A toy canoe he set loose in the Grand River was found in Cayuga and returned to him eight years later. Last week, Brock Scheifele repeated the launch to mark the fifth anniversary of his mother’s passing.
The event along the banks of the Grand River in St. Jacobs helped him pay his respects to the woman who introduced him to the 1941 children’s book Paddle-to-the-Sea, which inspired his first launch eight years ago.
In Paddle-to-the-Sea by writer and illustrator Holling C. Holling – later made into an acclaimed National Film Board short film in 1966 – a young Indian boy carves a little canoe with a figure inside and names him Paddle-to-the-Sea. Paddle’s journey, in text and pictures, through the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean provides a geographic and historical picture of the region.
Eight years ago, Scheifele made a small canoe and released it into the river. The canoe, which features a small treasure chest and an Indian man, had his phone number engraved on the bottom. In May, he got a call from a man who’d found it.
While the first boat didn’t make it past Lake Erie and into the St. Lawrence system, Scheifele says he’s hoping that the new one will travel farther still.
This latest hand-carved small canoe features his mother’s nickname on the side alongside the day she passed away. He said he’d like this one to make it all the way to the ocean, noting he hopes people will see the small canoe and wave as it floats by.
“Maybe people might give it a push to help it get down the river, help it get over the rocks,” said Scheifele.
His main hope is to get another call from someone down the line, letting him know how far his little boat reaches.
“I think my mom would be happy I’m doing it – it’s a nice way to remember her,” he added.
Scheifele is no stranger to building canoes. He used to build real canoes out of cedar trees when he was younger. He was inspired to create the little canoes after a viewing of the Paddle-to-the-Sea film, which planted the idea in his mind. The film tells of a young boy who sees a native man in Algonquin Park in a canoe.
Wanting his own canoe but without the means to afford it, the boy carves a small canoe out of wood with a little wooden man inside of it, and sends it down the river, a message on the bottom reading ‘Please return me to the river.’
On the bottom of Scheifele’s boat can be found his phone number, that way people can call him and let him know they found it or push it back downstream.
“When you think about what the first boat went through, eight years on the water – that’s eight seasons of weather, it would’ve froze several times during the winters and thawed back out again in the summer, for that little boat to make it through that, and someone finds it, it was crazy. He said he found it just along the side of the river – the guy thought it was just an old log at first, than he picked it up, saw my number, called me and told me he had my boat,” said Scheifele of his first launch.
To keep the boat weighted, he used several quarters joined together in the middle, noting he hopes they will remain there to keep the boat afloat. The second small canoe was made from the same cedar and pine material as the first.
The boat completed, Scheifele and his father set it adrift on Monday afternoon near the dam on Three Bridges Road in St. Jacobs. He knelt down to release the little boat into the water and away it went. After only a few minutes it was out of sight, floating quickly with the current down the Grand River.
His parting words for his creation, short, and concise: “Goodbye, little boat.”