The Nanaimo Canoe and Kayak Club is mourning the loss of two vintage voyageur canoes to an early-morning fire.
Firefighters responded to Loudon Park on the south side of Long Lake on Thursday, Nov. 24, to find a temporary shelter and two fibreglass canoes on fire. Both canoes, which originate from the 1960s, and the shelter were completely destroyed.
Ashley Rowe, Nanaimo Canoe and Kayak Club commodore, said she found out about the fire at about 6 a.m. when the coach for one of the rowing teams called her.
“She reported that fire services were just leaving the park and she was able to talk with a couple of the firefighters before they left … I spoke to her on the phone she mentioned that there was no canoes left. That was just mind-baffling to me. I asked, ‘How can there not be any canoes? They can’t burn that quickly, can they?’”
Rowe arrived to find the blackened remains of the craft and the tires they were stored on to keep them off the ground.
She said volunteers Sean Plecas, Danuch Patrick and Paul Steele, of PMG Heritage Yachts, spent months restoring the canoes, which were about 55 years old. The canoes previously belonged to the White Ravens Canoe Club and were used in centennial celebrations that involved paddling the route used by voyageurs. A third canoe of the same vintage, stored under tarps outside the shelter, was spared serious damage. Rowe estimated the canoes that burned were worth about $15,000 and the shelter about $1,000.
“It’s very disheartening because these boats haven’t been used for many years and then this summer was the summer that we were able to put them on the water again and have people out in the boats and they’re a boat that accessible and made for all ages and abilities,” she said.
The canoes, about eight metres long, could hold up to 10 people each and were used for the club’s summer programs, school field trips, community partnerships, such as the Mid-Island Metis Nation, and were also used to help build the club’s membership.
“Painting, sanding, fibre-glassing – I learned a lot,” Patrick said. “That was a good experience because it sort of gives you an idea of how those boats are built [to] restore them.”
Reserve Const. Gary O’Brien, Nanaimo RCMP spokesperson, said police found evidence of a possible homeless encampment under the canoe shelter.
“[This] didn’t appear to actually be an intentional arson as the tarp and items around suggested that it was being utilized as a camp,” he said. “It looks like they had a fire going underneath it.”
O’Brien said there is no security footage and no known witnesses or suspects.
To learn more about the canoe restoration project, visit www.nckc.ca/voyageur-canoes-project.
Anyone with information about this fire is asked to call the Nanaimo RCMP detachment non-emergency line at 250-754-2345 and quote file #2022-41249.