Wenonah Canoe is a small, independent, family-owned company that has become an award-winning designer and manufacturer of high performance canoes and kayaks, sold and paddled around the world. We are a different kind of company. In a world dominated by giant manufacturers, we measure our success by the success of our dealers and the satisfaction of our customers. Our mission has always been to fit people into the best boats for their chosen use. In this, we reflect the values and the passion of our founder Mike Cichanowski.
Born to Paddle
Mike grew up in Winona, Minnesota, where he inherited the ethics and values of his ancestors — hard-working Polish immigrants who worked in the town’s lumber mills.
Living on the edge of the great upper Mississippi River, Mike learned to paddle a canoe at a very young age. By the time Mike became an Eagle Scout, he had built several wood-strip canoes and was molding his own designs from fiberglass. Not only was he good at working with his hands and good at solving problems, Mike took a lot of pride in doing this work and doing it well. So, when the warehouse he used as his canoe-making shop was slated for demolition, he made an important move: Instead of settling down to study Wildlife Management in college, he applied for a bank loan, bought land, and built a small shop on the edge of town. He wanted to build canoes. There was no looking back. Mike, his wife, and young family stuck with it through some very lean years as Mike learned the entrepreneurial skills that would make canoe building a successful enterprise instead of just a lifestyle choice. When plastics, composites, and carbon fibers came on the market, Mike made the jump. It was a big investment and a steep learning curve, but Wenonah Canoe was soon producing the fastest, lightest, most efficient canoes around.
A Composites Pioneer
To maximize every advantage the new materials offered, the company engineered new construction techniques. Although now industry standard, Wenonah Canoe is recognized as the pioneer of vacuum-bagging, a process that pulls excess resins out of the construction thus reducing weight and improving strength. The process emits no fumes and minimizes waste. To evolve new materials and processes for making canoes, the company took full advantage of its location. Winona, Minnesota has become a world leader in composites manufacturing, home to dozens of companies that engineer products for sports, music, aerospace and industrial uses. Mike’s love for paddle sports has always been a magnet for others who share the same passion. Before long, he collected a team of dedicated employees. Dave Thill has led the manufacturing development for 35 years. Rick Thrune has made significant contributions to composites technology as well and is responsible for implementing new manufacturing processes. Hard-working, innovative craftsmen have made us the world-class company we are today.
Specializing in Performance Designs
High-tech materials and dedicated people are part of our story, sophisticated design is another. Noon-hour training trips on the river and regular trips to the Boundary Waters with family and friends helped develop countless design ideas. Mike's long friendship and partnership with legendary canoe designer Gene Jensen contributed to several successful new canoe designs. Our Kevlar® Ultralight Minnesota II quickly became the canoe of choice in the Boundary Waters, transforming burdensome portages and long paddles across wilderness lakes, and effectively opening the experience to many.
New opportunities arose when Brian Henry and Mike Henderson, kayak designers and owners of Current Designs in Victoria, British Columbia, entered the scene. To make their own dreams a reality, they needed more production capacity and manufacturing expertise, so they joined forces with us in 1991. In 1999 Wenonah Canoe purchased majority ownership in Current Designs and in 2004 moved it's home base to a new manufacturing facility in Winona, MN.
Award Winning Company
Over the years, Mike’s dedication to building his business has won him and the company numerous awards, including the prestigious Composite Fabricators Association Community Commitment Award, and several awards for innovation.
In 2007 he received an honor prized above all others — the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award, which is the highest honor given by the Boy Scouts of America. This award recognizes outstanding community and volunteer involvement, and a life-long dedication to improving peoples' lives. As a recipient, Mike joins the likes of astronaut Neil Armstrong, film director Steven Spielberg, President Gerald R. Ford and Microsoft founder Bill Gates, among others.
To sell our canoes, we depend on a network of specialty dealers. These knowledgeable people are experts in their areas. They know their local lakes
and rivers, and the boats they sell. We work hard to maintain great relationships with more than 400 specialty dealers around the world.
Hard Work Has Paid Off
After more than 42 years of hard work and ceaseless challenge, Mike still has a passion for paddling. He has raced canoes all over the world, including Europe, South Africa, and Australia. He won the American Canoe Association’s Adult-Youth canoe racing championship with both of his daughters, and was part of the first American team invited to race dragon boats in China. One summer day, he even paddled to work after a torrential rainstorm flooded roads and cut off traffic to the canoe factory.
With that kind of tireless inspiration at its head, the company too still has a passion for paddling. We drop in on dealers to paddle with them once or twice a year. Many employees, along with Mike, sneak out early and head to the river on summer Fridays to paddle the mighty Mississippi. A great deal has changed in 40+ years, but much remains the same. Today Wenonah Canoe is the world’s largest manufacturer of Kevlar® canoes and the second largest manufacturer of Royalex® canoes. We help sponsor expeditions on waters all over the world, and we work to see that all generations of people have a chance to get hooked on the self-reliance that paddle sports bring. We have a passion for creating high-performance canoes from high tech materials, and we do it all with old-world craftsmanship and values.