In autumn 2014, I wrote a website feature announcing Jack Hurley’s retirement from building canoes for Pathfinder. The headline included, ‘Say it Ain’t So.’
Jack had rescued old canoes and created dozens of new canoes, over a 35-year career. Retiring? Say it ain’t so.
Happily, it was not exactly so. Jack’s retirement morphed into part-time canoe building again. He has recently handled a couple sentimental canoe renovations for camp, and is currently building a new trip canoe to gift Pathfinder in honor of his brother Paul.
Another canoe, replacing one he built many years ago to honor his mother Mary, will come to life at Hurley Canoe Works in winter 2022.
Here’s some back story on Jack, his successors in the Pathfinder Shop, and the red canoes of Pathfinder.
Jack Hurley occasionally reminds me:
“Only three things haven’t changed since 1950 – The Moon, Cuba, and Pathfinder.”
I’d have to say that much has changed or evolved at Pathfinder. But Jack has had a lot to do with camp’s unchanged character. Our wood canoes, for instance.
Only a handful of camps in North America still use these classic craft. Fewer still take their canoe trips in wood. This is a point of pride with Pathfinder, a distinguishing feature.
Jack’s career made sure this feature endures. By 1999, a small but well-loved wood fleet at Pathfinder needed help. About a dozen wood-canvas trip canoes were truly serviceable. Today the Canoe Dock boasts 56 first-quality canvas trip canoes, and a half-dozen smaller canoes like the Playmates, 15-footers, and 9-footers. It also boasts its own name, ‘The Jack Hurley Canoe Dock.’ Jack restored and built many of these canoes. He then taught a new generation how to do it, and today many staff and campers join the action at our own shop.
For this camp director, it’s hard to adequately describe the depth or breadth of Jack’s influence at camp during my years, starting around 1970. Buffalo native Jack grew up at Pathfinder, guided there, sent his sons there, and ran a bustling canoe shop from his adopted home of Dwight, Ontario. I knew him best from paddling with him on many trips, as a camper and later as a pal.
Camper Jack Hurley arrived at Pathfinder on Big Moment Day 1960, moving into Lodge II. (second from right)
Camper Jack Hurley fell in love with look of cedar and scent of varnish on his canoe trips. He went to college for nutrition, but instead made a profession of keeping this Canadian boating legacy alive. And for 35 years, he kept wood-canvas canoe tripping alive and well at Pathfinder.
Each of us has a Pathfinder headman who influenced us above all others, showed us the trails and the arts of tripping, took an interest in us. For me, that staff man was Jack Hurley. Through our canoe fleet he's remained such an important mentor in my world.
photo: July 1, 1960, Jack Hurley in Lodge II, 2nd from right.
He built a flurry of new boats when Glenn and I took over. Later, the run-up to Pathfinder’s centennial year included a big push on canoes with Jack. He We’ve taken personal trips down the Nipissing and Petawawa, strategized lumber, hardware and repairs, and planned the naming of many new canoes. Best of all, he helped launch our Canoe Shop program. Jack remains at the heart of Pathfinder's ability to commit its second century to the wood canoe, in large part because he set the camp up for a new generation of builders like Warren McDermott, Joe Egan, and now David Statten.
Jack’s early canoe work was, he says, a self-taught routine of maintaining Algonquin Outfitter canoes while he and Peggy were AO partners with the Swifts. Then, in 1980, he took an order from Camp’s owner Roy Thrall. Jack arrived at the Car Dock that Fall to pick up 10 well-worn cedar canvas canoes.
“None of them – due to their terrible state of repair – could even be flipped up to load on the trailer,” he 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.” The canoes came back to Source the following spring and were displayed, gleaming, in the swim crib. Roy must have been over the moon.
photo: AO staff ca. 1976, Jack bottom center, Peggy bottom right.
Jack’s influence then wove throughout the broad storyline of Pathfinder’s commitment to wood canoe culture. Jack kept up the f
fleet for owner Mac Rand over 17 years, sometimes using Stalker Park or Lodge I as workshop. Campers and staff watched the process, fascinated. Those who joined in the work found it unforgettable. Jack also arranged for the first dedicated canoe gift, named the ‘Tom Dodd.’ Former headman Bob Ludwig was the donor. His faithful former camper Jack was the builder. Thus began the tradition of named trip canoes.
He sometimes made new canoes as tuitions for Alex and Brent, who went on to win awards, lead key Pathfinder trips, and direct the canoeing program. Along with the boats and the namesake staffmen was the assurance that restored Pathfinder canoes always reached the Canoe Dock in time for a new season’s Big Moment, while all other Hurley projects would take a back seat if needed.
During the 2000s after Glenn and I took over, he partnered with us to produce far more new canoes as our tripping activity increased. He produced canoes and performed painstaking major rebuilds at a record pace. Often in a given winter, he would rescue two canoes and build 2 – 4 new ones.
Jack urged us to take a more thoughtful approach to canoe care, long before the canoe shop arose. When Jack on his own couldn’t keep up with the wear and tear, alumnus Graham England – who spent retirement time helping Jack with Pathfinder repairs at the Hurley Works – came to stay at Camp a few weeks each summer, tending the fleet. A game changer, Graham was the pit-stop crew chief, keeping the fleet in motion.
As enrollment increased, and the number of Hurley canoes grew, Graham’s on site doctoring became essential. While Jack worked on major rebuilds in Dwight, Graham was keeping up with the routine wounds of tripping.
It was a whole new world when Graham could turn around a canoe repair virtually overnight, in time for a staff man to head right out again. Another huge plus was Graham’s efforts at preventative patching, painting and varnishing.
By this time, canoes ‘Lance Kennedy’, ‘Gyro’, ‘Bob Coakley’, ‘RQ Anderson’, ‘Mac Rand’ and ‘Wendy Swift’ were among the newest named trip canoes.
At one such all-camp dedication ceremony, there was a surprise moment attended by Jack’s family and many friends in the local community, naming the Pathfinder Canoe Dock in honor of Jack Hurley.
A Pathfinder Island workshop devoted to canoe repair and wood working took shape in
2011. Staffman Warren McDermott prepared to guide its activity by attending furniture
making school in Maine, then working alongside Jack in Dwight.
photo: Mac Rand, Jack Hurley, Graham England, Gyro Coakley at canoe dedication ceremony.
Warren opened up the Pathfinder shop. Jack mentored as Warren learned the techniques of cedar canoe making. Jack loaned camp forms for 9- and 14-foot canoes for camper build projects. He also hosted CITs to his Dwight shop to bend ribs and shape planks for CIT legacy projects.
With Jack’s help, Camp acquired a duplicate builder’s form (mold) of the marvelous Hurley 16-foot trip canoe. We visited the Muskoka shop of Stan Hack, apprentice to noted builder Roy Allman. Hack had preserved the plans of Allman’s original Hurley Canoe form, made from the classic lines of a Guides Race winning Cache Lake canoe. We took delivery of our new canoe form, a carefully executed, exact copy of what Jack used, to produce Pathfinder’s modern era trip canoes.
A new chapter began during Pathfinder’s fall crew that September. Warren produced the
first trip canoe from the form. It was named, “Jack and Peggy Hurley”.
As a result, one Pathfinder vignette these days may surprise old timers:
It’s June – Staff Week - Trip Staff crowd the canoe dock for summer canoe assignments. A straightforward event. No more white knuckles while rolling dice in hopes of drawing an adequate boat. Nowadays, all headmen and second men are assigned a ‘named’
Pathfinder canoe, a quality craft named for an important Pathfinder figure – these are the ‘good canoes’.
Every single headman and second man. The wood tripping fleet now exceeds 50 boats!
Under canoeing co-directors Quin Sladden and Kathryn Babin, there was a landmark moment when 8 named canoes remained available after the staff week assignments, (and more were available each half when AA trip staff relinquished their wood for ABS
canoes), so CITs and in-camp paddlers always had first-class canoes to use.
Today, directors like Riley Hanson, Dylan Moeser or Jack Sladden can assign trip canoes and still have plenty on hand for the in-camp canoeing program. Here’s another vignette: the bustling canoe shop on Pathfinder Island.
A dedicated wood shop of our own, on-the-island, took shape in 2011. The Park approved a permit application to set up the shop behind the PX on a pre-disturbed site, where in past years two kitchen boys’ tent platforms sat. Jack recommended Kirby Brandt and Jim Brown from Dwight to build it. Kirby had done buildings for Swifty at AO, and Jim had actually worked at Camp for Mac as a trip staff in the ‘80s.
Staff man Warren McDermott agreed to take over the shop. The goals were ongoing repair of canoes, woodworking projects for campers and staff, and quality wood furnishings for the camp. Warren, a gifted artist who had already spent years with his dad
doing woodworking, attended a furniture making school in Maine, and then worked alongside Jack in Dwight, doing repairs and builds.
So that campers could have the incredible experience of steam bending ribs and fitting planks, Jack loaned Camp his canoe forms for the 14-foot ‘bantam’ size canoe (actually a Playmate), and the little 9-footer he had received from Clarence Bogues. Warren has
since led numerous camper-build projects with them.
From there, the shop began to take on a Pathfinder life of its own. Thanks to trails Jack had blazed and Warren had expanded, the climate was right for woodworking and canoe care to become an important and wonderful experience for everyone in the community each season.
A few seasons into his work, Warren wrote, “Staff doing more of their own repairs, and Campers building canoes, are direct and literal ways to engage [Pathfinder people] with canoes. Having people spend time in the shop fosters a culture of appreciation for wood canoes, knowledge and care about them.
“There’s many projects happening in the shop these days. We’re building blanket chest side tables for the staff cabins, headman Rob Strasenburgh spent days rebuilding dining hall tables. Each tribe of campers has a shop project they can elect to make and take home. A Fall Crew staff built a canoe together in the cold final days of a season.
“I see all of the woodworking that we do and all of the craftsmanship that we teach as very connected to Camp’s wood canoe fleet. Without a sense of the craft, the hard work and hours invested, the wood canvas culture can’t be as meaningful to people. I see the shop as a way to fully immerse all ages, from Micmac up to Headman, in the culture of wood craft, from blanket chests to trip boats.”
These years also inspired builds and gifts to camp from alumni amateurs, with Warren’s encouragement. Steve Lapey’s and Lew Markle’s gorgeous canvas canoes adorn the dock and are in use each summer day.
Warren’s departure a career as a nurse opened the shop door to Joe Egan, who took over canoe work in 2016-17. Joe again teamed up with Jack for guidance, then repaired a slew of boats while crafting his own new build, named 'R.W. Eustis' with a gift from alumni son Mark Eustis.
When the Wyoming mountains and life in Jackson Hole claimed Joe, the Pathfinder canoe shop took another leap forward with the arrival of Park born-and-raised David Statten as canoe maker. A Taylor Statten Camps family member, and owner of Brass Tacks Canoes in Bancroft, David is now in residence at Pathfinder, having apprenticed for years with the renowned builder Dave Standfield.
Jack Hurley of course keeps his hand in, supporting Pathfinder’s fleet with resumed boat work. He makes tradesman referral, compares practices at other traditional camps he helps, listens or coaches from his unique viewpoint, and just provides an encouraging word. And we never forget the support of Peggy, Alex and Brent as well. The Dwight branch of the Hurley clan is always doing something behind the scenes to help Pathfinder thrive.