Towards the end of the 19th century, affluent American adventurers discovered the New Brunswick wilderness and traveled along the Saint John River in wood-canvas canoes crafted by B.N. Morris, E.M. White, and E.H. Gerrish.
William and Henry Chestnut, who inherited their father’s hardware business, recognized the demand for canvas-covered canoes. However, importing them from the United States would significantly increase their price due to import duties. The Chestnut brothers hired boatbuilder Jack J. Moore to construct a Morris canoe replica. Early Chestnut canoes clearly exhibited Morris’s influence.
As Chestnut’s business expanded and required additional skilled builders, William Chestnut went to Maine and actively recruited workers from the Old Town factory. Old Town retaliated by filing a lawsuit and threatening to establish their own factory in Canada.
In 1905, Chestnut was awarded a patent for the wood-canvas canoe construction process, even though it had been in use for over three decades. In 1909, they sued Peterborough Canoe Company for patent infringement, but the case was dismissed. Eventually, Chestnut Canoe Company and Peterborough Canoe Company merged under the holding company Canadian Watercraft Limited, with Canadian Canoe Company joining in 1927. All three companies maintained distinct identities post-merger while marketing nearly identical canvas canoe lines. It is commonly believed that Chestnut handled canvas canoe production for all three companies.
The Chestnut Canoe Factory became the largest enterprise of its kind in the British Empire. By 1914, the globally renowned company produced 1,200 exquisite canoes annually and supplied the armed forces with thousands of pairs of snowshoes. Today, vintage Chestnut canoes are highly sought after.
The visible brick factory building is actually the second factory on this site.
The first factory was finished in 1908. But in December 1921, it all burned down in a spectacular blaze. In 1923 a new building was finished.
After 69 years in operation, the Chestnut Company relocated from Fredericton to a new factory in Oromocto in 1974. The factory permanently closed in 1979, shipping their last canoes early that year. Many of the Chestnut molds still exist and are used in various wooden canoe shops across Canada.
One notable Chestnut canoe enthusiast was American President Teddy Roosevelt, who purchased Chestnut canoes for a South American expedition.