The most frequently asked question I get is: “What is the value of my canoe?” I feel uncomfortable putting a price on a wood-canvas canoe. To people who own one, attaching a dollar value to a wood-canvas canoe is comparable to putting a price on a son or daughter.
I guess the simplest answer is: “It is worth whatever someone is willing to pay.” Since I have a hard time seeing these canoes as commodities, I concentrate on their restoration and repair in my business and leave the buying and selling to someone else.
A quick look through classified ads will show a huge range in the asking prices for fully restored wood-canvas canoes. Fully restored canoes are listed in a range from $3,500 to $7,000. Bear in mind that a brand-new Old Town Guide canoe – made by hand on the original mould – currently sells for $9,000USD (about $12,000CAD). Serviceable canoes that need some work are usually listed from $1,500 to $2,500. Canoes requiring a full restoration (woodwork repairs plus a refinished interior and a new canvas) can be picked up for $50 (or free) to $500.
A number of years ago (around 2004), I bought an original Greenwood Canoe for $900. The bulk of the woodwork was in excellent condition and the interior varnish was still in very good condition. The canvas was original (about forty years old) and although it was not rotting, it needed to be replaced. Greenwood canoes are well-known to wood-canvas canoe enthusiasts in British Columbia. Bill Greenwood built canoes in his shop on Mitchell Island in Richmond, BC from 1934 to 1975. His workmanship was unequalled. Anyone who knows these canoes bows their head in reverence whenever they speak of Bill Greenwood and his canoes.
In my shop, I brought the canoe back to life. The original mahogany outwales were shot, so I replaced them with exact copies. I added a couple of coats of varnish to the woodwork and painted the new canvas the dark green that was typical for Greenwood canoes. The next spring, I removed the original wood-slat seats and replaced them with mahogany-framed hand-woven cane seats in the style of Greenwood canoes. I removed the bow-quarter thwart, installed a mahogany carrying yoke and moved the stern-quarter thwart to a position halfway between the stern seat and the centre yoke.
I had no intentions of selling this canoe and, at that time, I had not seen a restored canoe sell for more than $2,500. So, when anyone asked me how much I wanted for it, I told them, “The canoe is all yours for $4,500.” In 2008, someone fell in love with my canoe and handed me a check.
If you are looking to sell (or buy) a wood-canvas canoe, it is helpful to keep things in perspective. Any “original canoe in mint condition” will most likely require about $3,000 to $4,000 in repairs and a new canvas to make it fully functional again (if the work is done by a professional canoe restorer) on top of whatever it cost to buy. If you, as a buyer, see a fully restored canoe listed for $4,500 -- the owner is probably just trying to recover the cost of the restoration. If you are selling, it is possible to get the price you are looking for. Just be prepared to wait a long time for that “special someone” to come along.