To Prince Charles and Lady Diana, from Pierre Trudeau
Now that Justin Trudeau is in office, we thought it would be a good time to share an anecdote about our brush with his dad, Pierre Trudeau. The family's known for their love of paddling, and back in 1981, then-Prime Minister Trudeau commissioned a canoe from us as gift for the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana.
Trudeau and Prince Charles had apparently been on a canoe trip together, and the two hit it off. When Trudeau needed a gift for the upcoming wedding, a canoe seemed like a thoughtful choice. He asked paddler and naturalist Bill Mason who might be able to take the commission, and Mason referred him to us. However, there was a catch – official gifts from Canada were scrutinized, and Trudeau didn’t want his decision subject to that kind of criticism. The commission was made privately on conditions of secrecy, so we had to remain tight-lipped.
That posed a difficulty, because the wedding was only weeks away. There was no way we could finish an entirely new build in time, which meant our only option was to involve a customer who had a half-completed canoe in the workshop at the time. We promised him if he were to accept the delay on his own commission, we’d build him a boat fit for a prince. He graciously agreed, and Ted repurposed the unfinished canoe.
Another wrinkle emerged when it came time to install the brass inscription plate. The inscription had to be engraved, but no one in Canada knew precisely what to call Diana. She wasn’t yet a princess, and the intriciacies of the title proved a bit more complicated than we expected. When we put the question to the protocol office in the UK, they didn’t get back to us until 10PM on the Friday before the canoe was due to ship out.
This meant bringing another person in, an engraver who we practically had to get out of bed in order to finish the plate. He engraved the plate late, we installed it later, and the canoe made its way to the UK on Saturday morning via military transport out of air base CFB Trenton. The final inscription read “HRH the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer on the Occasion of Their Wedding.”
Our daughters were aged 2 and 5 at the time, and understandably excited to hear we had made a canoe for a prince and princess. Before we shipped it off they made cards for the newlyweds and packed them in the canoe with some gift Bear Mountain t-shirts. Awhile later Buckingham Palace wrote back with a thank you letter addressed to the girls.
The royal wedding took place with all expected pomp and circumstance, but eventually the canoe went into storage. A few years ago, the Canadian Canoe Museum had the opportunity to repatriate the royal canoes for a display. Ours was not the only one – the Peterborough Canoe Company had built one to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, and Walter Walker had presented a canoe as a gift from the village of Lakefield for Prince Andrew when he was at Lakefield College School. Prince Andrew facilitated the return of the canoes, where they now form part of the Royal Canoes Exhibit at the CCM.
Which brings us to the present. Having kept the story under wraps initially, this seemed like a good occasion to dust it off and share our own little connection with the Trudeaus.