Interview with Dave Standfield

This week we sat down with the one and only, Dave Standfield! Dave is our resident canoe builder here at the Taylor Statten Camps and after 43 years has a lot of interesting stories to share.  Dave has been responsible for the hand built Algonquin Special canoe since the 1990s.

My name is Esme Cook and I have been coming to camp for 18 years. I have done 5 work crews and worked with Dave this summer and thought it was about time more people knew about this incredible man. I conducted this interview on a rainy day in the canoe shop on September 9th 2020.

Dave was born and raised in Richmond Hill, Ontario. Surrounded by vast fields, farms and wooded areas. His father was a biologist who worked at the wildlife research station each summer in Algonquin Park. Dave grew up listening to his father’s stories of the north and was moved by, what seemed to be, the most magical place in the world. His father’s tales had Dave thinking he wanted to be a Park ranger someday.

We asked the TSC community to send in their questions for Dave. Here is how our conversation went 🙂

“How did you find out about the Taylor Statten Camps?”

“Don, my older brother, was working at TSC at the time, a friend of his had introduced him to camp. My parents and I drove up to visit him one day, and within a few hours of visiting, I was hooked.” Dave soon declared he would be up the following summer, doing anything and everything the camp would offer him. In the summer of 1977, Dave rode the bus up to Canoe Lake, sitting next to Ian Cameron: “I was so lucky to have sat next to him that day, he really took me under his wing”.

“Where did you live at camp your first summer?” 

 Cliffdweller as a CIT. Dave took out many trips that summer, which was a first for him. “Tripping was new to me and it wasn’t the easiest, I remember the campers were teaching me how to j-stroke, they were great.” He took out Bantam, Mountaineer and Voyageur trips that summer. “That summer could very easily be, the best summer of my life”.

The following summer, in 1978, Dave boarded the bus again & headed northbound on the 400, hoping to top his CIT summer (which seemed like a tall task). When he got to Canoe Lake, he was offered a Quetico Trip. “I was completely shocked, I was only a first year counselor and quite new to camp at the time. I was quite nervous”. He was told his campers and staff from the summer before had begged and pleaded to have him on their trip again. ( are you surprised?! We are not!) No one on the trip had ever been to Quetico and the first segment was very wet. Once they travelled through to the Boundary Waters, the sun and beautiful landscapes followed them the rest of the way home.

“After all your successful trips, how do you end up in the maintenance shop?”

 “I had two weeks in camp after our canoe trip and I was sent to the craft shop to work with Dick Rampen, making paddles, banjos and guitars. The wood-working craft pulled me in”.

“In my 3rd year at camp, I was the craft shop assistant with Dick Rampen. I just loved it. I had a great summer and was asked to stay in the fall. Luckily, I had just graduated high school in the spring so I was a free man”. Dave agreed to working through to the end of October, working with Bill Statten, they recanvassed one of the war canoes in that time. In the new year of 1980, TSC called Dave offering him a full-time position with Bill Statten. “I said yes, and moved up north”. Dave continued “I can’t stress enough how much Bill taught me over the years, from wood-working, simple maintenance tasks, to proper living in Algonquin”

“Where did the canoe building come into play?” 

“Well, Jack Hurley, a canoe builder in Dwight, was a big inspiration for me- he showed me how to build a beautiful hand built canoe” “The Algonquin Special mold was languishing in a shed, so I pulled it out and started to work on it. My first build was in 1996”.

“Where did the Algonquin Special mold come from?” 

“It was built in the late 1920s by Stan Murdoch to suit our tripping style here in the Park. I wish I could have met Stan.”

“How many canoes have you built over the years?” Dave pauses “It’s not as many as most people would think, some years 4 or 5 specials were built and others there were none. I believe it’s around 30 canoes in total, from start to finish.” 

Dave and his maintenance team spend most of their summer days ensuring that Wapomeo and Ahmek are running smoothly and safely for all the campers and staff. When Dave isn’t fixing a piping issue, checking our water or adjusting something on the Hobart, he is repairing canoes. 

“What is the hardest type of canoe repair to do?” 

“Stems are the most difficult fix. They rot overtime or break with bad canoe care, I can easily tell whether a canoe was damaged accidentally or poorly treated on a trip”. 

“What is the strangest patch job you’ve seen come back from a canoe trip?”

 Dave laughed: “Melted garbage bags for sure, as well as bubble gum and spruce sap. I wouldn’t recommend any of these. Duct tape is the best quick repair I think”.

“How has your canoe building process evolved over the years?” 

It’s all trial and error, there is always something I want to improve on, I’m never satisfied.” (That sounds like a perfectionist to me!) “I am proud to say that I have never wavered from using my hand tools. I love them.  The plane and  spokeshave are important to my process. Keeping to the traditional and simple methods is what I prefer.”

 “What has kept you coming back over the years?”

 “Besides the great people I have met over the years, I’d have to say the Park. There is something magical and humbling about this place. I remember walking into the canoe shop for the first time and saying ‘wow’. It’s moments like that that remind you why you’re here.”

“ What is the most unique or interesting thing you have seen at TSC in the winter time?”

“Skating on the ice is the coolest thing. The most unique moment I’ve had up here in the winter was when I was surrounded by wolves with my buddy Gord Carl. They weren’t bothered by us at all and we felt completely comfortable”. 

This 2020 summer has been like no other in the camps history, leaving a little more time for relaxing and activities. 

“How many times have you been swimming this summer?” 

Dave laughed and asked “Did Mouse ask this? You can tell him I’ve been swimming at least 10 times.” 

“What is your favourite Bruce Springsteen song of all time?”

 “That’s a tough one, it’s not Born to Run, I know that haha. Probably Moonlight Motel, from his most recent album”. 

As our conversation came to its end, I asked him “What is your fondest memory of Dr. Tay”. I saw his mind working hard to find an answer as it filtered through hundreds of favourite memories. “Doesn’t feel right picking just one. I do have great memories of Tay teaching me to fly fish, that was neat. He showed me how to cast and told me about his special fishing spots on the Oxtongue river. I remember being called down to the office for a package which I was not expecting. I opened the package and it was a fly tying kit from Doc Tay. He praised and thanked me for my work and that was a really wonderful moment.”

Lastly, I asked “What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you were young?”. “I was very unsure of myself in my younger years, I wish I could have told myself I have plenty to offer and to believe in myself. ” That lesson goes for anyone at all ages, you can do it! 

Thank you to Dave Standfield for taking the time to answer these questions!

Thank you to our followers who sent in their questions! Thank you Felix, Caroline, Laura, E J, Cory, Eric, Mouse, Will, Lucas, Dylan, Masato, Robin.