NorthWest Canoe: Building Beautiful Boats in St. Paul’s Lowertown

The time-intensive big boats keep NorthWest Canoe’s Lowertown shop hopping during the colder months. Camps and outdoor organizations often order the boats during the fall for delivery in the spring. During the warmer months, NorthWest Canoe focuses more on repairs than building boats. According to Davidson, the repair service was a major need he noticed while working at REI and Bell Canoe. “You walk into REI or Midwest Mountaineering you can buy a new boat off of the ceiling, but if the seat breaks, what do you do about it?” he said. The warm months are the prime time for canoeing, so naturally they are the prime time for canoe repair. Davidson said big wind storms are a major source of business, when high gusts knock canoes off of racks or slam them into shore.

Varnished Canoes in NorthWest Canoe Shop // Photo courtesy of NorthWest Canoe's Facebook

Varnished Canoes in NorthWest Canoe Shop // Photo courtesy of NorthWest Canoe’s Facebook

Of course, many paddlers out there like the idea of fixing their own boats, which is something else NorthWest Canoe can assist with. The company offers a web store with anything DIYers could need to fix their own boats. “In February, we’re shipping canoe seats to places like Mississippi or Florida where it’s warm enough to go out and fish and paddle,” said Davidson. “By using that business model and by doing those internet sales in conjunction with what I can do in the wintertime building the big boats, it makes a nice compatible business model.”

Davidson is a big proponent of people attempting their own repairs, and even building their own boats. He offers instructional clinics on boat building, and his website features several canoe plans that can be downloaded free. NorthWest Canoe sells all the materials anyone would need to build a wood strip canoe. The raw materials for a basic boat run around $1,000, far less than it would cost to buy the finished product. One might think that building a canoe is beyond the ability of most, but Davidson said that it’s much easier than expected.

“I like to tell people—and this actually came from a customer who built a boat—that if you can carve a marshmallow stick, you can build a canoe,” he said. “It might not look that pretty if it’s your first boat, but it’ll be just as functional.”

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