Made in Minnesota: Born to paddle

Wenonah Canoes has been making a splash for more than four decades

By Maggie Kelly

Whether they prefer a light paddle around the lake or a weeklong river expedition, Minnesotans have canoeing in their blood. No surprise, then, that some, like Mike Cichanowski, have mastered the craft of designing the beloved boats. Growing up in Winona, Cichanowski built his first canoe from wood strip and fiberglass in his parents' shed in 1965 and later founded Wenonah Canoes not far away. Today his small, family-owned company produces a wide variety of canoes that are sold around the world  and are a first choice of adventurers heading into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

While the company has come a long way, Cichanowski's very first design, the classic 17 Wenonah (pictured), remains a favorite. Today's versions are made with state-of-the-art composite materials, of course, but the design, displaying lines similar to the classic wooden hulls of the early 1900s, comes from a carefully handcrafted mold of Cichanowski's original boat. Prices for the model range from about $2,150 to more than $3,000 (for the Kevlar Ultra-light version with all the extras).

Canoe connoisseurs will easily recognize the 17 Wenonah, but so might others  in July 2010, Cichanowski's first boat was inducted into the Winona County History Center as a permanent fixture.