Prospector canoes

When reading the posts on prospector canoes on this site, I feel like this boat is outdated and lack the efficiency of the knew breed of assymetrical canoes boasted by brands like Bell or Wenonah.

So how come that this canoe is still so popular and that even Wenonah offers its own version now ?

Looking at the different versions, It seems that the closer to the original are the Evergreen and the Novacraft prospectors.

Do you Guys have any idea for that popularity ?

I’ll try
Bill Mason may have had something to do with it. He paddled and preached the Prospector design for decades.

It could be the adaptability of a Prospector. Want to run a wilderness river? Two weeks or longer. A Prospector has the capacity to carry the load. The 3-4" rocker is great for quick turns around rocks.

On a wide open lake with heavy swells a Prospector will ride up and over without swamping. Good paddling technique and attention to trim helps keep the canoe in control when it’s windy.

Solo paddler? Simply switch the ends and paddle from the bow seat. Something that isn’t as “efficent” in an asymentrcal boat. Or kneel behind the middle thwart and lean it to the gunnel.

Admitedly, it isn’t necessary to carry 800 lbs of rock ore out of the wilderness nowadays, but the Prospector comes close to being the perfect “all around” canoe. In my book, lots better than those long lean rockets sold by the major canoe makers.

Which ones do you like
for carrying 600lbs(including paddlers), paddling tandem, and handling well in class2 rivers? We’re seriously considering a prospector type canoe, so I’m interested in opinions. Especially from people who have used them as I’ve described.

We’re planning on test paddling Wenonah and Novacraft Prospectors (in Royalex)and are leaning towards the Wenonah because of the 4" rocker. Our friends bought the Novacraft and like it so far.

Well said jjoven! Can’t think of much to

– Last Updated: Mar-22-04 6:01 PM EST –

add to that so I will just anounce my favorite.

My favorite version is the Souris River Prospector, but I must add for tandem paddling only as at 18.5' it is not safe (too much boat) for even well seasoned wilderness paddlers to paddle SOLO. Do not have a favorite shorter version.

Happy Paddl'n!




– Last Updated: Mar-22-04 12:58 PM EST –

You could bid on one of the original Bill Masons canoes:
fixer uppers.

If I wanted a Prospector design I would probably look at a 15 footer instead of 16. With lightweight packing a 15 will hold gear and food for two paddlers out 2 weeks, and it is easier to handle solo.

some other designs:
look at the royalex models. Recommended by Paul Mason.

I Love Mine
I have Prospectors. One is a store-bought Mansfield with mahogany ribs…the other a cedar stripper from the “CanoeCraft” plans. Due to some manufacturing differences, the Mansfield is more manuverable and the stripper is swifter.

Why the popularity, and enthusiasm, for the Prospector?

Curb Appeal–It has clean, classic lines. It looks like the canoe of your imagination.

Needs a skillful paddler-- If tippy spooks your, so will a Prospector. But if can wiggle your hips…if you can ride a horse…you can swivel your hips in a Prospector and learn to get the most from the boat. So far, I’ve found my Prospectors to be a little bit better than I’m able to paddle. It does so much it is a difficult boat to outgrow.

Responsive boat–When loaded, it handles more like a sports car than a family station wagon.

Paddle Solo, well leaned—the shortened waterline really lets you play on flatwater. Fast & nimble at 16 feet.

Did I mention is is a very preety looking canoe?

While Bill Mason did indeed have an effect on the popularity of the Chestnut Prospector, it was always a top seller for the Chestnut Canoe Co. ever since it was introduced back in 1923 right up until this company went out of business in 1978-79.

I have, and have had, many different canoes and my 15’ Prospector, code name Ranger, which was built on an original Chestnut form is still one of the sweetest paddling canoes I’ve ever had.

From what I’ve been able to tell, Harry Chestnut, the managing director of the company for many years, was the principal designer of the Prospector.

Harry Chestnut, and his brother Will, were serious sportsmen in New Brunswick all their lives and had paddled many of the birch bark canoes built, primarily, by the Malecite First Nations builders of that time and I’ve seen a striking resemblence between some of these old birch bark designs and many of Chestnut’s models, including the Prospector.

My guess is that the Prospector was based on one of Harry’s favorite birch bark canoes.

You can say what you will about modern designs, and there are some great ones out there, but when it came to designing canoes I’d be willing to bet that many of the First Nations Canoes are just as good, if not better, than anything a computer can come up with.

Because bark canoes had a very short life span and needed to be replaced on a regular basis, the builder{s} had numerous opportunities to “tweak” their design and tell if what they did enhanced the canoe’s performance for it’s given task whether it be lake or river use.

These designs evolved over the course of many years, perhaps 1000, by people that used them as their primary sources of summer travel so depended very heavily on just how well they performed.

By the time that the Chestnut Canoe Co. was founded in New Brunswick back in 1904, many different designs for different uses were around and, I believe, were just adopted to canvas-covered construction by not only this company, but many of that era.

Add to the fact, that many New Brunswick guide’s, which earned their living in canoes, gave Chestnut their input on what they wanted in a canoe so it’s no surprise that they would come up with an enduring design of which the Prospector is only one.

I’m kind of partial to another model they offered, the Ogilvy Special, which was designed working with the then famous NB guide Dave Ogilvy.


Esquif Prospecteur
Anybody had any experience with the Esquif Prospecteur?

Very interesting, as one can compare 1000 years tweaking experience to minutes computer designed boats.

Thanks,Ogilvyspecial, for your historical perspective. It perhaps explain the versatility of the Prospector. First nations and their successors looked for every day efficient paddling instead of competition (I mean speed etc).

Well relaxing is the today’s purpose of paddling…

Bingo Canot!

– Last Updated: Mar-22-04 5:01 PM EST –

That was the point I was trying to make, the Prospector is a utilitarian design.
Now if you wanted a fast canoe, their Cruiser~Guide's Special was the top dog in it's class for many years, in fact, from what I heard some racers did one off's in Kevlar using the lines of the 18' Leader, which still kicked butt against computer generated designs.
Chestnut's Cruiser~Guide's Special was, and still is, an amazing hull. It was designed for white water but was still one of the fastest canoes out there, which is somewhat of an anomaly.
I'm still trying to figure out how it turns so well with a straight, relatively speaking, keel line.
I'll be looking into this in more depth later this summer after I pick up my 17' Guide's Special, also built on the original Chestnut form, over in NB after a two year wait.
The Guide's Special was nothing more than a close-ribbed Cruiser both models being built on the same form.


Keel line
Thanks for the info – very interesting. Does it need to be leaned to turn easily?

Keel Line II
No, leaning is not necessary, that’s what amazing about this hull. The only thing I can figure is that the round bottom offers less side to side resistance when bringing the hull around.

If interested, I have line drawings of this hull that I could send you if you wanted a closer look, just email me.

Here’s Chestnut’s description of this model from the 1958 catalogue.

A long established favourite of the experienced canoeist, the Chestnut Cruisers are a combination of speed, lightness and strength. The highly specialized design has developed instant response to the touch of the paddle.

The Chestnut Cruisers are mostly used on rivers where swift and dangerous waters are encountered and will often be seen in canoe races where speed is essential.


Three page discussion on the Prospector
from 12/2002 at

It’s very true that not all Prospectors
are Prospectors.

So canot, what canoes do you like for
the conditions I described? Class2 rocky, twisty rivers. 600lbs of people and gear. Tandem.

My idea is that
Indeed it is mostly the reputation that the 16’ Chestnut Prospector

got by Bill Mason, that makes it so easy to get a lot of attention

from people when you call a design that way. Even if it is quite

different from the version* Bill Mason liked.

Anyway, I have my doubts about whether this design fits the real

need(s) of modern day paddlers? For instance are today’s paddlers

also poling an lining/tracking a lot?

From what I know and have read about the original* 16’

Prospector, I think that this design could perhaps be ‘improved’ in

having less resistance at cruising speeds around 4 mph (6 km/h),

dryer paddling in waves and be less sensitive to gross weight

differences between stern and bow paddler, resulting in better

performance especially when lightly loaded? But because it would

also look quite differently, it should have a different name then,

like (Swift) Kipawa/Dumoine or (Bell) NorthStar?

N.B. I am not stating here that a Prospector is bad, although

admittedly, I personally never have been impressed with any so

called Prospector design that I have tried, like for instance

the 18’6" E.M. White Guide canoe did impress me a lot.

  • If only we knew about which design exactly we were talking about.

    And if it is altered, how significant are the changes?

    And would Bill Mason have liked these changes enough to favor it…

A True Prospector
Is probably more canoe than is required by modern day paddlers with today’s light equipment & food and was never designed for such “light loads.”

In 1960, almost 40 years after is was introduced, here’s what Chestnut had to say in their catalogue about the 16-foot Fort model.

Fort: The Fort is a 16 foot Prospector Canoe, ideal for the sportsman and the transportation of supplies by mining and development companies.

In a general comment about this line they go on to say; The Chestnut Prospector Canoes are ideal for today’s sportman for use in hunting and fishing. They combine strength, lightness in weight and outstanding carrying capacity. They are still used in development work by mining and pulpwood workers on Canada’s last frontier.

To date, I’ve yet to recomend a “true” Prospector since I haven’t met anyone that needs a canoe that fits this requirement.

It is true workhorse that did, and still continues to do, it’s job well for those in need of such a canoe.

Dirk, I agree about the seat placement of the Prospector. Last summer, after paddling We-no-nah’s version the comment was made that my wife, who weighs 100 lbs. less than I do, was out of the water. Later on, when I received a photo of us out that day I saw what they meant, she was!

When I had my 15-footer built, I had the stern seat moved forward 14" and the bow back about 2" to suit my needs for this canoe, which is swift water use lightly loaded and solo use.


Pal, not Prospector?
I believe Bill Mason’s usual canoe was in fact a Pal, not a Prospector.

For those who enjoy the look and feel of a traditional canoe, or who take things at a slower pace, a Prospector is a fine canoe. There are faster, more efficient canoes available for the fast-paced crowd. I find Prospector-style canoes to be deeper than I need, increasing susceptibility to wind. And the high but narrow bow does not resist diving into waves, or shed water like a more flared design.

As noted above, there are many canoes carrying the Prospector name, however, they differ considerably in size and shape. For example, the 16’ Evergreen is much smaller (34") than the same length version from either Wenonah or Nova Craft (36"). I like the Evergreen version, though for large people tripping in tandem it may be a disadvantage.

I feel the paddling backwards from the bow seat business is over-rated, and the position from a kneeling thwart is better suited to keeping the front down, and to controlling the boat. I would not let that limit my options to a symmetrical design.

I prefer longer canoes, and would go longer rather than shorter if I was having trouble choosing. I’d rather have more speed and more capacity, even if it is not req’d for every situation.

4 of Bill’s Canoes…
are going up for bid here including a Prospector and a Pal…

Wenonah Prospector
I’m thinking about purchasign a Prospector.

How did the Wenonah track, and can you compare paddling it to paddling the Novacraft?