from one of the forum's frequent contributors. As it turns out, I had found his website during my initial Internet searching and had spent some time on it.

The flush batten seam construction leads me to believe your canoe is of Canadian origin. See this thread: for some more information about similarly constructed canoes. Many Canadian builders offered sailing canoes with a variety of deck configurations.


Daniel Miller
Dragonfly Canoe Works (
No. Greenbush, NY

A few days later, I responded to Dan's posting:

2005-03-07: Dan:
Many thanks for your quick reply. I have been to your website several times in my research journey, especially the wood canoe identification guide. Do you have any idea where a serial number might be on this type of canoe? I see it often suggested the inboard bow stem is a good location, which in my case would mean a crawl under the decking with a flashlight. As the canoe is stored in someone else's garage and cannot be accessed for a while I wanted to compile a list of possible locations before getting it out of storage again. I have been going through some old pictures and found photos from 1941. These seem to indicate the original rigging may have been modified. The enclosed photos show additional foredeck trim and the original sterndeck shape.

The pictures I added to the posting are the first three in the photos gallery for this project.



Phase II of the research - Using family connections - March 2005.

Since my father-in law's younger brother David was working on a family history, I began communicating with him to see what information he might have or could dig up.

Sorry but I don't know anything about how Art got the canoe. It just seems to me that he always had it since I was quite young. I do remember he and Cecilia setting out from our cottage for their honeymoon trip to Beausoliel Island. There were some waves on the lake and I had never experienced someone going out in a boat and not coming back before it got dark. I do have some pictures with various occupants in the boat if you're interested. I do know that it was kept in a boathouse near the mouth of the Humber when not at the cottage. May be it was somebody there who was the original owner. The boathouse is long gone, the Gardner Expressway now crosses the river where it stood. Sorry I couldn't help you more but if anything does occur to me I'll get back to you.

I responded later the same day:

Thanks for these insights. They all help with putting together a picture of the circumstances under which it was used.

I would most definitely be interested in any pictures you might have of the boat, most especially with the sails deployed. That is a characteristic that would be most helpful in the search to identify the manufacturer. I do not have any pictures with the sails unfurled.

Thanks for the prompt reply. Look forward to continuing the dialogue.

The following day, some fascinating pictures were forwarded and are now part of the photos gallery for this project. Unfortunately, he told me "I don't have any with the sails unfurled but I'm sending these along any way for interest. They were all taken at the cottage probably with an old box brownie so they're not too sharp."

At this point, I took a break from the research project. I was not able to readily access the canoe to search for additional features and identifying marks.



Phase III of the research - Picking up where I left off - August 2006.

During the summer of 2006, the canoe was moved from is storage place to our home. This provided easy access to the craft to take measurements and photos. One day in August 2006, my wife and I spent some time cleaning the dust and dirt from the outside and inside of the canoe. This lead to some unexpected revelations.

I renewed my dialogue on the WCHA forum and also started looking through other postings to get a better understanding of the era in which these canoes were made.

I now have the canoe in my possession and can probe it in more detail. I am pretty sure it is a Walter Dean model manufactured in the 1920s or early 1930s. My wife found the purchase receipt from July 5, 1937 when her father bought it from the original owner in Toronto, Ontario. It is made of mahogany (I am fairly sure) and uses brass screws, tacks, battens and bow/stern protectors. It last saw water in 1976.

I love old, useful items (like woodworking tools) and would love to try getting this craft ready for use once again. Does anyone have recommendations for books or websites to get me started? I don't want to proceed to refinish the canoe without some idea of what I should do. I am hoping more modern finishes will hold better than the varnish now on it (but peeling and blistering). Thanks in advance.

Canoeing and sailing: separate and together.

The next day a new contributor joined the discussion thread -- Andre Cloutier -- who described himself as "an eventual canoe sailer." Andre said:

Wow, that is a great boat and its always nice to have its history - I only wish I had some photos and history on the boat I collected! Years ago during one of its former incarnations I was at the canoe museum and was going through some of the archives; I remember there was some great obscure material on Walter Dean, but I'm sure Dick Persson would know better what they have that might give some further info on your boat.

The reference to Dick Persson was to prove to be a great lead. Before I heard from Dick, I created this website and posted a message informing the forum members that I had done so. On the way back from a trip to Toronto my wife and I stopped at the Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough, Ontario. I updated the forum on the result of my conversation with one of the staff at the Museum, Jeremy Ward, the Public Programming Supervisor:

I visited the Canadian Canoe Museum last week and the fellow I spoke to for about 45 minutes also believes it is a Walter Dean canoe, but there are some puzzling inconsistencies which need to be researched further.

This led to the first post from a very knowledgeable individual named Dick Persson, a canoe builder and restorer located in Buckhorn, Ontario, Canada. He told me:

2006-09-16: Dear David,
Almost everything points to Walter Dean; the torpedo stems, the metallic joint batten, rib spacing, workmanship and material selection. The details not fitting are the burned in markings and the decking, but the decks might be a special order detail.

Did you include the outside gunnels in the beam measurement? Beam measurements should be taken to outside of the planking at the hulls widest point, not including the outside gunnels. If so measuring without the gunnels should give you a beam of 30 inches or so which fits well with Dean’s 15 1/2 foot model

By the way the planking on your canoe is not basswood it is most likely Red cedar or maybe Spanish cedar. Dean also built luxury versions of his models in Mahogany.

It is hard to get much from the photo of the burned in markings, have you been able to decode any letters beside “builders”?

There was a handful of other small builders around Humber Bay, Toronto; O.L. Hicks. Hicks & Son, H.F. Hodson (W. Deans mentor and employer for 7 years), Aykroyd & Sons, Robert Maw and others.

Some of those builders are known to have copied W. Dean, but I am not sure if any of those will fit in this case.

Dick Persson
Headwater Wooden Boat Shop

I did not waste any time responding to this information. Later the same day, I said:

Many thanks for your post. From what I can make of the letters on the brand, HICKS & SON (singular, not plural) would fit the lettering pattern in my photo. Since my father-in-law's family lived near High Park, Toronto and used the Sunnyside Beach and Humber River as regular haunts, it would seem natural that they could have seen Hicks crafts.

As to the builders brand mark, no, I cannot make out anything of the names. The photo on my website has been enhanced through Photoshop as best as I can. Maybe if I could use some of that great CSI-type computer magic I might be able to get more information.

In reference to the beam measurement, I just went outside and unwrapped the canoe to measure again. Yes, I did include the gunnels when I measured. The new measurement would be 31 inches as the gunnels are exactly one inch wide. (As I note on my website, there have been some modifications made to the gunnels area - however, I believe it was to eliminate the inboard portion. The historical pictures are not exceedingly sharp, but there does seem to be a wider gunnel. No matter, the beam is 31 inches at the midpoint (where the brand marks are on each side).)

Do you or anyone else have any leads on where I might find out about H.L. Hicks? Do you know around what time period he manufactured boats?

I really appreciate all the assistance you *all* have been offering me in this quest. I am more hopeful of tracing the history of this craft than I have ever been.

The next day, Dick provided more information:

2006-09-17: David,
During the heyday of canoeing in Toronto, 1890’s to 1920’s the City directory shows 19 canoe and boat builders, many of them also operating sizeable livery operations. Most of them around the base of York Street, but Walter Dean’s success at Sunnyside Beach and Humber had encouraged many of them to centre there as well.

Octavius L. Hicks had established his boatbuilding business and livery operations there already in the late 1870’s. Octavius Hicks was a man of many talents and owned or was involved in many enterprises; commercial fishing fleet, road and bridge contracting business, brick yards, Humber Steam Ferry Company and for awhile the Royal Oak Hotel at Humber Bay. His son William J. Hicks was early on running the boat and livery business and stayed in that business all his life, still operating in the mid 1950’s.

However, very few boats and canoes were built by the Hicks after WWI, who instead concentrated on the boat livery aspect of the business, and often purchased his rental boats from other builders. However, I doubt that this is a Hicks built canoe as I have found no proof of them ever building a metallic joint canoe. It is possible that your canoe might have been a rental canoe in the Hicks fleet built by Walter Dean, thus the brand mark possibly saying Hicks & Son.

Dick Persson
Headwater Wooden Boat Shop

While all of this discussion was transpiring, I was reading, and enjoying immensely, a recent book on the history of the canoe by John Jennings. It is called: The Canoe, A Living Tradition and published by Firefly Books. What caught my eye in particular was a small section dealing with the type of canoe I was researching.

The Metallic Batten Canoe
During this period, the Gordon Canoe Co. in Lakefield had been growing in a similar fashion. Anchored in the dugout tradition, Gordon continued to explore the possibilities of the board-and-batten canoe. The problem of the wide planks shrinking was addressed (but not eliminated) by using narrower planks. While this helped to cure one problem, it created others. More planks also meant more joints to be backed up with seam battens, each joint between batten and rib taking time to fit and providing more potential places to leak. Gordon knew that Stephenson was on to something with the machined edge that created an unbroken seal between the planks from bow to stern. But he was still thinking along the lines of covering up the joint rather than fitting one part of a plank into a space in another when he started using metallic battens, the next step in the evolution of the wide-board canoe. The Lakefield Canoe Company claimed to have used this method prior to 1880.

The metallic batten was a channel of light metal, either galvanized steel or brass, that resembled a long row of short-legged staples. The channel straddled the joint between the two planks on the inside of the hull, with one leg embedded in each plank, held in place by friction and the ribs.

Building a wide-board canoe using the metallic batten began with the usual keelson, stems and ribs. While the metallic batten would back up the joint, allow for expansion and keep the water out, it would not support the plank edges between the traditional six-inch rib spacing. Without the support provided by the raised batten, the span would eventually need to be reduced. As Stephenson had done with the cedar-rib, Gordon simply added two extra ribs between the old rib positions on his wide-board form. This increased the number of ribs without having to change the form.

To install the plank, a slit about one-sixteenth of an inch deep was cut parallel to the edge of the plank with a cutting gauge (similar to a marking gauge) and one leg of the batten was carefully pressed into it. The plank was then nailed to the ribs and stems. The next plank, with the slit cut in the edge, was pressed over the other leg of the batten and the plank nailed into position. This is much easier said than done, considering that the plank, which was under a great deal of tension from being bent in two directions at once, had to be fit up to the last plank then pressed straight down over the leg of the batten without bending it over or breaking off the edge of the plank.

Incredibly beautiful canoes were built using this technique, none finer than the Sunnyside Cruiser built by Walter Dean in Toronto. Dean combined Spanish cedar planking with brass battens and lots of varnish to take this method to the extreme. He opened his boat shop at Sunnyside Beach in Toronto in 1888 when he was nineteen. A very inventive builder and mechanic, he had a great imagination and an eye for beauty. He became known for his exquisite paddling and sailing canoes that populated the Toronto Islands and Sunnyside Beach.

The Canoe: A Living Tradition, John Jennings, Firefly Books, pp. 174-176

The book also gave an insight to the addition of sails to a canoe in this passage:

The desire to get out of the cities and away from the comforts and conventions of civilized life was not peculiar to North America. Nor was the interest in doing so in a small boat. On a sort of Grand Tour in reverse in 1859, a Scot named John MacGregor sampled several Native boat types in Upper Canada and the north, paddling a birchbark canoe, a dugout and a kayak. When he returned to Britain, he had a boatbuilder there build him a small boat of the general form and size of a small kayak, but with European plank-on-frame construction. MacGregor had a double-bladed paddle made to go with it, as he had seen in the Arctic, but he added a tiny lug-sail and jib, which had not been used there. The sails were only intended as auxiliary power. There was no center-board or leeboard, and MacGregor used his paddle as a rudder. The size of Rob Roy, named after the original of the character in Sir Walter Scott's novels and an ancestor of MacGregor's, was determined by the maximum size allowed on German railway carriages, for MacGregor proposed a European cruise using trains to travel between watersheds. Rob Roy was fifteen feet long, had a beam of twenty-eight inches, was nine inches deep and weighed eighty pounds.

Ibid, p 200. (Emphasis added.)

Dick Persson continued to provide invaluable information through his postings. I followed up on his information about Hicks with the following:

2006-10-03: Dick:
Again, thanks for the additional information. This is really helping me to understand the historical context.

To the group: If we assume this is indeed a Walter Dean canoe that was a rental, where did Dean mark his craft with a serial number? I am assuming the 115 stamped into the keelson is more likely a Hicks addition for rental purposes and not something placed there by Dean. I have looked at the inboard stem area and cannot see anything resembling a plate or other marking. Did Dean mark all his craft, or only certain ones?

I really wanted to get a little closer to a manufacturing date for this craft. Are there any build records (like there are for the Old Towns) or other sources of info?

I am getting hooked on this history of canoes and loving it!

Dick again provided historical context with his next posting, which said:

If we assume your canoe is a Walter Dean.

W. Dean marked his canoes with a serial number on the inside stem, sometimes on the keelson, sometimes on the thwarts and occasionally not at all. I have seen 3 digit numbers as well as 4 digit numbers.

Unfortunately there are no known build records. However, your canoe has what is called a torpedo stem supposedly first used by W. Dean, this model came out around 1915 or 1916.

Walter Dean retired from the business around 1919 or 1920.

The shop was completely destroyed by fire in 1920; W. Dean’s sons rebuilt but closed the manufacturing part of the business late 1923. The sons concentrated on the rental aspect of the business and only built canoes for their rental fleet. The company declared bankruptcy in 1931.

This post also included a photo of a serial number stamped into the thwart of a Walter Dean canoe. I tried to determine if the form of the numbers used had any similarities to those used on my canoe. This was difficult because the fore and aft numbers did not seem to be made from the same stamps based on what I could determine from photos 16 and 17 in thephotos gallery for this project.



Phase IV of the research - Other contacts in 2006.

One of the benefits of posting messages in public fora like the WCHA forum is that other people can follow along or accidentally (through Internet searches) find the discussion and contribute. During the previous phase of the research, I heard from Stephen Dean of Fresno, California, USA. He sent me a private message of introduction:

I just found your post re the sailing canoe. My last name is "Dean", and you have a Walter Dean canoe. I've been interested in finding a vintage "Dean" mahogany sailing canoe. If you know of any for sale, OR if you ever decide to sell yours, please contact me by email or phone.

Best regards
Stephen Dean

Now this was an interesting turn of events! I responded to Stephen thus:

Nice to hear from you Stephen. I visited the Canadian Canoe Museum last week and they also believe, although are not entirely sure, that it is a Walter Dean. Interestingly, one of the members of the board of directors of the museum is the great-grandson of Walter Dean. Are you related?

He wrote back:

Thanks for the response and the photos.

I too visited the Canoe Museum but it was 2 summers ago. We were driving back to Toronto after taking the "Millionairs Tour" on a steam boat on Lake Muskoka.

I was traveling with several people in the car, and one did NOT want to go to a "#$%& canoe museum!!" This person, a Toronto teacher, was going to sit outside in the car and wait. I insisted that I would pay her way inside and she would at least be more comfortable inside than sitting in the car (and probably stewing about the wait time). Reluctantly (and grumpily) she agreed. Inside, her eyes "popped wide open", and she went to every display. Afterwards she said over and over "This is a National Treasure!" She must have said it 10 times!!!

There were some wonderful vintage mahogany canoes on display there that really got me interested in obtaining one.

A "Dean" would be perfect because of my name......and, to answer your question, as far as I know (back to 1820 at least) there is no relation, alas. But, it would make a great story, and who could prove otherwise!!!

I've spent several years researching the subject of restoring wooden boats in general and wooden canoes specifically and have determined it's a "big job" to do it right. Nonetheless, I want to tackle it .

Again, please let me know if you ever decide to sell yours. I am a "motivated buyer"!

Best regards,
Stephen Dean

Stephen and I continue to exchange messages from time to time directly, rather than through the WCHA message service.

As a result of my visit to the Canadian Canoe Museum, Jeremy Ward encouraged me to send him information and photos so that he might pursue the canoe's origins further. This was the true impetus to create this website about the research project. Once I had created the first version, I got in touch with him:

2006-09-12: Jeremy:
I wanted to thank you once again for the time you took last week (Thursday) to speak with me and my wife about the vintage canoe we are researching. You requested some photos so that you could see if you could determine the manufacturer and possible age of the decked sailing canoe we have in our possession. I have gone a step further: I created a website with the documentation and photos. Thus, you should have everything you need to do the required research. The information may be found at ../../interests/in_index.htm. The recent thumbnail photos will enlarge to highly detailed photos.

I look forward to any feedback you may provide. Let me know if you require additional information.
David Darwin

The response from Jeremy pointed back to resource people with whom I already had contact.

2006-09-27: Hi David,
Been away for a week and a half on assignment, and see that you've had some feedback! I'm glad that you've found Dick Persson through your posting. He is, as you have seen, an invaluable resource to many (including the CCM), and I probably would have turned to him on this one sooner or later. I did have a look at your site, wonderful images. I do like his suggestion about the canoe likely being a Dean, but bearing the Hicks' brand from its days in their livery.

Thanks for sharing your canoe with us, it's uncommon to see the vintage family pix accompanying a canoe that still exists.

All the best,

2006-11-06: I was surprised this evening to receive a telephone call from John Hicks, the great grandson of O. L. Hicks. He had just stumbled upon the WCHA forum discussion about the canoe. He called from his home in Guelph, Ontario to talk about the canoe. He felt the brand mark on the canoe definitely indicated it had been manufactured by O. L Hicks as the rental canoes made by someone else were not branded but referred to by their name. We spent several minutes discussing the operation of the Hicks livery and manufacturing business. He kindly forwarded two photos (Hicks3 and Hicks4) taken about 1910-1912 on the Humber River in Toronto, Ontario with several decked canoes included.

I replied to John indicating I did not see anything in the two photos which resembled the canoe I had in my possession. The following day, he forwarded another photo (Hicks2) which showed O. L. Hicks and his wife in a decked sailing canoe. By return email I noted: "The picture is getting closer to our craft, but does not have the distinctive torpedo stems that make it so interesting and resembling those made by Dean." To this, John responded:

2006-11-07: Good evening David,

I am copying Dick Persson on my correspondence to you. He too is interested in early canoe builders in Ontario. I will send you photocopies of various newspaper articles that outline the history of the Hicks family on the Humber River. I have no inventory of the number or kinds of boats O. L. Hicks and Son built. I do have pictures of some of individual boats he built.

Till hearing from you the only boats I knew to still exist were a canoe like yours in the possession of John Bosworth, a rowing skiff used by Ned Hanlon that the City of Toronto has in storage and a boat owned John Howard who donated High Park that is on display in Colbourne Lodge in the Park. Peter Code used a drawing he made from this boat as part of the logo for his Traditional Boat-building School.

I think sailing canoes were popular. I have a Peterborough lateral strip sailing canoe that was part of the fleet that my grandfather rented on the Humber.

I have attached a photograph of William (Will) John Hicks in a sailing canoe on the Humber. It may be his signature on your receipt.


The following day brought an email note from Dick Persson:

2006-11-08: Dear Mr. Hicks,

I agree that the decks of the canoe in the last picture you sent are similar to Mr. Darwin's canoe. However, I am still more or less convinced that his canoe likely was built by Walter Dean. Mr. Darwin's canoe exhibit the following construction details all typical to Walter Dean; torpedo stems, metallic joint batten, close rib spacing, small half round ribs and likely also mahogany planking another W. Dean trait.

It is clear that several builders copied the designs of Walter Dean and made use of some of his construction methods and details. The most flagrant copy was actually made by the Peterborough Canoe Co. In my research I have not found any proof that your great grandfather built metallic joint canoes. However, it seems to be clear that he occasionally purchased canoes from the Deans for his rental fleet. I think it is quite possible that Mr. Darwin's canoe has been a rental canoe in your grandfather's fleet which would explain his possible signature on the sale receipt.

The canoe in the picture foreground is very likely also built by Walter Dean. I am sure it is his model the "Sunnyside Cruiser" exhibiting the typical W. Dean early cruiser stem profile, the Sunnyside cruiser deck, thwart style and placement, metallic joint batten, and close rib spacing with small half-round ribs.

The second canoe in above picture however displays construction details I believe was your great grandfather's. The same canoe seen above is also clearly seen in the picture below.

This canoe clearly shows a different rib style and rib spacing. This rib style and spacing is also visible in the decked sailing canoe paddled by your great grandfather in the above top picture.

Do you have any sales literature or any other business documents from your great grandfather's canoe businesses?

Sincerely Dick Persson

Several days later, John Hicks wrote again to both myself and Dick Persson, providing additional information.

2006-11-18: Dear Dick and David,

Attached is a picture of the last Hicks Boathouse at the mouth of the Humber River taken in 1904. This is the boathouse of my father's childhood memories.

I have also attached a transcript of a recorded interview with my father done in 1987. It is only the first few pages. There are more pages concerning memories of his grandfather who he admired so much.

I have no business documents and only one picture of the boatyard where the bigger boats were built. My father told me the canoes were built in the winter in a two storey barn like building on the north side of Lakeshore Road.

I just remembered that one of my cousins has a half model of a canoe.

O. L.' s house was full of half models of boats built. My sister has one of a sail boat.

I am still in pursuit of good pictures of O. L.'s personal canoe.

Dick I do have a photo album with many pictures taken by O. L. on a trip to I think Bermuda. I know he also travelled to Jamaica.

Again I will have to check but I think he came to Canada in 1871 from the via the Caribbean.

I hope you find this material of interest.

John Hicks

On November 27, 2006, John sent another email with copies of a few articles written at the time of O. L. Hicks' death. He also included one written in the 1950's that provided a little background on O. L. Hicks' business interests and his character.

On December 5, 2006, John Hicks wrote again to send along a couple of pictures of a very special canoe.

Dear David and Dick,

I was able to get a few photographs of O L Hicks' personal canoe. This canoe hangs from the ceiling of a cottage on a small man made lake in the Newmarket area.

Sincerely, John

The photos of O. L. Hicks' personal canoe are shown here: bow view and stern view.

I responded immediately to John's note (with a copy to Dick Persson), saying:

Thanks John.

This one looks similar to the one I have. The stems are shaped a bit differently, but the overall construction and wood are alike. Too bad there was not a shot of the interior. My wife and I were interested to see the coaming/back supports and how they were shaped. That part has been modified on our craft. They can be seen in part in the photos you sent.

Dick, I am wondering what your feelings are about this canoe shown in the photos. Is it possible the one I have, with the Hicks brand inside, was in fact made by O.L. Hicks using a form similar to the one in John's photos? I suppose O.L. Hicks could have copied Dean's torpedo stem design since Dean's boathouse was immediately across the Humber from his own.

John, is the canoe and cottage in Newmarket in the Hicks family? Is the canoe still used?

Fascinating, all of this.
Thanks. David

First thing the following morning (2006-12-06), I received a telephone call from Dick Persson. We had a wonderful chat about this canoe and canoes in general. He had viewed the two latest pictures from John Hicks and noted the rib spacing was obviously different from that used in a Dean canoe. It is possible O. L. Hicks may have tried to copy the Dean design, but the ribs were too wide in this one for metallic battens. Dick spoke to me about a book he is writing tracing the history of major Canadian canoe builders from 1860 to 1960. He also spoke about the viability of using my canoe again, surmising that it was good looking and would be a joy to paddle. He concluded our conversation by saying, "You have a very rare canoe."

I am coming to realize how true this statement may be. Whether the canoe was made by Walter Dean or by O. L. Hicks, it is a rare specimen of canoes made in that era.

A few days later, I heard from John Hicks again, responding to my questions in the last email to him.

2006-12-10: Dear David,

The boat now belongs to John Bosworth, a grandson of O. L. Hicks. Before it came into Mr. Bosworth's possession it was owned by Pauline Dutton, a granddaughter of O. L.

This canoe was O. L.'s personal craft. In has been in the family since O. L.'s death.

The photos I sent were taken last summer by another relative who was visiting the Bosworth home. I am sure Mr. Bosworth would show the canoe to anyone who was interested. I know of one time in the last twenty years when this canoe has been in the water.

I too noticed the similarity in seat backing with the old photos of your canoe.

I am delighted that you use any information that I send you on your web site.

I have attached a photo of a Hicks made blade that has a brand and a label. This straight brand with only the name also was used to mark their paddles.


On December 23, 2006 I received a comment from a web site visitor. This hinted at a potential new source of information.

Hi David,
You might get some further information by contacting my cousin, Bob Harmer. Bob just turned 99 and is as sharp as a tack. He was a long-time member of the Toronto Argonauts Rowing Club and spent a lot of time in the Sunnyside area. Please contact me direct for his contact information.
George Chisholm
Oakville, Ontario

I replied to George the same day, saying:

How nice to hear from you. Thank-you for following up on my website story about the canoe. I would be most interested in communicating with your cousin if he has some recollections about the Sunnyside beach and the canoes which were in use there. This whole exercise has become a wonderful adventure and I am getting to know some great people.

George replied very promptly and gave some additional details about his cousin and his involvement in the boating around Toronto.

Hi David,
I haven't spoken much with him about the area but at his birthday party last week I asked him about a canoe my father bought from him about 15 years ago. It was a 16' Peterborough and he told me that he bought it new in 1960 from Eaton's, where he worked in the men's department for years. My dad wanted to buy it so that he and I would each have a canoe. I have the Peterborough 14' which he bought well used as a livery boat from Metro Marine here in Oakville in the late 40s/early 50s. Bob thought he should charge my father what he paid for the boat new - $60. It's now in Calgary but needs some repair. Right now I have 3 canoes. My son found an unknown 14 foot cedar plank/canvas boat in Latchford near Temagami a couple of months ago and then I picked up 16' Bastien very cheaply. They both need work.

Bob and I also talked about Sunnyside cruisers and other boats. He lives in a retirement home here in Oakville. His phone number is (deleted). If you are ever down this way from Ottawa, you could visit him but he could probably answer some of your questions over the phone. He may have email as well - many of the retirement homes do.

I'll also ask another cousin if she has any appropriate photos of the area. Her father and my father spent a lot of time seaflea racing in that area and at the Ex in the 20s. Her father was Dominion Champion twice.

Unfortunately the Toronto Marine Museum is closed. They moved from Stanley Barracks in the parking lot at the CNE to a new building, changed their name to The Pier Museum and then promptly shut down. You may be able to access the archival part of their collection through the City of Toronto Archives or the Provincial Archives.

Good luck with your quest and Merry Christmas.

I have not communicated further with George nor his cousin at this time.



Phase V of the research - Other contacts in 2007 and beyond.

Even though there had been a break in correspondence for over a month did not mean that my regular contacts were not busy continuing with there own research.

2007-02-04: Dear David and Dick,
I hope you both have had a great start to the new year. Like Dick, I too would love the opportunity to see your boat David.

Would you like me to contact John Bosworth to see if a visit could be arranged?

I will also contact a step sister of my father. This woman spent many summers as a girl on the Humber when William Hicks was renting canoes at the Wanita. Her name is Nellie Bloor and she lives in Orilla. I met her many years ago and she had plenty of pictures from the Humber. I am sure we can get some more pictures of canoes. I remember Nellie telling me she could remember when all the wooden forms the Hicks' canoes were built on were discarded and burned behind the Wanita.

Take care.

Before I could send a reply to John, I received a note from my wife's uncle in Toronto. He said:

Anyway, something that may be of interest to you re the canoe although not directly related to it. Was watching a program called Structures on our local Rogers Cable channel. It was about the Palais Royale, a recently restored dancehall on Lake Ontario at Sunnyside. Was surprised to find out that it started life as Walter Dean's Canoe factory & livery around 1922. His Sunnyside Torpedo canoes were very popular. Evidently a few years later the canoe business went bust & the upper floor was converted to a dance hall named the Palais Royale. It was quite the spot during the 30's & 40's. It's been restored & kept much of the original features including the arched openings on the lake side through which the canoes would be brought out to the water. My curiosity led me to do a google search about the Palais & I found an article by Mike Filey in the Toronto Sun which you may find interesting so I'm attaching it. Hope you enjoy it.

I sent a reply to John in which I also passed on the information and article I had just received. I said:

2007-02-05: John:
Thanks so much for the note. It may be a bit premature to start planning a visit with Mr. Bosworth, but I am interested. I am not sure what is up with my summer just yet. I am considering making a` trip at least as far as Dick's with the canoe on top of the car. We could see if there was a possibility of combining visits and research and such to cover the many avenues that are opening up.

In my other conversations with my wife's uncle I had asked him to check with his brother to see if he remembered anything about the canoe. Unfortunately, this did not turn up anything useful as he wrote (2007-02-07): "I did have a second hand reply from Brenda to my question to Jim about the canoe but I wanted to wait until I had talked to him directly again by phone. So we were chatting last night & basically he doesn't remember too much about it. Just that it was kept in a boathouse on the Humber & he recalls going out in it with Art once or twice on the river. As far as from whom it was purchased or any other facts he doesn't know anything more than I did."

John Hicks continues to be a valuable lead in this research project. I was very pleased to receive his next email.

2007-02-11: Dear David,
I would love to see your boat. If you take it to show Dick maybe I could come over and meet the both of you.

My father was born in 1910 and I remember him telling me many times about the Palais Royale. It truly was the hot spot of the time. In Mike Filey's book "I Remember Sunnyside, The Rise and Fall of a Magical Era" you can find some great pictures of Walter Dean's boat building factory on page 64.

I did contact Nellie Bloor, my father's step sister. She lived at the Wantia on the banks of the Humber from 1937 to the mid fifties. I am sure it was from the Wantia that your father in law purchased the boat. It was from the Wantia that my grandfather ran his small rental business.

Nellie told me all the torpedo designed canoes that my grandfather rented were Hicks built.(emphasis added) She also said that the traditional canoe designs they rented were Peterborough built.

Nellie has a great memory. She could name the two Longitudinal Cedar Strip canoes made by Peterborugh. She told one exists and is her son's back yard. She told me there was another one called the Ann. Nellie had no idea that I had the Ann. When the Wantia was closed my step grandmother sent the Ann to my father thinking he would appreciate it because it had my mother's name. What my father really wanted was one of the Hicks built canoes.

Nellie is going to look through her pictures to see if she has any good canoe photographs. If she comes up with anything I will forward them to you and Dick.

This was a final detail that all but sealed it in my mind that the canoe sitting in my garage was in fact build by O. L Hicks. However, John had one more item to share. A couple of hours after his note above he sent a comment and a picture:

I have looked at the attached picture of my father a hundred times and not until today did I realize it was the Palais Royale and Dean's boathouse and factory in the background.

I closed the loop on this bit of email conversation with the following note to John, with a copy to Dick:

2007-02-13: John:
What a pleasure to receive your latest note. It is always fascinating for me when additional historical information is found to add to my evolving quest to research my canoe. Ms. Bloor seems like a good source of first-hand information. I cringed when I read the part of your earlier note about her watching them burn the wooden forms for the Hicks' canoes. Ouch.

When I showed your note to my wife she said, "You are not taking that canoe on the car!" I will have to convince her of the feasibility of the task before any trip planning I guess. (The canoe does belong to her and her two sisters after all.)

Thanks also for sharing the picture of your father with the Palais Royale and Dean's boathouse and factory in the background. I will try to get the book you mention from the library.

Until the next time,

There had not been much activity throughout the spring and summer of 2007, so I thought perhaps the trail had gone cold. I was wrong. I received an surprising message from another member of the Hicks' family in the fall. A new link had been forged.

2007-10-20: David:
Your website came up in response to my Google search for genealogical information on the Joseph Laing Hicks family (I am-- and I think John Hicks must be also-- a 2nd great grandson of Joseph). What caught my attention was the possible connection between your canoe, "Dora", and the Hicks' Boat Livery. A couple years' ago, my wife and I travelled to Toronto, armed with a few newspaper clippings. We found the site of the original Hicks' Boathouse, just downstream from the Old Mill on the Humber River. We knew from the newspaper clippings that the Boathouse was moved down river when the water level of the river dropped as a result of development upstream. Then came Hurricane Hazel in 1954. The flooded Humber all but wiped out the inventory of the Boathouse. William ("Pappy") Hicks, and his wife ("Ma"), sold what was left of their Boathouse to the Toronto Humber Yacht Club.

When we walked into the yacht club and introduced ourselves and our connection to the Hicks family, a couple of guys exclaimed, "Do you mean Pappy?". They brought out their archives scrapbook, and we swapped stories and newspaper clippings.

This is all a little away from the subject of your canoe, but in our family photos is one of the Hicks' Boat and Canoes Boathouse. On the float in front of the building are 5 canoes, 2 of which appear to decked fore & aft, and could be of the same design as your 'Dora". I'd send that photo to you, but this website doesn't seem to allow that. If you're intereted in following up, drop me a note. I don't remember how much information about the Boathouse is in the Yacht Club archives, but it's worth a phone call.

I'd be interested in having John Hicks contact me also, as one of our family has put together a great deal of information on the Hicks family. John and I are grandsons of brothers, William and Norman Hicks.

Warren Weston Bailey
Qualicum Beach, BC

I forwarded Warren Bailey's message to John Hicks as he requested.

There was another long period of silence, then, through the wonders of the Internet, another message from a relative of Walter Dean arrived in my mailbox.

2008-06-13: Mr. Darwin:
In doing a little research on the internet, I've come across your website describing in great detail a canoe you owned that was manufactured by Walter Dean in the early 1930's.

My great grandfather and my grandfather Walter Dean were the builders of your canoe, and I am greatly interested in seeing and photographing it. In addition, my father (also named Walter Dean) may be able to provide you with more specific information on the boat, since information has been passed down to us gradually over the years.

We both live in Barrie and would be interested in seeing your boat - I own an unrestored Sunnyside Cruiser made by Dean's boat works, and I love seeing anything my grandfather made.

You are free to contact me at coriandmark @ or (905) 960-4387.

Mark Dean

I responded to Mark shortly thereafter.

My apologies for taking so long to respond to your query. Our first grandchild arrived on the day you wrote and we have been a bit preoccupied since then.

This research into the origin of Dora has been a fascinating journey. Through it, I have made the acquaintance of many wonderful people, as well as discovered, and become a member of, the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association. Although at first I believed I was in possession of a Walter Dean created sailing canoe (as indicated by the Peterborough Canoe Museum during my visit in 2006), subsequent discoveries and research have pointed to this being a O. L. Hicks canoe constructed around 1915-1920. Since Hicks and Walter Dean had boat works and liveries directly across from each other on the Humber River, it is no doubt possible that they each copied or improved upon various boat designs over the years.

If you or your father happen to have information or documentation about Walter Dean and his designs, I would strongly suggest, if you have not already done so, sharing these with the Canoe Museum and the WCHA members. There are several people at both organizations who are compiling histories or writing books about Canadian canoe history. I will add your correspondence to my website as I am sure this voyage of discovery is not by any means terminated.

Of course, if you are still interested in seeing Dora, she is hanging in my garage in Ottawa and is quite accessible. If there are additional photos you would like to see beyond those on my website, I would be pleased to take them and send them to you. I would also be interested in any photos or history of the Sunnyside Cruiser you have in your possession.

Thank-you so much for writing.
David Darwin

After a couple of years of silence, some more activity occured.

2010-04-10: David
I am looking at a Walter Dean Launch. Can you give me any information of web site where I may find information on the boat. Specifically on how to determine the year of manufacturer and what finish (painted or bright) the would have probably had when it was made. Thank you Bob Brown

I responded two days later and wrote:
Bob: Thank-you for visiting my website. I assume you got there by searching for "Walter Dean." I don't have a lot to offer you with regard to watercraft other than canoes. I belong to the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association ( and there are many members there who are involved in boat repair and restoration. I suspect there is a similar group or organization dedicated to non-canoe watercraft such as yours. One thing you might try is contacting the grandson of Walter Dean, Mark Dean, at this email address: and see if he can offer you any advice. I don't think he would mind my providing you with his email since he indicated he was interested in anything to do with the work of his grandfather. Other than this, I can only suggest doing various Internet searches, which I suspect you have already done. Where are you located, by the way? David

Bob completed the dialogue later that day, saying:
Thank you for responding to my query. I live in Cape Vincent, NY, across the St Lawrence River from Kingston, Ont, I am in the process of contacting Don Curtis, another of Walter Dean’s grandsons. If he does not have the information I will give Mark Dean a try. Thank you again Bob

Again, after a period of several years, more contact was made regarding the canoe.

2014-07-27 a visitor to this website, Ken Maxwell wrote:
Hello David,
I find your research re your canoe very interesting.
I live in Humber Bay and have spent many hours canoeing on the Humber river.. Swimming as a child,canoeing as a youth and  today with my fiberglass canoe. I also look after all coneing members at the Toronto Humber Yacht Club.
In 1943 I bought a canoe from Wellwoods Boat Livery near the mouth of the river. It was between the Lakeshore Road and the train bridge. on the west side of the river. Cost I believe was 10 dollars for my Sunnyside Cruiser.
To this day I do not know if the builder was Walter Dean Or Mr Hicks.
I built lea boats, one on each side, Installed a short mast and built a lug type sail, two booms and an old recut jib sail to fit. It was my sailboat !
My girlfriend and I sailed up and down the river plus inside the breakwall to the western Gap.
We stopped may times at Hicks Boat (Wanita) Livery for a cold pop
I stowed the canoe in the boat Wellwoods. (1st name Jakes),
I believe the cost was 3 dollars a month but not sure.
Now, why I write to you. I belong to the Toronto Humber Yacht Club once the site if Hicks Boat Livery and once the Wanita Tea Garden..
I have a few pictures of Hicks  locations on the Humber River. Would you be able to tell me where he had the first locations prior to the Old Mill site. I believe he moved from there to the Wanita site in 1925 which burned down completely in 1967. was the first one south of the Lakeshore Road or north?
For the yacht club history records it would be nice to be able to have a recprd anhd also inform the members not only our history but history of the Humber River.
Sincerely, Ken Maxwell (85) Humber Bay, Ontario

2014-07-31 I replied to Ken with some information on hand:
Thank-you so much for your note. It is always fascinating to see the comments generated from the website. It has been a rewarding experience.

I certainly appreciate the details you provided about the rental fees and activities around the Humber River so many years ago.

Now, as to your question. A lot of what I learned about Hicks and Wanita came from my visit several years ago to your club and surrounding area. I was offered a copy of the THYC history covering the 1956-2006 period. But I still may be able to be of minor assistance. Like you, others have found the website and written (or called) me. Several of them happen to be relatives of OL Hicks. It just so happens one of them wrote to me yesterday after a silence of several years.

So, what I propose to do is to contact them on your behalf and see if they might provide you with the information you are seeking. I will encourage them to get in touch with you directly. If you have not done so, may I suggest you read the Dialogue section of the website ( starting at Phase III where the Dean and Hicks family members contribute to my research.

Please keep in touch with any developments regarding the Hicks boating history. I have copied below a couple of excerpts from emails previously received from the family. I suspect this information may already be known to you, but just in case.

(I included some additional information from my files.)

2015-06-12 John Hicks turned up a related piece of history:
Hi David,
I found the attached stuck in a family bible and thought you might be interested.
Hicks account sheet.

2016-07-13 John Hicks wrote to me and Dick Persson with some very interesting news:
Hi David and Dick,
I hope you are both well. It has been some time since I last wrote.
Last week I saw O L Hicks' canoe for the first time. The canoe is now in Collingwood and I hope its next stop is the Canoe Museum in Peterbourgh. It is now in the possession of Margaret Aquilina, last surviving grandchild of O L. It has been her goal to get this boat from her brother's estate and find a home for it at the Canoe Museum. Margaret is a sharp 90 years old and I have been trying to help her get the boat moving towards the museum.
On its trip from the Newmarket area to Collingwood a cousin who was transporting the canoe gave it a dip in the water on Lake Simcoe.
The attached pictures were taken at both Lake Simcoe and Collingwood.
I thought you would enjoy the pictures. It still has the original coaming. Unfortunately the canoe had a vigorous sanding by three cousins in the 1940's. Unlike yours I do not see the manufacture brands. Also unlike yours it is not design for sailing. I have more pictures if you are interested. I also added a picture of O L Hicks and his second wife the widow of Charles Nurse  in the canoe. She died in 1924 so that helps date the picture.

I replied immediately:

Thank-you so much for sharing John. Many aspects of the canoe shown in the pictures match my Dora. The coaming is the most obvious difference.

I received a note from Ken Hicks asking if he could visit me and see the boat when he is in Ottawa next week. I am hoping I will be able to set a convenient time to do that. Quite something to have a message from two different members of the Hicks clan in the same week!


2016-11-02 John Hicks was in contact again with a couple of photos:
Hi David,
I thought you might like to see the attached photo. My dad's cousin Margaret and her husband recreated a moment from the old photograph of O L Hicks and his wife.
As you can see the canoe in Margaret's possession is a twin for yours. However it is very different from the canoe depicted in the old photograph. The bow and stern are rounded and the spacing of the ribs is much wider in the canoe depicted in the old photograph.
However the decks have some similarity.
I made a wrong assumption in thinking that the canoe in the picture was the same canoe that had been passed down through the family. 
I am assisting Margaret in having her canoe donated to the Canoe Museum.
Two views of old Hicks canoes.

I replied later in the day:

Thanks so much for sharing. It was a treat having Ken Hicks visit me this summer and look over the canoe and sailing rig. It was an opportunity to get the boat down from storage, clean it up, and put it on show for one of the family members.

I am sure the Canoe Museum will be pleased to have your cousin's canoe in its collection. With the new building being planned it may even be able to display more of the immense collection of canoes.


2017-01-22, John Hicks wrote once again:
Hi David,
I received a call yesterday from Margaret Aquilina who owns the other Hicks canoe. She said a friend was looking at it yesterday and noticed numbers in two places. I asked her for a photo which is attached. I went to your website and the numbers look similar to the ones you have depicted in your gallery. I thought this might interest you. Also the Canoe Museum is going to accept Margaret's canoe as a donation. Regards, John
Shows number 155 on stem of canoe.

I replied the following day, saying:

Thanks for sharing this John. Yes, the numbers look very similar. I note mine is 40 earlier (115) than this one Mary is donating. I had considered donating mine to the CCM, and may do so in the end. But I would still like to get it into the water first.


2018-05-18 from Jessica Dunkin, PhD:
Hi David,

I stumbled across your website because I was in search of a photo of a canoe livery from the turn of the twentieth century or thereabouts.

I'm writing a chapter about the canoe for a book on Canadian symbols and I wanted to include the following photo:

First off, would you be okay with the photo appearing in the chapter?

Second, if you are okay with that, is there any chance that you have a larger version of the photo? Because it's a print publication, the photo needs to be high resolution (suitable for 300 dpi printing). The designer told me that it needs to be 3x as large as the version currently available on the website.

Thank you so much for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.


I responded the same day, saying:
A pleasure to hear from you. It is always interesting for me learn of the various ways and reasons why people stumble upon the canoe section of my website.

The picture you reference is not mine. It came to me from a relative of the owner of the livery - O. L. Hicks. You would have to contact him for permission and to obtain a larger version of the image (which I think he has). I believe he has other images of the boathouse in his possession. He is John Hicks and I last contacted him (2017) at [...].

Let me know if I can be of any other assistance.

2018-11-01 from R. Moore:
I have been doing some research on O L Hicks with the objective of writing a Wikipedia article. John Hicks was kind enough to send me the photo which you have titled "hick4.jgp"
You have a sentence: "He kindly forwarded two photos (hicks3 and hicks4) taken about 1910-1912 on the Humber River in Toronto, Ontario with several decked canoes included." which links to hicks3 and hick4

I have had some discussion with John Hicks on the photo hicks4.

FROM John Hicks  RCVD October 16, 2018 at 12:47
I think the attached picture (your hicks3) of O L Hicks standing in front of his second boathouse was taken the same day.
His daughter, Hannah Hicks, is in the canoe nearest him. She is also in the second photo (your hicks4) in the canoe in the center of the photograph. Hannah was born in 1888. So I think Hannah is a teen so it could be about 1904.
Maybe it was a regatta day on the Humber.
You can see who I suspect is Ned Hanlan performing for the crowd in the background. This photograph would have been taken from were O L is standing in the first photograph. You are looking west and can see the Hicks Humber Hotel in the background.

Ned Hanlan died in 1908 so a date of 1904 is plausible. The text above "BOATS & CANOES" which someone has attempted to obliterate says "L. N. Devin's". Devin was a competitor of Hicks. Another photo from the same day can be seen here:
I responded a couple of days later with a question of my own:
Mr. Moore:
Thank-you so much for visiting my website and the additional information and context you provided. I am glad you were able to contact John Hicks. He has been most helpful in my research and documentation effort. Please keep me informed of your efforts to produce a Wikipedia article. This would provide a fascinating link to my canoe.

I'd be interested in knowing the reason for your interest in OL Hicks. Where are you located?

Kindest regards,

 I was pleased to receive a response the following day:
 Dear Mr Darwin,

I live in the Palace Pier condominium in Humber Bay Shores. This building is sited on land which is close to the site of lakeshore residence. I have dabbled a bit in Etobicoke history: see which has sundry material about the Humber Bay region.
    After a new street in this area was named “Annie Craig Lane” I wrote a Wikipedia article on the ship “Annie Craig”. Wikipedia robot complained that there was no link to the article. After modifying the Eugene O’Keefe article the obvious next step was to write an article on O L Hicks.
    As O L Hicks was a man of many talents, so researching his activities requires a bit of library and Google work. I am getting close to the end. The article needs a few obvious sentences on his adventures in the hotel business.
    One omission in the present draft is that his boat building activities are barely mentioned.

There are some deliberate omissions due to my distrust of sole source information:
A] There is little evidence that Ned Hanlan owned a boat which included an O L Hicks sliding seat.
B] Frank Barber’s long obituary for O L H claims that OLH built seawalls in southern Etobicoke. There is also a false claim that OLH built the existing breakwater at Sunnyside Beach east of the Humber River.

current draft is at:
/Roger Moore

There was a bit more later that day as he wrote to John Hicks and Denise Harris:
I am getting near the end. I have added some material on Royal Oak Hotel, boathouse migrations and boatbuiding. Could you please take a look and see if I made any obvious errors.

John and Denise responded with more facts and pictures to assist Roger in completing his article.

At this time, that is the extent of the story, but it continues to evolve in many interesting and unexpected ways. I am indebted to the people who operate the WCHA and those who make the forums such a valuable resource. It is so nice to know there are many people interested in learning, sharing and preserving historical artifacts, in this case wooden boats.


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