March 2017 - CANOEING, KAYAKING & SUP
Canton Canoe Weekend
A Tradition in J. H. Rushton’s Honor
By Blanche Town - Photos courtesy of St. Lawrence Valley Paddlers
On May 6 and 7, Canton Canoe Weekend will celebrate its 56th anniversary. This annual weekend paddling event draws as many as 300 paddlers to the Village of Canton, tucked in the St. Lawrence Valley, between the St. Lawrence Seaway and the foothills of the Adirondacks.
Canton was home to John Henry Rushton and his famous boatworks, founded in 1875 along the banks of the Grasse River. In his honor, this historic event began in 1962, and was originally known as the “Rushton Memorial Canoe Race.” The first race drew only ten contestants, and was sponsored by the Grasse River Historical Society, and the Canton Junior Chamber of Commerce. Although the number of participants was small, it attracted approximately 1,000 onlookers. The following year, the number of participants more than doubled.
Over the next decade, the race continued to grow in popularity as the Canton Fish and Game Club took the reins, making it an annual event. At the same time, a 70-mile race – the General Clinton Canoe Regatta – held on the Susquehanna River in southeastern New York was also gaining popularity.
The Rushton Memorial Canoe Race took its place alongside other races and the sport known as marathon canoe racing gained a foothold in New York. The event became known for its prestigious pro race under race director Chuck Bolesh, all the while maintaining popularity with amateur and recreational paddlers. Today amateur and recreational races remain an integral part of the weekend lineup.
The Canton Canoe Weekend pro and amateur races are official events in the sport of marathon canoe racing. Recognized races vary in length from three to 120 miles, or even longer as is the case for the Yukon River Quest in Canada, which boasts 500 and 1,000 mile races on the Yukon River!
New York State races average two hours and conform to uniform rules set by New York Marathon Canoe Racing Association (NYMCRA). Racers are categorized by gender, age, pro, recreational or amateur status and the type of boat they paddle. Categories include C1 – solo canoe, C2 – tandem canoe, C4 – four-person canoe, and Voyager Canoe, carrying seven or more paddlers.
Kayaks are similarly divided into K1 and K2 categories. Classes are further distinguished by style of boat, such as stock, amateur, pro, limited and unlimited.
Canton is centered in the heart of three great paddling destinations, with access to the Grasse, Raquette and Oswegatchie rivers only minutes away. Given its boatbuilding history and location, it makes sense that it holds a prominent place in the world of canoe racing.
In addition to being the home of the World Championship Pro Race, featuring a purse of over $5,000, Canton Canoe Weekend hosts amateur and recreational races over the two-day event. The various categories include canoe and kayak, a relay race, and antique and voyager canoe races. It attracts amateur and recreational paddlers of ALL skill levels from the local community, New York State and the Northeast, and pro paddlers from across the U.S. and Canada. Participants paddle distances ranging from three to 14 miles on the scenic Grasse and Little rivers.
The Grasse and Little rivers flow through the rural countryside, skirting the edge of Canton. The forested floodplains and grassy river banks provide a pleasant backdrop for onlookers and racers alike. The start and finish line and race headquarters are located in Taylor Park, which offers amenities such as camping, a playground for children, food, vendors and music – meeting all of the basic needs of racers and spectators.
While many racers take this event quite seriously – there are strict boat specifications and official rules to be followed – there is plenty of fun for those interested in recreational racing and casual paddles. Any non-motorized boat, canoe, kayak or SUP is welcome, and paddlers of all abilities are invited to join in!
Marathon canoe racing is a great fitness sport, providing an opportunity to engage in aerobic activity, enjoy nature and reduce stress. If you paddle, bring your favorite watercraft and join us in a recreational race. If you aren’t a paddler, come out and watch the fun and competition and cheer on the paddlers.
For more information about John Henry Rushton, I recommend reading Rushton and His Times in American Canoeing, by Atwood Manley.
For more information about the Canton Canoe Weekend and other local races visit St. Lawrence Valley Paddlers at slvpaddlers.org or New York Marathon Canoe Racing Association at nymcra.org. See you on the water!
Blanche Town (firstname.lastname@example.org) of Canton is an amateur marathon canoe racer, secretary of St. Lawrence Valley Paddlers, and a member of the New York Marathon Canoe Racing Association. She serves on the board for Canton Canoe Weekend.