Field Notes – The Canoe Builder



I’ve passed the Morley Canoe shop many times over the years, and I’m really glad I finally stopped to visit. I’ve always admired craftsmen who make objects both functional and beautiful, and that describes the canoes and other boats that Greg – and now his son Steve, as well – build in their shop.

Greg studied forestry, and spent many years working for state and county parks in Montana and Oregon. In 1962 he was hired to manage Beaver Creek County Park, south of Havre, Montana. He later moved to Salem, Oregon, where he began building canoes in his spare time, and paddling the Willamette River. He and his wife, Anne, wanted to return to Montana, and she encouraged him to give up his steady paycheck, and make a go of it as a canoe builder. It wasn’t long before he had a waiting list of about three years (it’s now down to about one year from the time you order a boat from him until it is delivered.)

Greg is not only a master craftsman. He is an incredibly experienced paddler and outdoorsman, and has explored the river systems of western North America, including several long canoe expeditions in northern Canada and the Arctic.

I didn’t have time in this piece to use any of the interview I did with Steve (or with his 14-year-old son Logan, who is also learning to build boats.) Steve and his brother worked with their father when they were younger, then Steve left to pursue a career in finance. After a few years, he and his young family made their way to Hawai’i, where Steve spent most of his time windsurfing and surfing. Eventually, he admitted to himself that he missed Swan Lake, and he returned home to work in his father’s shop. Like his father, he does beautiful work.