Wednesday, Sept. 8, at the Bethel Inn: 4:30 p.m. -- A public forum on “The Lewiston/Auburn/Montreal Passenger Rail Feasibility Study.”
Thursday, Sept. 9, Open House at the Mill Hill Inn from 5 to 7 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 18, Harvestfest on the Common; Bethel Historical Society Barn Tour held in conjunction with the Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce's "Harvest Fest," self-guided tour of a dozen or more local barns runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The War Canoe
The Bethel Outing Club, the (informal) Hastings Classic Canoe Museum, Tim Carter and Jeff Parsons came up with an idea of what Jeff Parsons termed an event of huge social, human and historical interest. The event was to bring one of Warren “Sonny” Hastings' classic Old Town wood and canvas canoes out of hibernation for a public appearance.
Mr. Parsons continued -- the story with a historic war canoe as its main actor, comes before a mixture of “people and young folk and a few old duffers.” The 26- foot-long canoe represents a group of men, including Sonny Hastings and Tim Carter, who bought the canoe so many years ago (some have passed away). Messrs. Hastings and Carter carried paddling history forward to our time, maintained their farms and their families, and can now share with younger generations a piece of history in three dimensions that came from the ingenuity of Native Americans hundreds of years ago.
Monday afternoon at the Bethel Inn Beach Club on Songo Pond three generations enjoyed the wholesome opportunity of paddling a classic canoe just as our first settlers were aided by the creators of this unique watercraft -- the Indians of the Androscoggin River. The Old Town canoe which was paddled by more than 30 people Monday afternoon evolved from the birch bark canoes of the Penobscot Indians. On the humorous side of things: a canoe with ten people looked like an Androscoggin version of a cruise ship. To fit 10 people into a canoe with 10 seats meant that the people should all be size 10. Well Sunday’s cruises fitted together well because some were in the size 6-8 range and some were in the size 11-12 range. Seating accommodations were shuffled accordingly.
The day before the Songo Pond outing, a Bethel Outdoor Adventure van with trailer ferried a canoe pickup crew of Coopers, Goldbergs, Seigels and Sarah Southam to the Hastings Farm in East Bethel where Sonny met us and took us into the inner sanctum of the Hastings Canoe Museum. One of the special craft we saw was a 1912 Old Town War Canoe. Then very carefully the canoe to be used on Monday was taken, as Mr. Parsons described it, like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis into the afternoon sunshine and very carefully loaded onto the waiting trailer. After that the whole crew gathered for a “we did it” photo. See photos at
Over the years the price of Old Town wood and canvas canoes has multiplied fantastically -- in some cases from $100 to $3,000. eBay has a 1930 wooden Old Town canoe up for bid with the starting acceptable bid set at $3,000. Another online advertisement lists a new wood with canvas Old Town canoe, 16 feet long with a suggested retail price of $7,585.
Sonny Hastings told why prices for the wooden Old Town canoes went up quickly. The company employed Indians living in the Old Town area, Indian Island is a Penobscot reservation, who had native canoe making skills to make their canoes. The company first started business in 1900. (Its marketing strategy was to use the distribution network of the owner’s very successful horse salve.) As Old Town, which was first named “Indian Old Town Canoes,” became more and more successful making 200 to 400 canoes a month, competition from the dozen or so nearby canoe makers led to raids on Old Town’s Indian labor pool with offers to come and work for them. This forced Old Town to keep increasing wages they paid in order to keep their best canoe craftsmen. Higher costs were passed on to customers. So it sounds like at least for once the Indian received a little better treatment from the White Man.
Other online sources note that Abenaki, Maine or Eastern Indian, canoes differed slightly from those of the larger Algonquin nation to which the Maine Indians belonged. These sources also note how some differences existed between canoes of the Penobscot and those of the Passamaquoddy who lived nearer the coast. Nevertheless, the 1912 Old Town war canoe in the Hastings Museum compared to the authentic Old Town war canoe we saw Monday; it looked very much the same except for seating. Old Town at one time made canoes that were up to 34 feet long – and these were called war canoes of course.
Cleaning up the Androscoggin inspired a group of Bethelites to join in a Labor Day canoe cruise party. Apparently this tradition has passed away. During these last few weeks, canoe floats down the Androscoggin have filled the stream from Gilead to Bethel.
Jumping to an entirely different place, Virginia, Kathy and I made as our first canoe trip, a 25-mile long one, 42 years ago now down the Rappahannock River but in an aluminum canoe. Our trip carried us through many changes in countryside. In one place though, the river took us through a large farm with cattle -- including some bulls -- grazing on both sides of the river which at that point was very shallow. The cows waded back and forth to change sides, get a drink or just cool off as we slowly paddled through them. At one point we drifted by some cows that we accidentally bumped with the canoe. It did seem strange to be able to sit in a canoe, close enough to milk them and see the cow looking down at you. Kathy was urging me to get going -- ASAP.
To wrap this up, I must agree with Jeff Parsons. Having a chance to actually ride in an historic canoe that has been adapted from Maine’s Native American experience is an occasion to remember. To Bethel Outing Club and all concerned –- what a great way to celebrate Labor Day!