CANOE BIOGRAPHIES

Counting up our Canoe Fleet for #1 to #55.

Learn the names, origins, stories, and more information behind our beloved canoes starting at the very beginning. 

#1 THE CHIEF

4/1/20

Herman "Chief" Norton

Hurley Canoe Works - Original Build 2000 (Canoe lost in rapids) - New Build 2008

Chief Norton ran Camp Pathfinder as its owner and helmsman, 1918 – 1961.


Canoe 1 was named for Chief when it was the first Arthurs/Sladden new-build by Jack Hurley when the current owners took over in 2000. The canoe was lost in rapids on a trip in 2007 and a new Chief Norton canoe was created by Jack.


Herman J. Norton, the director of health and physical education for the Rochester, NY schools in the early 1900s, joined Pathfinder to work with the founders, William Bennett and Frank Gray.

 

Bennett, who started camp with Gray in 1914, withdrew in 1918 and Gray/Norton joined forces. In 1922, Norton became sole owner, and continued a storied career in that role until selling the camp to Bill Swift, Sr. in 1961 – an astounding 42-year run.


Norton, known as ‘Chief’ to his camp family (Pathfinder originated as a Woodcraft camp, influenced by the writings of Ernest Thompson Seton) was a boss in the school district at home, and worked professionally with famous Pathfinder senior staff like Ralph Tichenor, E.K. Smith, Nick Zona, Roy Thrall and more.


Many of the core values and principles we know today at Pathfinder come from Chief. He oversaw development of the camp facility, most of which we keep today -- from lodges, tents and cabins, to the big buildings and major docks. He preached that ‘Camp is for the campers,’ and emphasized both a tripping and an in-camp program, something few trip camps can boast today. Norton’s many leadership theories were legend. His motto, ‘Organization, Deputization, Supervision, and Leadership’ remained in the staff training materials for decades after his departure.


His son Dr. Herman Norton, Jr. remembered that in those early days adult professional health and athletics educators were the staff. “Dad was blessed with these guys. Dad would survey people in school work and see who was capable and offer them jobs. They coached teams, supervised sports, and finally worked up to where the Superintendent would ask Dad for recommendations for athletic directors. So Dad was in a great position.”


Herman also recruited regional talent including Al Chestnut and Norm Roggow from Buffalo, and Lou Montgomery of Cornell University fame.


Chief Norton, his wife Becky Norton, and their son Herman Jr. lived on Nunda Boulevard in Rochester, quite close by Bill Swift’s and Mike Sladden’s neighborhoods in the town of Pathfinder’s founders.

At camp, they originally had a cabin built for their use at the center of the action, what we now know as the PX. In 1941, the caretaker Fred Lamke built them a new owner’s cabin down by the water near the ‘dreaded cliffs’ below Skid Row, what we now call the ‘Norton Cabin.’ And on those cliffs was built a pine log owner’s office, far from the bustle of the Dining Hall, called ‘Log Cabin’.


Chief was notorious as an old-time salesman and tight with a nickel. He famously boasted of Pathfinder’s tennis and golf programs (anything to get a kid there to discover canoe tripping), and paid his staff $25.00 for a summer.

 

#2 ROY THRALL

4/2/20

Roy S. Thrall

Hurley Canoe Works - Original Build ca. 1900s (At Pathfinder) - Re-build 2010

Roy Thrall, a longtime senior staff man, joined Bill Swift in owning Pathfinder in 1965, and become its sole owner in 1975, before selling camp to Mac Rand in 1982. Roy was director of music education for the Greece, NY school district (Rochester area), following a youthful stint in the U.S. Army where he was a boxing champion. His first camp counselor role at Pathfinder was as the boxing instructor.
 

As a co-owner with Swifty, Roy was the on-site camp director and constant presence, while Swifty spent much time away at Oxtongue Lake building up his fledgling business, Algonquin Outfitters. Despite Roy’s pugilistic past, he was the warmest, kindest sort of adult for a kid to befriend. Classic Roy, he reassured a homesick Jim Lion, dubbing him ‘Tiger’ for his brave efforts to be independent from home.
 

Roy was an avid tripper. As a headman he led several treks deep into the Park interior. He was famously in charge of a crew that became lost near Bouillon Lake (can you find it?) and were later known as the Bouillon Raiders. On that trip and others, he cheered up the campers’ experience with drop-in, all-you-can-eat meals at active lumber camps in the Park. Imagine the experience of endless pot roast, potatoes, vegetables, fruit pies and cakes – with ice cold milk – showing up before your eyes while on a long, tough trip?
 

When Sladds and Glenn were Roy’s campers, he had a custom that if he didn’t know your name after two days he owed you a candy line each time he got it wrong thereafter. To keep from going broke handing out candy bars, Roy employed the techniques of then-popular self-help guru Dale Carnegie. One Carnegie-method Roy used was rhyming your name over and over with goofy words when he saw you and shook hands. ‘Mike, Mike, man with a bike, not a trike, someone we like…’ and that sort of thing. A devout man who loved the campers, he called us ‘yiggets’ rather than something worse. Thus, there was a lot of ‘Get over here, you yiggets!’ etc.
 

Roy famously hired his former staff man Jack Hurley to repair the aging wood-canvas canoe fleet, when Jack was just getting his canoe business going in Dwight, ON. It was 1980 and there were ten canoes to doctor. “None of them – due to their terrible state of repair – could even be flipped up to load on the trailer,” Jack recalled. “I changed 220 ribs, 180 feet of planking, 20 outer gunwales, 10 inner gunwales, 10 keels. I did it for $6,000cn in a 12x18-foot shop.”
 

When Jack built the canoe in honor of Roy, he did much of the work right at Pathfinder Island, fascinating the campers and staff. He also had a legion of people sign the interior of the boat before final varnishing, making the ‘Roy’ as unique and beloved a canoe as was the man himself.

 

#3 SWIFTY

4/3/20

Bill "Swifty" Swift

Hurley Canoe Works - Original Build 2000

Photos (above): Bill Swift center, 1940s staffman in Dining Hall. Swifty center, flanked by Chief Norton (rt) and Hon. Frank Horton, upon announcement of Camp's sale, 1961. (below): Swifty, wife Wendy, son Rich and his wife Sue, with young Jess and Tanner at AO Oxtongue. Jack Hurley building the Swifty. Ongoing repairs at Pathfinder canoe shop.

William Van Dresser Swift was born 1928 in Rochester and attended Pathfinder for many camper years, 1930s-‘40s, rising to staff man and DOT, attending Cornell University, and working for Eastman Kodak Company before starting Algonquin Outfitters in 1961. He then bought Pathfinder from Chief Norton in 1962, briefly partnering with camp parent Congressman Frank Horton, and later going partners in 1965 with Roy Thrall, before selling Roy the Bill Swift shares in 1975.

 

His father Lewis Swift was chairman of Taylor Instrument Co., a notable Rochester company. Having grown up on a farm, Mr. Swift became an engineer and started at Taylor in the mail room. During WWII, when factories like Taylor were ordered converted to war manufacture, Swift was approached by the War Department, ordering another complex instrument, this time for a secret purpose. It turned out to be the timing device for the atomic bomb. Swift was named a Time Magazine man of the year, joining a pantheon of Rochester businessmen who conjured wartime innovations at Bausch & Lomb, Kodak, Odenbach Shipping and more.

 

Bill – ‘Swifty’ – was the 4th owner of Pathfinder. After receiving his engineering degree from Cornell and working for Kodak in Rochester, he and his bride of 1955, Katherine Wendel Townsend Swift, started running both AO and Pathfinder while raising a young family and relocating for half of each year to Canada.

 

An unmistakable face in early movies paddling on trip with the kids, and as a staffman in the Dining Hall, Swifty as Pathfinder staff, DOT and avid alumnus became focused on seeing the tripping program reach a new level of excellence. People say ‘everything leaked’ from tents to canoes when Swifty acquired camp. He swung into action. 

 

Once in charge, he insisted that Headmen be 19 and complete a year of university, and that Pathfinder trips move each day apace, and have improved gear and food. He pioneered the use of friend Bill Kerr’s new ‘freeze-dry food.’ He required trip staff to use the staff tent on the worst tent site available, and make the campers the priority in trip food and gear. He money-balled camper retention statistics for Headmen, letting go staff men who couldn’t inspire kids to re-enlist. He took over a Temagami outfit, BoatLine Bay, and had visions of expanded Pathfinder tripping into Temagami and James Bay rivers, but tabled these projects before selling camp.

 

Algonquin Outfitters is another chapter too expansive to tackle here, but in brief the lighter-weight equipment, canoes and custom outfitting services at the Oxtongue Lake base helped revolutionize tourist canoe tripping in Algonquin. 

 

Besides Pathfinder, Swift was most influenced by close friend Dave Wainman, the Park deputy chief ranger who first conceived of an independent outfitter business while the two men and their families spent time on Cache Lake, around the ambiance of the Paget family’s railroad resort hotel, The Highland Inn. The two started AO together. 

 

After Wainman’s exit, the Swifts went partners for years with Jack and Peg Hurley at AO Oxtongue. It’s notable that Swifty received the Friends of Algonquin Director’s Award, and his induction speaker was former partner Hurley. The recognition was, in part, for Algonquin advocacy. Swifts and Hurleys helped lead the movement to see the interior quota system implemented in Algonquin. This, along with the can and bottle ban, to which AO adjusted their outfitting, saved the beautiful campsites of the Park back country.

 

Bill Swift also made sure that, with Jake Pigeon’s inspiration, the Park preserved the chief and deputy ranger cabins on Cedar Lake at Brent. Pigeon, who had grown up the son of ranger Lorne Pigeon, once stationed there, did the work and Swifty bankrolled it. AO now operates Brent Store with Pigeon in charge, and the Park has a network of repaired ranger cabins, used by travelers whose fees support the preservation.

 

The Swifty canoe was among the first four new-builds ordered from Hurley Works when Glenn and Sladds took over Pathfinder in late 1999. The inspiration to name all the camp trip canoes came from the example set by alumnus Bob Ludwig, who had earlier commissioned Hurley to build the Tom Dodd canoe for camp. Dodd was a huge influence as guide and DOT to the young Swifty who would succeed him.

 

Today’s Meanest Link is an AO / Pathfinder invention, remembering Swifty, nicknamed ‘The Mean Dude’. Pathfinder’s Alex Hurley conjured the tough trip with AO’s Gord Baker, originally as a series of linked short trips that would familiarize AO staff with the Park. The links would connect favorite Swift campsites, lakes and AO outlets. Pathfinder saw the scheme and thought, ‘that makes a great single tour-de-parc trip!’ It takes 18 serious days in good conditions, ventures all over the place, and is today a mini-cult movement in tripping circles. Many have completed the Link in one-go since Pathfinder tried it, and a stop-over at Pathfinder Island during the route is a must for Linkers, in Swifty’s honor.

#4 LAMKE

4/15/20

Fred Lamke

Hurley Canoe Works - Original Build 2000 - Rebuilt 2014 (Warren McDermott)

Mr. Fred Lamke was Pathfinder’s head of maintenance and island caretaker for over 30 years.

He was referred to camp and Chief Norton by Amy Purdy, the camp cook. He built many of camp’s classic buildings, planted hundreds of trees, kept the camp cooks supplied with stove wood, and influenced generations by his sterling example. 

 

Fred is remembered as having come to Pathfinder from work in lumbering. He certainly had the classic skills and manner of a north woodsman, and was a hero figure to Pathfinder boys and men alike.

 

Chief Norton hired Fred to handle the island in all seasons. He worked with the senior staff including Ralph Tichenor and Nick Zona. Fred’s expertise with an axe was legendary. He used the axe as a daily tool, but he also brandished it to cut a literal mountain of stove wood for Mrs. Purdy’s cooking season. (photo) He started the cook stoves at 6:00 am each day and stoked them to help the cooks produce meals and baking for a the whole camp, thrice daily!

 

An axe handle of Fred’s is displayed in the Dining Hall. It used to rest next to an old snapshot of Fred in his later years, sitting in his putter. But the real Fred Lamke was the young man. A few great photos have emerged. Now a large poster with a youthful photo and a note on his building credits will accompany the axe handle, courtesy of alumnus Gill Stanley.

 

Fred brought the stove wood logs to camp over the ice in winter, pulled by horses who he sheltered from the bitter cold under Lodge I, in what has become known as the stables (where bikes hang today.) He is said to have slept over at camp by using tent canvas to build a tiny shelter room in front of the Dining Hall fireplace. The roaring fire would warm this space only a few degrees off the -30F surroundings.

 

Lamke also cut hundreds of great blocks of lake ice for the sawdust-filled ice house. This was at the rear side of today’s kitchen, similar to our current shed. Shoveling snow off a large area of Source would get the ice hardened up for later on, when the horses were accompanied by more men, off duty rangers, all cutting, hauling and pulling blocks to pack in dust at the house. Photos show blocks still solid in August, brought into the sun to melt away during camp close-up. (photo) …

 

A good power crew teacher, team mate or solo craftsman, Fred built most of the permanent buildings in camp, including the Dining Hall and Rec Lodge, Norton’s cabin, several staff cabins, the Trading Post and more. Norton is remembered for creating our cherished Chapel space on the island in honor of the late Jean Norton.

 

Swifty said Fred taught him more than all of his Cornell professors combined.

 

Canoe number 4 honors Fred, but so does the Fred Lamke Award, a custom paddle presented to each Tripping Award winner. This traditional award was renewed in the 1990s by the vision of owner Mac Rand and cottager alumnus John Davis.

 

More about Fred in future “Virtual Pathfinder” features.

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