18 July 2017

A long-forgotten tale: Paddler on Centennial racing canoe wants it on show

Mervin Green recalls the New Brunswick Centennial canoe team, which raced 104 days through 5 provinces

By Nathalie Sturgeon, CBC News

Fifty years ago, Mervin Green tried out for the New Brunswick Centennial canoe team in a race against nine other provinces as part of Canada's 100th birthday celebrations.

The 3,200 mile trip took the provincial teams from Rocky Mountain House, a town 80 kilometers west of Red Deer, Alberta, to Montreal in time for the Expo '67. The trip lasted 104 days.

Green and the surviving members of the team that paddled from Alberta to Montreal in 1967 will meet New Brunswick Lt.-Gov. Jocelyne Roy-Vienneauhe today in Fredericton.

The canoe is now part of the Central New Brunswick Woodsmen's Museum collection in Boiestown.

He said the Centennial team's mostly forgotten story and the canoe should be on display somewhere else.

Green later clarified to CBC News that he wished the historic canoe would have been part of the Canada 150 celebrations and on display in Fredericton this summer as a way to tell a nearly forgotten tale of Canadian perseverance.

"It's a shame government didn't bring that down and have it on display at government house for the year or something," said Green. "It's such a wonderful canoe. It's a great Canadian story."

"That's what I couldn't understand," said Green, who is from Hayesville, almost 80 kilometres north of the capital. "The province of New Brunswick, with that canoe — this is my opinion — they should have that canoe on display right from early spring on.

"They should have it set up somewhere in Fredericton, where people can see and take pictures."

He said younger generations won't know about the canoe race, which was supposed to celebrate the early explorers of Canada, so he wants to tell the story of New Brunswick's part in it.

How it started

That year, he said, an ad was placed in local newspapers, asking for people to be a part of the New Brunswick canoe team.

"There was a lot of people, mostly university guys and young people that applied," he said. "I found this in the paper, so I decided,  and another guy from the Miramichi, Bill McKay, we would take part."

Green and McKay didn't do so well their first tryout. In fact, they placed last.

But Green was determined to be a part of the New Brunswick team, so he visited the organizer, who told him: "We're having another tryout, and it's going to be all-day and if you can pass the test then you're welcome to come and try out."

"So he added my name to the list. But I came over, and I would say there were about 65 for the last tryout, and before the day was over, there was only 29 left," he said.

Green was one of the 29.

Now the time had come to pick the team. Each competitor had to pick eight other men and seat alternates. Green said he was named by every other paddler, so he made the team of eight.

"Now, we'll pick the captains," he said. "They asked if I would be assistant captain. I love competing. I love racing."

But this wasn't Green's first attempt at canoe racing.

"Before that, Bill McKay and I were in a race from Doaktown to Blackville," he said.

"We was up against the Brophys from Blackville, which was champion. They had a canoe made by Chestnut for racing, and we just had an ordinary canoe made by Chestnut but not for racing, and we beat them and we beat them badly."

Green was the assistant captain and was often found at the stern of the canoe.

"I was in that boat every day except for five of them," he said. "And really, a lot of those days was because the water was so rough in some of the big lakes that you couldn't paddle in it. It wasn't safe."

At 33 years old, he said, he was paddling 60 strokes a minute. There was no room for error.

Manitoba won, but the long journey ended well for the New Brunswick team as well.

"We ended up in fifth place," Green said. "We beat out two professional teams. We beat out Saskatchewan and Quebec."

Boiestown home

Shaped from fibreglass, the 25 feet long canoe is the flagship of the boat collection at the Boiestown woodsmen's museum.

The museum even constructed a boathouse to house the vessel when it first arrived on permanent loan from the New Brunswick Museum in 2013, said Beatrice Price, Executive Director of the Woodman's Museum.

"It is important for us to have it here because we are a history museum," she said. "We preserve not only our local, but also our provincial history and we like to keep it close to Mervin.

"It's an amazing piece of history. And it's gorgeous and a real big part of our Boistown history."

Green, who grew up in the area, added that he's happy the canoe has a home.

"Years ago they had it in a shed in Saint John," he said. "Then a boat group brought it out to the headpond near Fredericton, and they didn't treat it right."

He said the canoe filled up with water and then it just sat around until the museum found it and fixed it up.

"And they did a beautiful job restoring it," he said. "It still has most of it's original paint."