Camden Public Library to present talk on canoe history

Posted April 18, 2011, at 4:17 p.m.
Benson Gray plies the waters in a sailing canoe. He will give a talk about the canoe building history of the Penobscot River valley on Tuesday, April 26, at the Camden Public Library.
Courtesy photo
Benson Gray plies the waters in a sailing canoe. He will give a talk about the canoe building history of the Penobscot River valley on Tuesday, April 26, at the Camden Public Library.

CAMDEN, Maine — Benson Gray will present an illustrated history of Old Town and other canoe builders from the Penobscot River valley, “The Canoe Builders of the Penobscot” at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday, April 26, the Camden Public Library. Gray is a direct descendant of the founders of the Old Town Canoe Company, “and is quite an expert on Maine canoe history,” according to Bob Holtzman of the Penobscot Marine Museum.

In conjunction with Gray’s talk, the library will have an authentic birch-bark canoe on display, along with a canvas-covered wooden canoe built by the Gerrish company, both on loan from the collection of the Penobscot Marine Museum, and a modern-day canoe made from synthetic material for comparison, courtesy of Maine Sport in Camden.

The displays and talks are part of the Maritime Month celebration at the Camden Public Library during April. Maritime Month is supported by the Penobscot Marine Museum and by a grant from the Rose and Samuel Rudman Library Trust of the Maine Community Foundation. The displays and events are all free and open to the public.

Benson Gray grew up in Old Town and has always loved old canoes. His work with computers, along with an interest in the history of canoe builders, has led to some interesting collaborations, including a project to scan the Old Town Canoe Company catalogs. His largest project with the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association was to compile the Old Town, Carleton and Kennebec build records, along with building an archive of the Wooden Canoe Journals.

Gray said, “My talk will start with the native birch-bark builders then move up through the major wood-canvas builders — Gerrish, Thatcher, Morris, Carleton, White, Old Town, Penobscot, etc. — to the more modern materials like molded plywood, fiberglass, vacuum molding and injection molding. My focus will be on the Old Town Canoe Company, since they have been around the longest and have the most information available. My conclusion will cover some of the resources available for researching old canoes, such as libraries like Camden’s, museums like the Penobscot Marine Museum, organizations like the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association.”

There will be time for questions, answers and discussion.

The final speaker in the Maritime Month series will be Captain Ray Williamson at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 28. His topic will be “75 Years on Penobscot Bay with Maine Windjammer Cruises.”

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