Canoeman Joe Seliga stars in a new picture book biography for young readers

Ely’s own Joe Seliga is the celebrated subject of Canoeman Joe, a new picture book biography published by Green Writers Press of North Brattleboro, Vermont. Written by Robin Radcliffe and illustrated by Consie Powell, Canoeman Joe follows Joe from boyhood into elder years and chronicles the fascinating journey by which Joe taught himself to make wood and canvas canoes.
Born in Ely, Joe Seliga was one of 12 children in a close-knit family that owned two wood and canvas canoes made by the Morris Canoe Company of Veazie, Maine. It was the use, care, and repair of these Morris canoes that helped the young Joe ultimately figure out how to make canoes of his own design.
This biographical picture book celebrates Joe’s life with canoes as well as his independent spirit that instilled a tradition of self-reliance in a whole generation of campers across the lake country of northern Minnesota. The opening page offers just a hint of Joe’s independent spirit:
In a land of water and stone, where rugged miners in candlestick hats filled railcars with Minnesota ore, there lived a boy who loved canoes and wood more than trains and steel.
Other boys listened for the chugs and whistles of the Duluth and Iron Range Railroad, but Joe Seliga listened for the moans and rumbles of lake ice breaking. That meant springtime, and springtime is canoetime in Ely.
Today, in a time of light watercraft made of modern materials, campers still find comfort and joy in the simple pleasure of paddling and caring for a wood and canvas Seliga canoe. They still build, maintain, and repair these lovely wooden boats at camp shops and boat-building schools from Maine to Minnesota. Renowned wilderness paddler and guide, and friend of Joe, Garrett Conover writes about the book:
“Canoeman Joe profiles the best kind of hero, not because he did some amazing singular feat beyond the reach of most of us, but because he was simply more passionate about craft, the wild world, his family, and his community. He’s the best sort of friend—generous, loving, and magnanimous. The blend of story and art is stunning. True as a bright brass canoe tack, pure as the notes of a spring peeper’s call.”
Author Robin Radcliffe is one of the inspired campers who grew up paddling a Seliga canoe (number 390) in wilderness waterways. Born and raised in Wisconsin, Robin built a pair of canoes with his twin brother and together they paddled the most remote rivers of Alaska and the Northwest Territories. In between adventures, he attended the University of Wisconsin at River Falls and obtained his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Minnesota in St. Paul. Today he leads international research to conserve the endangered rhinoceroses of the world. Robin’s first children’s book, The Hornless Rhinoceros, made the short-list for the 2016 Green Earth book award. Though his work takes him around the world, Robin’s heart remains in the Great Lakes where he can be found paddling his blue Seliga.
Ely artist Consie Powell ( first paddled a canoe as a young adult, and quickly fell in love with the beauty and responsiveness of wood and canvas canoes. Consie and her husband, already owners of two wood and canvas canoes, worked with canoe maker Jeanne Bourquin to build Corydalis, a 16.5-foot canoe that is a special favorite. Assisting her husband in the renovation of several historic wood and canvas canoes, Consie is intimately familiar with the processes, tools, materials, and aromas of the building and maintaining of canoes. She has written and illustrated numerous books for young readers, including the Sigurd Olson Nature Writing Award-winning Leave Only Ripples: A Canoe Country Sketchbook. Consie gets outside, in a canoe in summer or on snowshoes in winter, with sketchbook and binoculars in hand as often as she possibly can.
Open the pages of Canoeman Joe to paddle through the pages of the border country among colorful art and lively sketches in this handsomely illustrated chronicle of Joe Seliga’s life. You can learn more about Joe, his canoes, the canoe camps he treasured, and how to order the book at