Chicagoland Canoe Base
Our History
Front entrance to the Chicagoland Canoe Base

The Chicagoland Canoe Base was established as an outgrowth of Ralph Frese's interest in the use of the canoe in outdoor recreation. Today, the Chicago Canoe Base provides paddlers with a local resource for equipment, accessories and repair and restoration services. Featuring a large selection of canoes, kayaks, clothing, a expansive book and video collection, the canoe base is more than just a retail store. Step into the workshop of master craftsman Ralph Frese and take a step back in history where canoes and kayaks of all types are restored and replicas are built. As a service to groups and individuals, the shop also rents canoes and kayaks and is an important resource to paddlers on the surrounding water trails in the area.

The Chicagoland Canoe Base is not only the most unique canoe shop in the U.S., it is a tradition.

Ralph FreseRalph C. Frese

A fourth generation blacksmith, Ralph Frese began building canoes in his blacksmith shop for his scout troup. This was the beginning of the the Chicagoland Canoe Base, now known nationwide as the most unusual canoe shop in the U.S.A. receiving visitors from around the world.

Among his many accomplishments are the annual DesPlaines River Canoe Marathon, the three hundredth anniversary reenactment of the Jolliet-Marquette expedition of 1673, the creation of realistic appearing birchbark canoes made of fiberglass, the beautiful family of canoes known as the Canadienne, and many other historic and environmental happenings. He has amassed a collection of over ninety native and antique watercraft and thousands of books and ephemera on the subject.

Ralph gives illustrated lectures on the role of the canoe in Illinois history, on the water trails of the Midwest and the environment state of these waterways. Ralph Frese has been the recipient of many federal, state and local awards and was recently recognized by the American Canoe Association to receive the first of a new national award given called Legends of Paddling.


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