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Canoes for a Cause: Nonprofit Auctions Off Rare Boats

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Birchbark canoe made by Henri Vaillancourt - COURTESY OF THE NORTHERN FOREST CANOE TRAIL
  • Courtesy Of The Northern Forest Canoe Trail
  • Birchbark canoe made by Henri Vaillancourt

On the hunt for a 14-foot birchbark canoe? From August 5 to 15, you can bid on two watercraft of historical significance to benefit the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, a Waitsfield-based nonprofit that manages 740 miles of waterways from Old Forge, N.Y., to Fort Kent, Maine.

The canoes were donated separately, five years apart. In 2015, Jim Henry, founder of Mad River Canoe, gifted one of 120 canoes made by Henri Vaillancourt, a renowned builder of traditional Indigenous canoes. Karrie Thomas, Northern Forest's executive director, said that for a while the Vaillancourt hung in her garage, awaiting the moment when it might be transformed into stewardship dollars. Then, last year, Bob and Donna Stafford donated the second canoe, one of only 30 built in Québec's Maniwaki Reserve in 1959 to commemorate the 350th anniversary of Samuel de Champlain's arrival.

"We only have so much space," said Thomas. "If people are going to keep giving us boats, we might as well start auctioning them."

The Vaillancourt has never been on the water. With a retail price tag in the vicinity of $10,000, said Thomas, canoes of that pedigree are more like pieces of fine art. "The idea of paddling it is kind of nerve-racking," she said. "Definitely wouldn't want to hit a rock with it." The Maniwaki canoe has had a more active life. "It would need some work to float and paddle, but it's really an incredible piece of history. You couldn't buy one anywhere else."

Bidding for the Vaillancourt will begin at $7,500; for the Maniwaki, $1,700. While their sale will help ensure that the Northern Forest Canoe Trail remains accessible to future generations of paddling enthusiasts, Thomas is a bit wistful about saying goodbye. "It'll be hard to let go of them," she said. "They've been good friends."

For more information, visit northernforestcanoetrail.org/birchbark.