Handcrafters of the all-Canadian vehicle, survivors of both the Depression and altered wartime production, Chestnut Canoe Co. Ltd, is floundering in the worst white water in its 81-year history. Starting with wood-canvas craft and moving to modern Fiberglas, the firm has made more than 100,000 canoes ranging from sleek 11-footers for moonlit lovers to 24-foot freight-luggers. Named by prime minister Mackenzie King as an essential industry during World War II, production switched to troop snowshoes, but today, even with sport canoeing and back-to naturism enjoying new-found friends, Chestnut is about to strike bottom. In
September, the company’s owners, LockWood Ltd. of Moncton, New Brunswick, a manufacturer of doors and windows, announced Chestnut was closing with production staff of 45 laid off. Since then, 15 workers have been rehired to complete orders, but if a buyer cannot be found by year’s end, the company will close.
Chestnut's problems aren’t new. Founded in 1897 by Harry and Will Chestnut in the back of their father’s Fredericton hardware store, the business has always been relatively small and often in need of cash. Still, demand was such that in 1974, Chestnut, then owned by three local men, abandoned its antiquated four-storey factory in Fredericton and, with the help of a DREE grant, relocated in a new 77,000-square-foot plant in nearby Oromocto. It was, however, too late, the trade had gone elsewhere. Overnead costs and interest charges mounted, sales flagged, and last December it was sold out to Lock-Wood.
The new owners aggressively increased production by 30 per cent last winter, and began new advertising and marketing programs. But, as Mike Mallory, Chestnut’s vicepresident and general manager says: “We didn’t know it at the time but sales were on the decline.” This summer, when management finally accumulated all the figures, it found "a long haul in terms of money and time” to put the company back on its feet. Chestnut will survive into 1979 only if LockWood can find a buyer to move the company and scale down operations, or add a second product to help defray existing overhead expenses. Otherwise, the firm will do what Harry and Will Chestnut’s canoes rarely did: sink David Folster
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