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Ledyard Canoe Club: A History of Exploration and Adventure

Ledyard Canoe Club exhibit poster

"Ledyard has a sense of place. It is a setting, a land and waterscape, a cast of mind perhaps, a legacy for sure, passed on from one generation to another.” –Jay Evans ‘49

In January of 1920, a group of Dartmouth students gathered together with the goal of restoring a rowing team to the college. They proceeded to procure pledges of financial support from various interested alums, and by March they had come up with a sufficient sum to get started. However, the College Trustees rejected the students’ proposal, and their plans were halted. Fortunately, these students refused to give up, determined as they were to take advantage of their proximity to the Connecticut River.

And so, in April of 1920, they founded Ledyard Canoe Club. The new club chose John Ledyard for their namesake, a man who, in his first year as a Dartmouth student, grew tired of his studies, felled a pine tree, dug out a canoe, and set off down the Connecticut to become an explorer. By 1921, their second year in existence, the new organization had already retraced Ledyard’s trip to the sea, a tradition that continues today. Quickly, the little club had become a strong community that inspired students to challenge themselves. Imbued with John Ledyard’s adventurous spirit, Ledyard Canoe Club has motivated canoeing and kayaking expeditions around the world. Yet, no matter how far they travel, Ledyardites return to their little home on the Connecticut to encourage the next generation of Dartmouth paddlers.

The exhibit was curated by Jaime Eeg, a Rauner Student Research Fellow for the 2017-2018 academic year. It will be on display in the Class of 1965 Galleries from April 16th, 2018, through June 15th, 2018.

You may download a small, 8x10 version of the poster. You may also download a handlist  of the items in this exhibition.

Materials Included in the Exhibition 


The Founding

When the College Trustees refused to support the creation of a rowing team, the founders of Ledyard Canoe Club decided to create an independent organization. As a result, the club was originally established as an incorporated non-profit organization. They owned their small boathouse, which stood near the Ledyard Bridge; a few canoes, which they predominantly used for whitewater trips; and they built a cabin on an island a few miles north of the boathouse, which they used for social events and named after their first financial backer, Rev. John E.  Johnson ’66. The club remained independent until the Second World War, when they briefly turned over their assets to the College for safekeeping. They did not dissolve their corporate status, however, until 1977, when the club’s directorate decided it would be beneficial to become an official College organization. Even though Ledyard is now college-affiliated, student autonomy, leadership and responsibility still remain important values to the club today.

  1. Article of Incorporation. Concord, NH: 1920. Ledyard Canoe Club Records (DO-31), Box 6430, Folder 3-52

    1. Though Ledyard Canoe Club now falls under the umbrella of the Dartmouth Outing Club, it began as an independent organization in 1920. In 1977, the Ledyard Directorate members voted unanimously to dissolve Ledyard’s corporate status in favor of becoming a college organization.

  2. Ledyard Boathouse Architectural Design. Eugene Magenau ’30. Hanover, NH: 1929. Ledyard Canoe Club Records (DO-31), Box 6429, Folder 2-44

    1. When Ledyard upgraded from a small boatshed to its first clubhouse, they enlisted the help of then student and Ledyard member, Eugene Magenau ’30. The building has since undergone a number of additions and is currently partially condemned, though it is still used for Ledyard’s rental business and some social events.

  3. Travel Diary. John Ledyard. 1787. Codex 003089

    1. In 1773, John Ledyard decided to abandon his Dartmouth education. He felled a pine tree, dug out a canoe, and set off down the Connecticut River to become an explorer, travelling across Europe and into Siberia and sailing with Captain Cook in the Pacific. In 1920, when eight Dartmouth students began their modest canoe club, they chose him as their namesake. Now, John Ledyard’s legacy of expedition and adventure lives on within the club.

  4. Meeting Minutes. William Fowler ’21. Hanover, NH: April 30th, 1920. Ledyard Canoe Club Records (DO-31), Box 6430

    1. Ledyard Canoe Club officially began in Richardson Hall on April 30th, 1920. With the help of a generous donation from Rev. John E. Johnson ’66, the first Ledyardites bought a modest boathouse and some canoes, and began paddling.

  5. Photo. Ledyard’s First Boathouse. Hanover, NH: circa 1920-1930. Canoeing Photographic File

    1. Ledyard club members are pictured here painting canoes at Ledyard’s first boathouse. Ledyardites today continue to repair and maintain their boats.

  6. Club Song. Hanover, NH: circa 1920-1930. Ledyard Canoe Club Records (DO-31), Box 6432, Folder 4-67

    1. Ledyard once had a club song honoring John Ledyard’s famous trip to the sea. While the song has since faded from popular knowledge within the club, his soul does indeed ‘go paddling on’ through the countless expeditions Ledyardites continue to undertake.



Part I: Competition and Racing

Since their very first year as an organization, Ledyardites have been challenging themselves, paddling the whitewater near Dartmouth before the Connecticut River was dammed, including 15 Miles Falls, a series of rapids upstream from Hanover on the Connecticut River before they were flooded by dams. However, it was not until much later in the club’s existence, in the 1960s, that Ledyard paddlers began competing officially. Once they did, they never looked back. In the 60s and 70s, Ledyard had an impressive racing program, centered around indoor pool training, so competitors could practice year round. Although organized racing has since dwindled, Ledyard still supports individual competitors and hosts two whitewater races, the Wells River Rumble and the Mascoma Slalom, each spring during Riverfest.

  1. Photo. Jo Knight ’67 competes in an indoor slalom race. Hanover, NH: 1966. Ledyard Canoe Club Records (DO-31), Box 6428, Folder 1-29

    1. Ledyard’s indoor pool training program in the 1960’s and 1970’s helped facilitate Ledyard’s strong presence in national and international competition. Jay Evans ‘49, Ledyard’s advisor and coach, actually originated the indoor pool slalom competition in the US. Ledyard students still utilize the indoor pool today, now to prepare students to participate in whitewater trips, and for kayak polo.

  2. Photo. John Burton '69. Czechoslovakia: 1967. Canoeing Photographic File

    1. Ledyardite John Burton ’69 competes in the ICF World Championships in Czechoslovakia. Since Burton, Ledyardites have continued to represent the US internationally at competitions as recently as this past summer at the Wildwater Canoe Championships in Austria.

  3. Eric Evans and Jay Evans, The Kayaking Book. New York: Penguin Group, 1993. Ledyard Canoe Club Records (DO-31), Box 6432, Folder 4-74

    1. Ledyard’s longtime advisor and coach, Jay Evans ‘49, coached the US Whitewater Team in 1969 and 1971 and was the Olympic Whitewater Coach in 1972. His son, Eric Evans ‘72, is a Ledyard alum and an Olympian.

  4. Rick Adams, “Chladek Claims Silver.” Dartmouth Publication, Vox of Dartmouth. Hanover, NH: April 4th, 1996. Ledyard Canoe Club Records (DO-31), Box 6428, Folder 1-47

    1. Former club president, Dana Chladek ’85, won bronze in the ’92 Olympics and silver in ’96. Prior to Dana, four Ledyardites had competed as members of the first US Olympic White Water Slalom Team in ’72.

Part II: Expedition and Adventure

The club’s expeditionary tradition began far before its racing days, with the first Trip to the Sea in 1921, and took off from there with a number of trips across New England and into Canada. In 1964, the Danube expedition was the first trip to take Ledyard overseas. In a letter to the club, one of the founders, William Fowler ’21, wrote that “it was heartening to hear and see the illustrated account of the Club's outstanding voyage down the Danube last summer and to know that the Ledyard Canoe Club still paddles on.” Since then, Ledyard has inspired countless more trips: to Japan, Bhutan, China, Korea, the Czech Republic, and Ecuador, to name a few.

  1. Johnny Johnson Cabin Register. 1921- 1936. Ledyard Canoe Club Records (DO-31), Box 6429

    1. One year after creating Ledyard Canoe Club, Ledyardites successfully retraced John Ledyard’s famous trip to the sea from Hanover. This trip has been repeated regularly throughout the club’s existence, and will run this year from May 6th- May 13th. The trip log of this seminal event was recorded in the Johnny Johnson Cabin Register, seen here, which was saved from the great flood that destroyed the cabin in 1936.

  2. William Baker, Richard Durrance and Christopher Knight, “Down the Danube by Canoe.” National Geographic. 1964. Ledyard Canoe Club Records (DO-31), Box 6429, Folder 2-34

    1. In 1964, Ledyard’s Danube expedition took nine Ledyardites overseas to paddle the length of the Danube River: they traveled 1,685 miles from Ulm, Germany, and through 8 countries to the Black Sea, mostly behind the Iron Curtain. This was the first Ledyard trip beyond North America.

  3. Dan Dimanescu and Christopher Knight, “Kayak Odyssey: from the Inland Sea to Tokyo.” National Geographic. 1966. Ledyard Canoe Club Records (DO-31), Box 6429, Folder 2-37

    1. The Japan expedition saw Ledyardites paddle in ocean kayaks from the eastern coast of Honshu to Tokyo, a total of 1100 miles. The trip also included a group of students from Britain. 

  4. Photo. Deconstructed Kayaks. Bhutan: 1981. Ledyard Canoe Club Records (DO-31), Box 6429, Folder 2-29

    1. In 1981, Col. Wick Walker led a 10 day whitewater kayaking trip to Bhutan. The group made first descents of five rivers while in Bhutan. To bring their boats on the plane, they had to saw them into thirds and weld them back together upon their arrival. 

  5. Photo. Four kayakers enter the Gulf of Mexico. Rio Grande River, TX: 1977. Ledyard Canoe Club Records (DO-31), Box 6434, Folder 4-64

    1. One of the only Ledyard trips ever to involve extensive hiking, Ledyard students hiked and kayaked 1,888 miles from the headwaters of the Rio Grande to the Gulf of Mexico.

  6. Photo. Circumnavigation of New England. 1933. Ledyard Canoe Club Records (DO-31), Box 6432, Folder 4-78

    1. In 1933, Harold Putnam ’37 and Pete Knight ‘32 paddled between 1500 and 2000 miles over the course of 65 days to circumnavigate New England. They began on Lake Champlain, paddled north into Canada, and finished their journey in New York City. This expedition set the precedent for many longer journeys to follow.



Ledyard at Dartmouth

Ledyard has always built a strong sense of community. Today it is a thriving and vibrant club, not only because of the exciting trips that Ledyard encourages but also for the friendships that Ledyard fosters. Interested students without any technical skills can now come to Ledyard and learn how to paddle or simply participate in its social community. However, in the early days, Ledyard hopefuls had to complete physical tests of swimming, strength, and paddling to be considered for membership (in addition to paying a membership fee). Current members would then elect new Ledyardites to the club, their numbers based on the number of boats the club owned. Thankfully, this is no longer the case; club membership is open to all interested students. Ledyard has evolved and improved over its almost 100 years, while preserving its adventurous spirit and deeply connected community.

  1. Photo. A Ledyard Trip to the White River. VT. circa 1960-1970. Ledyard Canoe Club Records (DO-31), Box 6439, Folder 73

    1. Throughout the club’s history, paddlers have gone to the White River in Vermont, as well as many other local rivers. Trips often go out many times per week and foster a strong sense of comradery among students.

  2. Term Calendar. Bill Raoul. Hanover, NH: circa 1930-1940. Ledyard Canoe Club Records (DO-31), Box 6433, Folder 5-1

    1. The Ledyard Canoe Club began with a group of friends who wanted to paddle together and has very much remained a group of friends who paddle together. Club feeds, the weekly student-cooked meals, have been held every Thursday since the 1920s and offer an extra chance for Ledyardites to gather together outside of kayaking.

  3. Term Calendar. Daryl Knudsen ’97. Hanover, NH: 1994. Ledyard Canoe Club Records (DO-31), Box 6433, Folder 5-10

    1. As Ledyard grew, so did its social calendar. Feeds remained, pancake paddles were added, and the number of trips per term increased. This schedule looks very similar to a current term in Ledyard.

  4. Photo. Re-creation of John Ledyard’s dugout canoe. Hanover, NH: 1995. Ledyard Canoe Club Records (DO-31), Box 6438

    1. In 1995, Ledyardites used a white pine to recreate John Ledyard’s famous dugout canoe. The process took 30-40 hours and resulted in a functional canoe, which is currently housed in the Olympic Shed.

  5. Photo. ‘Lake Champlain Trip.’ Lake Champlain, VT: 1932. Ledyard Canoe Club Records (DO-31), Box 6432, Folder 4-53

    1. One of Ledyard’s first forays into overnight expeditionary trips took Jack Titcomb ‘32 and Fritz Meyer ’33 across the Canadian border during Prohibition to smuggle booze and beer back to Dartmouth. Ledyard’s current cabin, located on Gilman Island in the Connecticut River between Hanover and Lebanon, is named after Titcomb.

  6. Disbound Scrapbook. Ledyard Club Members. 1931. Ledyard Canoe Club Records (DO-31), Box 6441

    1. This sampling of photos offers snapshots of a Ledyardites’ social life in 1931, including a whitewater canoeing trip to the White River, a feed held at Johnny Johnson cabin prior to the clubhouse’s construction, and images from Ledyard’s booze smuggling trips to Canada. 

  7. Photo. Ledyard Clubroom. 1990s. Ledyard Canoe Club Records (DO-31), Box 6439, Folder 110

    1. This photograph portrays the main room of the clubhouse in its prime. The room was decorated with great care for the club’s history, displaying trophies, pictures from trips, and other artifacts   accumulated throughout the years. Most community gatherings, including feeds and formals, were held in the clubhouse until a few years ago, when the majority of the building was condemned. Now, the club awaits the construction of their new home.

  8. Assorted Postcards. Ledyard Club Members. 1990s. Ledyard Canoe Club Records (DO-31), Box 6432, Folder 4-90

    1. Students taking off terms used to stay in touch with their fellow Ledyardites by sending in postcards. The archives here at Rauner also contain a large number of letters sent from alums who remained connected through the years.

  9. Ode to Ledyard. Margot Q. Knight ’99. Hanover, NH: circa 1990-2000. Ledyard Canoe Club Records (DO-31), Box 6432, Folder 4-67

    1. The love and pride Ledyardites hold for their club is evident throughout the archives. Perhaps this ode, like the club song, served to draw more students to Ledyard.