Recently, one-piece hardwood canoe paddles have surged in popularity — especially in the lakes and rivers of Ontario, the heart of Canadian canoe country. These paddles are cut and shaped entirely by hand from a single piece of kiln-dried hardwood. To use one of these white ash or cherry-wood beauties is to sense the labor required to craft such a blade, and to make a profound connection with the water. Traditional paddles feel alive, perhaps because of their more even flex and the ever-changing kaleidoscope of colors and patterns revealed in their unique grain. Here are five made-in-Ontario favorites.
This warhorse paddle is my gold standard. It's joined me on five expeditions to Hudson Bay, and I reckon it's older than I am: My elderly neighbor gifted it to me when I was a teenager. I love the Lolk's whippy blade and simple yet supremely comfortable grip. The curly grain pattern of the stout ash blade is psychedelic. A modified beavertail shape is suitable for use in the bow or stern. Unfortunately, Lolk paddles appear to have disappeared from the mainstream market, but I'm still holding out hope to find a replacement at a canoe country garage sale.
Fishell Modified Special
Fishell Paddles evolved out of the legacy of Ray Kettlewell, a legendary Canadian paddle-maker. The Modified Special is a Kettlewell classic—an elongated version of the typical ottertail shape, a favorite traditional blade for stern paddlers and solo canoeists alike. Its long, cherry blade is smooth in the water and works for long days of lake water paddling.
Grey Owl Tripper
I became interested in Grey Owl's Tripper for its similarity to my beloved Lolk paddle. The Tripper has a modified beavertail shape with plenty of surface area. Constructed of cherry, the blade has plenty of "kick" and an epoxy insert at the tip for durability. Grey Owl's quality control has evolved over 40 years of production. Aesthetically and functionally, this paddle is impeccable.
Upstart Algonquin Park-based paddle-maker Badger has injected new energy into traditional canoe paddles, with clever updates to classic shapes. My wife's BadgerTail, a long, narrow blade that pulls lots of water with its teardrop tip, has a combination finish—durable varnish on the blade, and buttery, blister-proof oil on the shaft. Early Badgers featured a narrow shaft, which some large-handed paddlers found less comfortable. The current generation of Badger Paddles feature more ergonomically designed oval shafts.
Grey Owl Northern Light
An exception to the one-piece rule, Grey Owl's Northern Light is a fantastic traditionally inspired blade. You won't find a lighter wooden paddle. (Our 60-inch test paddle weighs 18 ounces.) Constructed of laminated cedar and basswood, the Northern Light would likely be impractical for real-world use were it not for the layer of fiberglass cloth protecting the blade and strip of epoxy protecting the entire perimeter. In the water, this modified ottertail has the lively feel of a one-piece paddle, with the lightness of a racing paddle.