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Canton Canoe Weekend: A Brief History

In early May each year a weekend paddling event draws as many as 300 paddlers to the Village of Canton, NY, 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 10 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.

The 2017 Men's C-1 Pro Start
A K-1 Kayak Racing in the 2017 Canton Canoe Weekend Amateur Race.
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 former race director Chuck Bolesh, all the while maintaining popularity with amateur and recreational paddlers. Today pro, amateur and recreational races all remain an integral part of the weekend line up.
The Canton Canoe Weekend pro and amateur races are official events in the sport of marathon canoe racing. Marathon canoe races vary in length from 3 to 120 miles, or even longer as is the case for the Yukon River Quest, 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 Paddlersport Racing Association (NYPRA). Racers are categorized by gender, age, pro, recreational or amateur status. They are further classified by 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.
Photograph of the 2016 Canton Canoe Weekend C-1 Pro Start.
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 boat building history and location, it makes sense that it holds a prominent place in the world of canoe racing.
Photograph of a Voyageur Canoe in the 2016 Rushton Recreational Races.
In addition to being the home of the men's and women's International C-1 Pro World Championship Race, Canton Canoe Weekend hosts amateur and recreational races over the weekend event. The various categories include canoe, kayak and stand up paddleboard (SUP) races, a relay race, the Rushton Tour on Friday afternoon and antique and voyager canoe races. 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, paddle distances ranging from 3-14 miles on the scenic Grasse and Little Rivers. These rivers flow through the rural countryside, skirting the edge of the Village. 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 alike.
While many racers take this event quite seriously, there is plenty of fun for recreational and casual paddlers. Paddlers of all abilities are invited to join in! Any non-motorized boat; canoe, kayak or SUP is welcome!

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. Join us for a day at the river!

Photograph of the Wounded Warriers Team Paddling a Voyager Canoe at 2016 Canton Canoe Weekend Rushton Recreational Races.
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