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Building wood-canvas canoes makes us acutely aware of the fact that canoes are an Indigenous creation. Our story begins with the acknowledgment that all of our models are one step removed from the canoes that remain central to Indigenous cultures across Canada. It’s an honour to share this connection. We also recognize the darker truths of the canoe in the colonization of Canada, and the fact that the canoes we build have been appropriated from Indigenous communities.


Canoes are no longer used to stake claim to the land, but the checkered history of our canoes is written into their names. The Prospector models, in particular, played a huge role in attempts to extinguish Indigenous title to traditional lands. We believe canoes are agents of truth and reconciliation: they serve to encourage reflection, acknowledgment and journeying together to find a better pathway forward.

Our Outlook

We believe in the form and function of wood-canvas canoes, and take joy in experiencing and sharing their magic on the water.


Headwaters canoes are strong, seaworthy and responsive.

Headwaters canoes are meant to be repaired and restored for a lifetime of use.

Headwaters canoes can be customized to save weight.

Our Workshop

We build canoes on a seasonal cycle, similar to the school year. Much of the fall is occupied by acquiring wood from local and regional sources, including eastern white cedar, white ash and black cherry, and milling it into ribs, sheeting (planking), gunwales and trim. Actual canoe building and restoration season usually begins in late autumn through winter. We operate in stages—preparing materials, bending ribs and tacking sheeting, and stretching canvas over the finished hulls. Once it’s spring we’re ready to apply finishes and install trim. New canoes and restorations are ready for pick-up in May through late June. Closing the shop and going paddling for the summer is a Headwaters tradition, allowing time for our own recovery, research and development and inspiration for the next season. 


Our Customers

Hugh Stewart started building wood-canvas canoes for his personal use and for friends in the mid-1980s. Business picked up considerably as partnerships were made with several summer camps, including Camp Temagami. Our experience maintaining fleets of heavy-duty camp canoes has informed many of our canoe-building practices, allowing the opportunity to discover and perfect new techniques. 


Old friends and canoe trip camps remain loyal Headwaters Canoes customers, joined by a growing number of cottage paddlers and wilderness trippers who have discovered the joy of owning custom-built wood canvas canoes. We’ve had the pleasure of building several canoes as wedding presents. Over the years we’ve sent new canoes all across North America and overseas, as well as restoring hundreds of well-loved tripping and cottage canoes.

Our Team

First and foremost, Headwaters Canoes are built by people who dream about paddling. The company was founded by Hugh Stewart, a veteran paddler who has completed many significant wilderness expeditions from Labrador to the Yukon Territory—often in wood-canvas canoes he built himself. Hugh has remained an integral presence and mentor in the shop after he handed over the Headwaters brand and ethos to his co-workers and trip mates Jamie Bartle and Kate Prince.  Other craftspeople have passed through the shop over the years and left their own marks that remain an integral part of the shop today: Rod, Laurence, Dave, Amy, Andrew, Mike, amongst other helping hands from Camp Temagami over the years.


Today, Jamie and Kate proudly maintain Hugh’s tradition of building classic Chestnut wood-canvas canoes that are both functional and beautiful. They share Hugh’s value of escaping each summer on wilderness journeys as a means of personal rejuvenation and “research and development,” to continue experiencing the joy of travelling in well-designed, handcrafted canoes. 

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