ALLAGASH, Maine — Two hundred fifty dollars and a gallon of gin. That’s the current reward for any information leading to the recovery of a prized family heirloom taken about a month ago in Allagash.
Missing is a vintage 20-foot Old Town Guides Special wooden canoe that last was seen tied up at the village’s public landing on Aug. 12, the weekend of the Fort Kent Muskie Derby.
“We just can’t believe anybody would just take the canoe,” Darlene Kelly Dumond said Tuesday morning from her family’s Two Rivers Lunch diner in Allagash. “There is just so much history attached to it.”
The canoe originally belonged to her father, Tyler Kelly, a well-known northern Maine Guide and riverman who had a bit of a competitive streak.
“Dad raced [canoes] all over the place,” Kelly Dumond said. “Back then there was always a race going on somewhere.”
From the Allagash to the St. John to the Fish rivers, Tyler Kelly and his cousin Ransford “Pike” Kelly were forces to be reckoned with in races in the late 1960s and early 1970s, according to Kelly Dumond.
Among those races was a 30-mile run down the St. John River from Allagash to Fort Kent.
In 1969 that race was part of Fort Kent’s centennial celebrations and Old Town Canoe contacted the Kelly men and asked if they would like to use a new 20-foot wooden canoe in the centennial race.
“They launched from the Allagash bridge and won that race,” Kelly Dumond said.
At the awards ceremony, race marshal and fellow Maine Guide Willard Jalbert presented the men with a first-place trophy and announced the canoe was a trophy as well.
“What canoe?” Kelly Dumond said her father asked. “And Willard said, ‘The one you are standing in.’”
The first thing Tyler Kelly did, his daughter said, was to load all of his children into his “trophy” and take them for a ride on the river.
It was a practice that was repeated time and time again with each race their father entered, Kelly Dumond said.
“You know, my dad has a wall full of trophies from different races,” Kelly Dumond said. “But we always joked that canoe was the biggest one ever.”
Years passed, Tyler Kelly — now 75 — has long retired from racing, and the Old Town was put in storage for about two decades.
Last year he passed the canoe on to his son Wade Kelly, who now operates his own guiding business in Allagash.
Wade Kelly had the entire canoe refurbished to look brand new and this summer the Kelly craft again cruised the waters of the Allagash and St. John rivers.
“It’s the first time it saw water in 20 years,” Wade Kelly said Tuesday as he worked to fix a spare tire in front of his home. “There’s a bit of history with it.”
Wade Kelly was with family in Canada the weekend of the muskie derby but had gotten word of some major rains in northern Maine so he called on a friend to check on the canoe, which was tied not far from his house.
Soon after, he learned the canoe no longer was there, or anywhere anyone could find it.
“This is a first,” Wade Kelly said. “Up here people leave canoes on the shore and if anyone needs to borrow one, they can.”
Whoever took the canoe, he added, dumped out any water and the buckets used for bailing water out onto the ground before leaving.
“This is a rare thing, to steal a canoe like that up here,” he said. “I would just like for whoever did it to bring it back and next time they need a canoe, just ask and they can borrow it.”
The notion of the reward, he said, was not his.
Rather, when word of the missing canoe started to spread through word of mouth and on social network sites such as Facebook, Kelly Dumond said a friend and former Allagash resident contacted her to start the reward.
“She wrote and told me she’d start the fund and said a gallon of gin would probably get someone to speak up,” Kelly Dumond said. “Then another friend saw it on Facebook and sent in a donation.”
The irony of a liquor-based reward in the otherwise dry town of Allagash is not lost on Kelly Dumond.
“We have a bear hunter staying here who’s a cop from Massachusetts,” she said. “He said if we change the offer to a gallon of Irish whiskey he’d be right on the case.”
Kelly Dumond said the theft of the craft has had an effect on her father, who declined to speak with a reporter about it.
“My sister Lisa [Kelly Powell] was talking to him about it,” she said. “She said he could barely speak about it and he had tears in his eyes [and] she said, ‘I want you and Wade to do whatever you can to find it.’”
The Kellys have been in touch with wardens from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and on Tuesday afternoon Doug Rafferty, DIF&W spokesman, said they were keeping an eye out for the canoe.
If the canoe is found, or the person has a change of conscience about taking it, Kelly Dumond said it can be dropped off anywhere — even anonymously — and they will travel to get it.
For his part, Wade Kelly just wants the old canoe back and harbors no ill will toward whoever took it.
“Maybe someone needed it more than I did. They can just come right here and bring it back,” he said. “I’ll shake their hand and say, ‘Thank you.’”
Anyone with information about the canoe and motor can call 207-398-4478.