Prospector Canoe
Credit: Kevin Callan

My preference for canoe design has always been the Prospector. My backyard is cluttered with old cedar/canvas Prospectors, fiberglass Prospectors, Royalex Prospectors and Kevlar Prospectors. So why the specific choice of canoe? It could be Bill Mason’s influence on me.

I taught myself how to paddle by watching this legendary paddler’s films over and over again. Mason preferred the Prospector and, in turn, so did I. It could also be the type of wilderness I find myself paddling most — the Canadian Shield. The Prospector was built for such a landscape where travel by canoe consists of various watercourses (lakes, ponds, creeks, rivers, etc). But it could also have something to do with not having much money. If I had more cash to throw around then I would have a wider assortment of canoe designs — just as a golfer has different clubs to reach the green.

Put in simple terms, the Prospector is not perfect at anything, but it’s moderately good at everything. It’s the best all-around design. If I could only own one canoe, then it makes good sense to make it a Prospector. I’m also guessing that’s why actual prospectors chose to use it.

The shape is symmetrical, meaning both ends are the same shape. This allows you to paddle tandem but can easily be switched to paddle solo. You merely sit in the front seat, trim the boat by shifting ballast and then paddle stern first. Asymmetrical hulls don’t allow for that option.

The Prospector is good for a short day-trip but also for extended time exploring the wilderness. In fact, it has better control when loaded with gear. It’s deep, wide and has a substantial arch in the bottom, designed to carry heavy loads and deal with large waves on lakes and in rapids. The boat, however, has lots of rocker for maneuverability. When heeled over while soloing, both ends rise nicely out of the water.

The Prospector was originally developed by Chestnut Canoe Company of Fredericton, New Brunswick. They no longer exist, but a good assortment of companies is out there still making the design, some closer to the original than others. (Some are even bastardizing the name.) My favourite over the years have been the Glenn Fallis from Voyageur Canoe Co. (Millbrook, Ontario) and Nova Craft (London, Ontario).

Since its commencement, the Prospector came in various lengths, from 14 to 18 feet. The 16-foot, however, has been the most common. Also, the preferred colour is red. Bill Mason paddled an iconic red Prospector. (Mind you, famed painter Tom Thomson’s choice was blue. He didn’t want to spook the fish below him.)

My colour choice? I’m partial to whatever is on sale.