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THIS BOBS SPECIAL BELONGED TO FORMER PRIME MINISTER PIERRE ELLIOT TRUDEAU.


PHOTO: COURTESY OF THE CANADIAN CANOE MUSEUM


[ CANOES ] Who’s Bob? AND WHAT MAKES HIM SO SPECIAL?


Day-tripper or weekend warrior, it seems ev- eryone loves the Bobs Special. Its longstanding appeal has made it one of the most popular ca- noes of all time. But who was Bob? First made in 1905 by New Brunswick’s Chest-


nut Canoe Company, the Bobs Special we know to- day was marketed as the 50-Pound Special. Its sell- ing feature, aside from remarkable stability due to its wide beam, was its 50-pound weight—10 pounds lighter than boats of a similar size at the time. When transmitting orders, the Chestnut Canoe Com-


pany’s telegraph code for the boat was BOBS. It’s here the mystery unfolds. “The code BOBS was a salute to a beloved, senior Brit-


ish commander in the Boer Wars, Lord Frederick Roberts,” says Roger MacGregor, author of When the Chestnut was in Flower, a history of the Chestnut Canoe Company. Roberts’ nickname? Bobs. Five-foot-three and sporting a truly excellent mus-


tache throughout much of his life, Lord Roberts was one of the most successful commanders of the 19th century. He served in the British Army from 1851 until he retired in 1904, at the age of 72. The Chestnut Canoe Company got many of their


canoe model names from high-spirited characters on both sides of the South African Boer Wars. “These people became iconic and legendary in


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their own way,” says Jeremy Ward, curator at the Canadian Canoe Museum. Paul Kruger and Piet Cronje are two other wartime leaders whose tac- tics inspired model names. In 1956, the Chestnut Canoe Company cata- logue stopped using the model name 50-Pound Special and first listed the same canoe as the Bobs Special, for practical reasons. “It took great care to shave ounces off each model to make it 50 pounds. During the 1950s that became unsustainable,” says


Ward. More than a hundred years after it was first manu-


factured, the Bobs Special maintains its popularity. “They’re tubby little things and people adore them, whether 50 or 55 pounds,” says Ward. “It’s a boat for idyllic times.” Sold by more than a dozen companies today, there


are some creative spellings, including the Bob Spe- cial or Bob’s Special but both Ward and MacGregor agree, it’s Bobs Special. No apostrophe. Though the Chestnut Canoe Company shipped


their final canoe in 1979, MacGregor met with the company’s last president, George Birch, when writing his book. “He told me, ‘I could’ve taken home any canoe but I chose one of the little Bobs. There’s something about them. They’re so com- fortable and my wife and I feel so confident in it.’ I thought it was telling of the appeal of the Bobs that out of all the boats he could have had, he chose that one,” says MacGregor. —Kaydi Pyette


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