Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race

  • April 1967

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    Lew "Spook" Gilman and Ed "Sonny" Colburn came up with the idea of a springtime canoe race on the Kenduskeag Stream when Bangor Parks & Recreation, reeling from a failed bicycle race, needed a new fundraiser. The rest, as they say, is history. (See Legends of Paddling).
  • May 21 1967

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    The first Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race was held on May 21, 1967. Thirty two boats were launched in the inaugural race with fifty one paddlers registered; Sam Stoddard and Jim Robbins finished with the overall best time of 2:52:53 in the 2-Man Canoe class.
  • May 21 1967

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    During the first canoe race, a Sunday, there were lines of cars which caused traffic jams between Six Mile Falls and Bangor. Sonny Colburn worried he couldn't drive from the race start to the finish line in time to jot down the paddler timings. (He made it.) It's likely that more than a few of the AM radios in those cars blared out "Groovin" by the Young Rascals which hit #1 on the US pop charts that very week.
  • April 18 1970

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    Zip Kellogg made his debut at the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race. Zip would go on to become a longstanding fan favorite and in 2016 Kellogg was acknowledged as one of the Legends Of Paddling, a special award presented by Bangor Parks and Recreation.
  • April 15 1972

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    Most paddlers bump into submerged rocks, logs or even other canoes. Walter Abbott reported that he and his paddling partner bumped into a different sort of obstacle during the 1972 race: the rotting carcass of a dead cow tangled up in a strainer on the stream somewhere in the vicinity of the Bullseye Bridge. "It was there pretty near all spring." (Editor's question: So where were the actual river vultures in this scenario?)
  • April 20 1974

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    Concrete canoes, built by University of Maine engineering students, made their debut at the Kenduskeag. Some of the canoes were relatively light, weighing in at a svelte 150 pounds. Personal flotation device required; hernia truss optional!
  • April 20 1974

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    Not to be outdone by the streaker who ran across the stage during the 46th Academy Awards a few weeks earlier, two streakers cruised through Six Mile Falls wearing nothing but life jackets. The au naturel duo put on clothing somewhere downstream before paddling on towards Bangor. It's the sort of cheeky behavior that occurs but once in a blue moon.
  • April 17 1976

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    War canoes made their debut at the Kenduskeag in the Open Class. Although an official definition was never given during the early days, a 'war canoe' is generally assumed to be around 28 ft. (An official class for war canoes begins in 1983.) The Kenduskeag Screamah is an iconic example.
  • April 16 1977

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    Tony Trafton, one of the participants of the 1967 inaugural race of the Kenduskeag, attempted to do the race in a bathtub. Yes, a bathtub. As he found the portages "too cumbersome", Tony initiated a clean exit at Six Mile Falls. Mr. Trafton, you see, either threw in the towel or pulled the plug on the 1977 race - depending on which cliché you'd rather swirl down the drain with.
  • April 21 1979

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    The 13th Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race sees participation top 500 for the first time in its history. (513 to be exact).
  • April 17 1982

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    Often plagued by traffic management even in the early years of the race and with registrations increasing annually, the Town of Kenduskeag designated Riverside Park as the launch site to accommodate the growing crowds. The memorial at Riverside Park is dedicated to veterans of the Vietnam war.
  • March 26 1983

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    An arsonist burned down the Morse Bridge, which once spanned the Kenduskeag Stream near Valley Ave. Many residents in the Bangor area were heartbroken over the meaningless loss of this historic covered bridge which was built in 1882.
  • April 20 1985

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    Bill Green, a former broadcaster at WLBZ-TV, referred to spectators at Six Mile Falls as "River Vultures", reminiscent of Larry Mahoney's vivid description of the race in an article he wrote for the Bangor Daily News in 1977. This time, the colorful name sticks.
  • April 18 1987

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    With exquisite timing that bordered on the uncanny, two paddlers in a canoe somehow managed to precisely align their arrival at Six Mile Falls with a pizza delivery which they lunched on before continuing down the stream towards Bangor.
  • April 16 1988

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    Mainers are a hardy lot. While there have been at least four races held during cold and snowy weather since 1967, the Blizzard of 1988 stands apart. Paddlers described the snow-covered trees alongside the stream as "incredibly beautiful" but the conditions caused many problems with frozen limbs, hypothermia, slipping and sliding on portages and complications with timekeeping. "It's hard to time a paddler's finish when you can barely see where they are."
  • April 21 1990

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    Two paddlers portaged their canoe the entire length of the race, according to Dale Theriault, a former director at Bangor Parks and Recreation. "They didn't put their canoe into the water once." The two hikers who burdened themselves by carrying a canoe between them for an arduous 16.5 miles were awarded a disqualification upon their arrival at the finish line in Bangor.
  • April 20 1991

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    The 25th "Silver Anniversary" Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race was held (and celebrated) on this date. 700 boats with 1,387 paddlers were registered. Robert Lang was the overall winner with a time of 2:04:57
  • April 18 1992

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    Seven Penobscot paddlers from Indian Island participated in the 26th Kenduskeag, and all seven went home with trophies: Scott Phillips, Troy Francis, Mark Ranco, Chris Francis, Barry Dana, Neil Phillips and Nedabeh Wilcox.
  • April 18 1992

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    The Gumby Boat made an auspicious debut at the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race. An immediate fan favorite, the Gumbies achieved iconic status along with the likes of Zip Kellogg. Spectators and broadcasters alike anticipate the appearance of this crew each year.
  • April 16 1994

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    1994 saw the highest numbers of registered boats and paddlers of any Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race (as of this writing in 2023). 745 craft and 1,529 paddlers are registered. This tops the previous record set in 1992 with 745 craft and 1,476 paddlers registered. (See the Race Numbers page for a complete breakdown of race participation since 1967).
  • April 19 1997

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    Robert Lang of New Brunswick, Canada finished the race in a kayak with a time of 1:50:08 which (as if this writing in 2023) remains the overall high record.
  • April 21 2007

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    Testing the strength of the notion held by some that "only kayakers can succeed in this canoe race", Jeff Owen and Steve Woodard set a new 2-man canoe record with a smashing time of 1:52:30. As of this writing in 2023, this is the third fastest time ever recorded on the Kenduskeag. Owen and Woodard are roundly applauded for their showing on the stream by fellow racers, many of whom are kayakers.
  • May 8 2010

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    William Stearns, paddler, boatbuilder and principle founder of Penobscot Paddle and Chowder Society (1931-2010)

    (Also see the entry for Fern & Bill Stearns in Legends of Paddling)
  • August 18 2011

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    Lewellyn Gilman, co-founder of the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race (1929-2011)

    (Also see the entry for Lew in Legends of Paddling).
  • January 23 2012

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    Earl Baldwin, legendary paddler and boatbuilder (1924-2012)
  • April 21 2012

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    2012 saw some of the lowest water levels ever recorded on the Kenduskeag Stream in spring with just 104 cubic feet per second of water flowing by the gauge at Six Mile Falls on the eve of the race. But "low and slow H2O" failed to dampen the spirits of many paddlers who enjoyed the race even if many described it as "a slog". After all, It's springtime in Maine.
  • April 19 2014

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    The canoe race was shortened by 1 mile due to high water levels combined with a rising tide which caused clearance problems underneath the bridges in Bangor. The race ended before the Maxfield Mill portage. Paddlers were not able to run any of the rapids closer to Bangor which disappointed some veterans of the race. As one paddler put it, "shame really, looked awful sporty."
  • April 26 2015

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    For the first time in race history, the Kenduskeag was postponed due to water conditions including ice in the stream. Originally scheduled for April 18, the race was held one week later.
  • April 16 2016

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    The 50th Anniversary Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race was held; a remarkable milestone for Sonny Colburn, Lew Gilman and Bangor Parks & Recreation.
  • April 2019

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    Trevor MacLean claimed his 11th victory with a time of 1:52:53. The race was shortened by a half mile due to high water levels. Even with the full 16.5 miles of the race, his time likely would have been well under the two hour time limit required for the "Sub 2-Hour Club".
  • April 18 2020

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    For the first time since it began in 1967, the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race was cancelled. The COVID-19 global pandemic ended the streak of 53 consecutive races.
  • April 17 2021

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    The 54th Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race was reactivated, this time with a pared down number of paddlers, special guidelines and only seven race classes. Six Mile Falls was closed off to spectators. You can't keep a good race down: Lew Gilman and Sonny Coburn's dream of a springtime canoe race on the Kenduskeag endures.
Timeline created and compiled by Michael Alden. This is a work in progress. First and foremost I would like to thank Jim Smith and Fern Stearns for compiling so many Kenduskeag stories - stories which would be lost to future generations were it not for them. This website is largely informed by their work and would be much poorer without it. I would also like to thank Bangor Daily News and the race organizers of Bangor Parks & Recreation.