An Unlikely Voyage of an Amazon River Canoe

How many Old Sedberghians from the 1970s through 2010 knew that an original Amazon River canoe had found its way to Sedbergh? We all knew of the Inuit kayak that graced the wall of the Founders' Room in the new school. That craft seemed appropriate as a Canadian motif, but a canoe from the Amazon?

When the school closed in 2010 and we collected the memorabilia, the red canoe was found in one of the sheds in the back Valley. It had previously been stored under the benches in the garage/workshop for years until that building's roof fell in under the weight of snow. No one knew the provenance of that boat, although rumours abounded.

What to do with it? With no clear answers, it was taken to the storage site in Lachute with all the Sedbergh outdoor education material.

I wanted to find out about it. Requests to Old Sedberghians for information as to where it had come from fell on deaf ears; even teachers and the Headmaster were unable to provide clarity.

The first hint finally came from a teacher, Tom Steel, who suggested he had heard it had been traded somewhere in the Amazon basin for a package of cigarettes. With this clue, the South American students were contacted but without success. Someone else suggested (it might have been Tom Steel) that one of the Kennedy brothers, Angus, had been in the Amazon area. Perhaps he might know.

I wrote him. And he did! Angus Kennedy ('71) sent the following information to elucidate the long-standing mystery. Thanks, Angus!

THE UNLIKELY VOYAGE OF AN AMAZON RIVER CANOE

In 1971, Angus Kennedy graduated from Sedbergh and set out to see the world. He took a job on a cargo ship, the MV Ontario, sailing out of Three Rivers with rolls of newsprint destined for the port of Santos, in Brazil. The return voyage was planned from Belem at the mouth of the Para River (a tributary of the Amazon) after picking up mahogany timber from logging camp docks along the Para.

At the last settlement dock, Angus spied a red canoe made of mahogany.

Water craft like this were paddled all over the Amazon basin and are still the principal form of transport for the people of the area. A native sitting in the canoe called out to Angus. A friend nearby translated, "He wants to know if you would like to buy his canoe?"

"How much?" asked Angus, and the native pointed to the cigarettes in Angus' pocket. Tough negotiations were concluded with the handing over of ten cartons of Bensons and Hedges ($1.99 a carton in those days) and the raising of the red canoe onto the deck of the MV Ontario.

The return voyage to Canada was fraught with adventure, including a fire in the engine room which threatened to sink the ship as well as the red canoe.

Finally, the MV Ontario tied up at Three Rivers, and the canoe was "declared" to the Canadian customs. Sufficiently amused, they charged no duty and Angus brought the canoe up to Sedbergh and High Lake where, because it was something very different,he thought it would be well-used by students."

Angus, whether it was well- used or not, the canoe is now of interest to the Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough. The information you have given increases the chance that your red canoe will find a home there.

Regards,

Tony