June 11, 1978  -- 13 die on Lake Temiscamingue

The following report was first printed in CANEWS, newsletter of the Recreational Canoeing Association of British Columbia, in May 1979. It is self explanatory and sheds a new light on this tragedy. Perhaps, with the increasing use of large canoes, it is appropriate to revisit this accident and gain a greater understanding of its lessons.
Ferdi Wenger
Heffley Creek, B.C.
V0E 1Z0
November 13, 1978

Mr. Stanislas Dery
Office of the Coroner
District of Temiscamingue

Dear Sir:

We the undersigned, having read your report concerning the Lake Temiscamingue Canoe Tragedy of June 11, 1978, feel that the testing and recommendations regarding the canoes used in the expedition should have been more comprehensive.

In order to conduct our own tests we were loaned a 22'- foot "Selkirk" canoe by the Chase, B.C., recreational association. The tests were conducted on Heffley Lake on September 30, 1978.

Note: Concrete blocks were used for dead weights or ballast in all cases. The following results were obtained and recorded:

1. We found that the canoe would roll over with one paddler (150 lbs.) sitting on the center seat next to the gunwale when there was no ballast in seat with the same result. (See pict. No. 1).

2. With 816 lbs of ballast in the bottom of the canoe it required 240 lbs to roll the canoe over at the same seat location (center seat next to the gunwale).

3. With 1690 lbs of ballast and two paddlers (310 lbs) for a total weight of 2000 lbs the canoe had 10 inches of freeboard. The canoe now had a tendency to wallow from side to side but the ballast in the bottom of the canoe had a frightening effect. The canoe was now extremely sluggish and difficult to maneuver. At the time of the test, a light wind was blowing with waves up to 3 to 5 inches high.
It is our opinion that the canoe with this load would be unsafe in any kind of rough weather or in waves 1 to 2 feet high.

4. With 554 lbs of ballast plus 6 paddlers weighing 650 lbs (2 adults and 4 children) for a total weight of 1204 lbs the canoe wallowed badly and would have been safe only with experienced paddlers in calm water.

5. Six paddlers with a total weight of 650 lbs (2 adults and 4 children), no ballast.
The canoe now became extremely unstable and required frequent bracing to keep it upright. If, for example, even one paddler shifted on his seat the canoe rolls over instantly if it had not been braced back up. Experienced paddlers are now a must even in calm water.

6. 2 paddlers (310 lbs), no ballast.
With the two paddlers on opposite sides of the canoe in the bow and stern locations the canoe handles fairly well. However, if both paddlers move to the same side, bracing is required instantly to keep the craft upright.

7. With the canoe swamped in an upright position and full of water, the flotation of the canoe did not support one 180 lbs person standing upright in it. The canoe sank to over five feet below the surface. (This test was conducted on Shuswap Lake during the Pacific Canoe School).

8. We found that it is extremely difficult to perform a canoe-over-canoe rescue on the water with this type of canoe. Even experienced adult paddlers required considerable experience, practice and strength. The canoe is too heavy for children to lift out of the water in order to pull it over the rescue canoe. Paddlers in fact must move into the water and support the canoe while two men (adults) are needed to perform the actual canoe-over-canoe rescue. (This of course involves pulling the upside-down canoe over the center part of the canoe, turning it over and sliding it back into the water).

Your report indicates that the cause for the upsetting of the fourth canoe (Neil Thomson) was the inexperience of the steersman Neil Thomson. It then states that in a few moments the other three canoes also tipped. The question as to the cause of the upsetting of these other three canoes is never posed.
It is our opinion that the answer to this question becomes clear with the tests we conducted.

It is simply this: It would have been physically impossible for the boys to perform a canoe-over-canoe rescue - even if they had been familiar with this rescue method. As we stated above, the "Selkirk" canoe will roll over even if only one paddler shifts sides. Thus anyone leaning out over the gunwale in an attempt to reach for a canoe or a swimmer in the water would upset his own canoe unless it was braced by experts.

Having tested the "Selkirk" canoe we found it not surprising at all that all four canoes were tipped. We feel, however, that these facts should have been mentioned in your report.

Note: With a standard 16 to 18 - foot canoe the canoe-over-canoe rescue can be performed easily by one person in a minute or two even under extreme conditions such as white water.

Reasons for the instability of the "Selkirk" canoe

It is our opinion that the reasons that the canoe wallows and rolls easily are basically to be found in the shape and the narrow lean of this particular craft. The bottom at mid-ship is semi-round which causes the canoe to roll. This, for example, is the reason why the canoe will roll over with one paddler sitting on the center seat next to the gunwale (item 1). In nose blocks the canoe has a considerable amount of weight above the waterline, which increases the wallowing action.

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149 lbs. of ballast placed on centre seat next to the gunwale will roll the canoe.

Bulk of ballast was always placed on the bottom of the canoe near the waterline.

Other experiences with the "Selkirk" canoe

The canoe we tested was used for the first time this year in a marathon race of 80 miles from Hope to New Westminster, B.C. on the Fraser River. There is no white water as such on this stretch of the Fraser but as any large river it can become rough due to winds, currents, tides, etc.

All members of three of the teams Mr. Fraser talked with complained about the unstable conditions of the canoe. The team from Chase, B.C., (using the canoe we tested) upset 15 times during the course of their training program. The Kamloops team which was made up of experienced white water paddlers upset 4 times during their training sessions. Another team had lowered the seating in the canoe to near the waterline and had lightened the gunwales by planning them down in an effort to have a more stable canoe.

Mr. Fraser paddled with the Chase team prior to the race and was astounded that this type of canoe was chosen and that six paddlers were required on each team.

The Pacific Canoe School held during the month of August 1978 in Chase, B.C. had the use of two Chestnut "Selkirk" canoes. The majority of the paddlers taking part in the school who went out in these canoes upset and all recommended that these tests be conducted.


The 22-foot Chestnut "Selkirk" canoe has very limited use in our opinion. We would recommend it only for racing with a crew of four experienced paddlers.

The canoe requires more flotation.

Most people who purchase canoes give very little thought to canoe capacity or design. They do not realize that the major portion of the canoes load capacity must be cargo or dead weight and a minor portion live weight.

We recommend that the following additional information be mandatory with every canoe produced for commercial sale in Canada:

  1. Safe live load capacity in lbs and kg.
  2. Maximum number of paddlers recommended for the canoe.
  3. Total load capacity, paddlers and cargo.
  4. Amount of weight the swamped canoe will support in an upright position.
  5. The purpose for which the canoe was designed such as outtripping, white water paddling, racing, etc.

We also recommend that all individuals and organizations who have purchased the "Selkirk" canoe should be notified and made aware of these facts.

We trust that in the interest of more informed and safer canoeing these recommendations will be forwarded to the responsible agencies and/or departments for prompt action before another canoeing season begins.

Your report and recommendations concerning the Lake Temiscamingue Canoe Tragedy leaves no question as to the experience, planning and responsibilities organizations must have before embarking on a canoeing program.
There remains, however, one more question.

Your report states that the "Chestnut Selkirk" canoes used in the ill-fated expedition were "made to the requirements of the St. John's School". This statement is not clear. Were these canoes manufactured according to plans made by the St. John's School? And if so, why then is the "Selkirk" canoe being marketed throughout Canada?

Canoe loaded with 2000 lbs. Canoe draws 8 inches of water and has 10 inches of freeboard. Extremely sluggish to handle.

Qualifications of the undersigned

Mr. Harvey Fraser paddled the 25-foot North Canoe as a member of the B.C. team in the Centennial Pageant in 1966, 1967 and 1970 for a distance of approximately 6000 miles. He has also held an Advanced Canoe Instructor Certificate with Canoe Sport B.C. for the past four years.

Mr. Ferdi Wenger has been actively paddling canoes since the early sixties and holds an Intermediate Canoe Instructor Certificate with Canoe Sport B.C.

Both men have undertaken extensive wilderness canoe trips.

Copies of this letter were sent to:
Canadian Recreational Canoeing Association, The B.C. Recreational Canoeing Association, The Principal, St. John's School.

(note: In 1997, Ferdi and Harvey placed second in the 20k Similkameen River Topless race. In 1998 Harvey placed first.)