Categorized | IN OUR COMMUNITY

A thing of beauty is a joy forever. Even a 76-year old canoe.

Posted on 08 March 2018 by Calvin

For Kevin Buzicky, getting his old canoe restored to its previous glory was homage to his dad, Ed Buzicky who died, at age 99, in 2016. “Dad instilled a love of the water and the outdoors in me from a young age,” he said. “I have fond memories of my dad and my brother and I going to our lake cabin at Brigg’s Lake, near St. Cloud. We’d catch a bunch of crappies and put them in the freezer, and the next weekend, we’d smoke them.”

The canoe, a 1935 Thompson-Hiawatha canoe, almost didn’t stay in the family, Buzicky said. “Dad was going to sell it to a neighbor for $200, and I asked him, why not sell it to me. It was usable but was aqua blue, and he had painted the outside so many times that the canvas ended up having to be removed and replaced.” He considered taking the boat to a commercial, professional boat builder, who quoted him $3,500 for the job. But, Buzicky had a better idea.

Photo right: The canoe, circa 1941, on top of Ed Buzicky’s car. (Photo submitted)

Ed Buzicky was a young man, only 19-years old, when bought the canoe, hoping to connect to the Minnesota tradition of fishing and boating. It cost $64 when he purchased it in 1936, about $1,120 in today’s money and his son ended up spending about that much to have it restored. But, that money also went to a good cause. It was part of the tribute.

Buzicky called Urban Boatbuilders, 2288 University Ave. W., an organization that helps troubled kids in St. Paul.

Volunteers, working a few hours a week, restored the canoe, the money going to help fund courses that include an after-school work experience program and an apprentice program.

“It was a year before they agreed to do it,” he said. “In January of 2017, the volunteers came to my garage and picked up the canoe. I visited their workshop with my stepmother a couple of times as they restored wood, removed the old canvas and stretched a new canvas over the boat.”

“It took another year for them to finish it, but they put the last coat of red paint on this January, a week before the opening of the Minneapolis Boat Show, where it was on display.”
Buzicky said he’d been following and donating to the organization for a number of years. “I am extremely thankful to the staff for doing such a great job on the Hiawatha Canoe to honor my father,” he said.

“At Urban Boatbuilders, projects engage youth through hands-on experiences. It empowers them to be successful in school, work and life,” said Marc Hosmer, the executive director of the program. The schools select the younger kids for the School Partnership Program, he said, finding kids for whom traditional classrooms are not a good fit. Older kids, aged 16 through 19, can apply for an apprentice program where they learn boat building and in doing so, learn to use math, engineering, and technical skills.

Photo left: Marc Hosmer, Urban Boat Builder’s Executive Director shows off the restoration of Kevin Buzicky’s restored 1935 Thompson-Hiawatha canoe. (Photo by Stephanie Fox)

“They also learn social and emotional skills like communication, collaboration, and problem-solving. They learn skills they’ll need for jobs, including the soft skills like how to show up on time and how to interact at work,” Hosmer said.

“When some of these (School Partnership) kids come into the program,” said volunteer Al Raymond, “they couldn’t look you in the eye. At the end, six months later, they’re giving speeches, talking about college, or starting their own business.”

Apprentices often come into the program facing barriers to employment, said Hosmer.

Apprentices often come into the program, facing barriers to employment, said Hosmer. Some have been involved with the justice system. “We look for youth who are interested in hands-on skills. What they learn can translate into jobs in other fields, technical jobs, and jobs in the trades.”

Apprentices also get a chance to try out the boats they build on field trips to places like the Boundary Waters or the St. Croix River. For some of the kids, it will be their first real trip outside of the cities. Most of them can’t swim, but before they take to the water, they’ll get some basic instruction on swimming and, of course, will wear life jackets. The kid builds boats, and then they get to put it on the water, learning to launch and paddle them.

“The Boundary Waters is like an out-of-body experience for some,” said Bob Anderson, another Urban Boatbuilder’s volunteer. “The program broadens their perspective. You see the transformation, and it’s not just the kids who are affected. At graduation, the parents will tell us how much their kids have changed.”

Buzicky’s red canoe is not the only old canoe that the volunteers have restored. “Many of the boats we get are pre-1950s,” said Homser. “One came from the early 1900s. But what’s unique about this boat is the family history. It’s nice to be able to make an emotional connection and have memories come back to life.”

“My dad courted my mother in the canoe around Lake Phalen, Buzicky said. “He painted the outside many times until the paint was cracked from age. He varnished the inside and always kept it indoors or covered.”

“My dad’s canoe is heavier than modern canoes,” he continued. “The 1935 model is 17 ft. long and weighs 75 lbs. These day they have lightweight 25 lbs. canoes, but they aren’t as beautiful.”

Buzicky’s canoe remains at Urban Boatbuilders for now, but he has plans for it. Eventually, it will grace his place in Bayfield, Wisconsin, where he spends weekends. But, before it gets displayed in that home’s cathedral ceiling, it will be part of a Boat Festival at the end of May at Lake Phalen, where newly graduated apprentices will launch it. He hopes, he said, to be one of those paddling the canoe across the water.

Buzicky starts to choke up at the memories brought back by new newly restored canoe and thought of his dad courting his mother at Phalen. “The canoe will be there, back to where my dad enjoyed it. It will be a great tribute.”

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