Paddle the True North
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Reflecting on 2020

January 4th, 2021 by

Photo by Northern Scavenger

Exploring the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on the outdoors industry and as they relate to our business and community.

I

t’s been quite a year. We started things off riding high in anticipation of our 50th anniversary. We dug deep into the company’s history and brought Ken Fisher, the founder of Nova Craft Canoe, in to meet our team. We pulled materials from our archives for our anniversary catalog and marketing campaigns. We launched a line of limited edition anniversary products: enamel camp mugs, embroidered patches and handcrafted wooden paddles commissioned by respected small-batch producer Hunter & Harris, all emblazoned with our redesigned 50th anniversary logo.
Then, in early March, everything changed with the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic in North America. Covid-19 cancelled industry trade shows and interrupted our plans for an event series, in addition to interrupting canoe production in our busiest months, and the lives of our staff and customers. When we were mandated to shut down in March of this year by the provincial government, things looked pretty bleak. We thought our season, and our anniversary celebrations, were effectively over.

While we and every other Ontarian hunkered down in lockdown at home, the weather inched towards spring. Pretty soon everyone was craving escape into the outdoors. We received a record number of inquiries and pretty soon, when retail re-opened: a canoe boom.
In 2020 we’ve connected more folks with canoes this year than ever before. Through the Anniversary Photo Contest we ran online we got a chance to connect virtually with thousands of our customers and hear about their best memories and all of the wonderful places they’ve been in our canoes.

We’ve also worked hard to give back. In sponsoring the Canoe4Covid team and their epic Ontario canoe trip we are proud to have helped them raise over $80,000 for Canada Food Banks, with 50% of those funds being directed to Indigenous communities. In the fall, our staff participated in the Canoe Flip Challenge and donated a canoe to the Project Canoe fleet. We also continue to support the efforts of Friends of Killarney Park and Friends of Algonquin Park organizations by contributing a canoe donation for their annual raffle fundraisers. These organizations work hard to ensure the stewardship of the places we love to paddle.

In addition to the changes the outdoor industry is seeing due to Covid-19, there is a social awakening happening too. With George Floyd’s murder and the mainstream awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement that sprung up in its wake, the outdoors industry is reckoning with a culture that has not historically been diverse, inclusive or welcoming to those outside the traditional profile of the “outdoorsperson”. BIPOC outdoor enthusiasts deserve much better from us and we will be making an effort to step up, starting with adding Tori Baird to ambassador team roster. In 2021 we’ll be gifting Tori with a lightweight canoe for her Paddle Like a Girl clients to paddle and portage at the weekend workshops she runs which are designed to instill women with the know-how and confidence they need to thrive in the backcountry. We’re proud to support an organization that welcomes and empowers women to be outdoors. Keep your eyes and ears open for upcoming announcements about other initiatives we’re excited to launch in 2021.

Writing this today, it’s early January 2021 and we’re in the thick of another provincially mandated shutdown. This time, we are able to continue manufacturing with distancing and other measures in place to ensure the safety of our staff. While it’s difficult to anticipate what lies ahead in the coming months, it is likely that folks will continue to turn to outdoor recreation as a reprieve from the pandemic induced anxiety and cabin fever that are all too familiar to us now. That means we are anticipating another big year of consumer demand for outdoor hard goods like canoes. For small brands like ours, production capacity is limited by space, equipment and staffing. We are a small but mighty team working hard to increase our capacity incrementally, but we urge folks who are looking to buy canoes in 2021 to get their orders in as early as possible with their local retailers.

If you’re at the beginning of the research journey, our website is packed with info that can help you narrow down your search – check out the Buyer’s Guide here –  and you can call us anytime at 866 88 CANOE to get gear advice (from a real human person!). Our independent retail partners are also fantastic resources, and happy to help you find the perfect canoe. Give them a call or send them an email if your local paddle shop is currently closed to foot traffic. When you’re ready to place your order, be aware that wait times will be long again this year, due to capacity limitations and the fact that we are sure to encounter more supply chain breakdowns as the pandemic rages on. Ordering early is the best way to increase your shot at receiving a canoe this year. While we continue to do our best to deliver on time, there is so much beyond our control that can contribute to delays. Your patience and understanding goes a long way, and is very much appreciated by our team.

Finally, thank you. It is only with the support of our amazing community and the hard work and dedication of our team that we were able to pull 2020 off. We’ve all been paddling against a nasty headwind for the better part of 10 months, but we’re feeling hopeful about 2021. The storm just may be clearing.

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