A Good Buddy and Good Friend of the Fox

This year’s Friends of the Fox River Canoe Raffle boat was generously donated by renowned canoe maker Ted Bell, a childhood friend of Friends of the Fox River Board Member,
Chuck Roberts.

ted bell and chuck Roberts
Ted Bell (rear) Chuck Roberts (front) paddling a race on the
Wabash River in Indiana circa 1980.

Ted and Chuck grew up in Crawfordsville, IN, and Sugar Creek meandered through their small town. Chuck remembers that since it was a small town and there wasn’t a lot to do they would always gravitate toward the creek, and Ted and his brother would bring their Wabash Valley canoe. Chuck and his brothers would join the antics for many years, rotating a younger brother into a canoe when an older brother went off to college. It was there that a love of paddling and a lifelong friendship were born. Over the years Ted and Chuck raced together on the Wabash River in Lafayette, explored the Tippecanoe River, and whitewater kayaked the French Broad, Nantahala, and Ocoee Rivers, often piling into Ted’s old Volkswagen minivan to take them to the next adventure.

Chuck recalls a funny story: “Ted and I were competing in the Sugar Creek Race kayak slalom. I had posted a time, and was not in the running for a trophy. Ted lent me his kayak (it was a much better kayak) and I won the race with his boat. Ted placed 3rd, and I got 1st. I remind him about this every time I see him.” If you run into Chuck, ask him to regale you with some of his paddling excursions; they are worthy of their own Watershed Weekly articles and I fear my second-hand account cannot do them justice.

Chuck and his friend Bill Swift after winning
The Voyageur Medley in Indianapolis. They beat
the Culver Military Academy by seconds.

Long before Northstar Canoes, Ted and his brother leased an old Coca Cola factory near Crawfordsville for $1/year and started building canoes. Ted honed his canoe building skills, eventually moving to Minnesota where he founded Bell Canoe Works. His innovative idea to bring the quality and craftsmanship of racing boats to the general public set him apart and he created quite a name for himself and a devoted following. This caught the eye of a company that offered to purchase Bell Canoe Works from Ted, who sold the company and also signed a five year non compete clause.  Sadly, the new owners of Bell Canoe Works ran the company into the ground,
an unfortunate end for the revered canoe company.

After Ted’s non-compete clause expired, he returned to his craft and brought Northstar Canoes to life. Guided by Ted Bell, Northstar Canoes is “ focused on crafting exceptional canoes for experienced paddlers. But even a novice can paddle one – they’re designed to make you a better canoeist.” Experts and novices alike no doubt appreciate the lightweight, durable construction paired with superior handling, making Northstar Canoes easy to paddle and portage. Ted’s craftsmanship has gained him a loyal following. Even his old friend Chuck, desiring a Northstar of his own, offered to work his way toward acquiring one of the coveted canoes, which is how Chuck found himself in the Northstar workshop assembling gunwales.

Beyond the art of canoe making, Ted has also been a generous supporter of Friends of the Fox River over the years, donating a boat back when he still owned Bell Canoe Works and also trading a canoe trailer for another Northstar Canoe. This year’s Northstar Canoe donation is a gift that has been decades in the making. It exemplifies Ted’s generous spirit, is borne out of a childhood friendship, and is the culmination of a lifetime of canoe building expertise.

Friends of the Fox River is honored to be the recipient of a Northstar Northwind StarLite 16’ canoe for our 2024 Canoe Raffle to support our watershed education programs. This year’s winner will receive a highly prized boat that will likely be a future collector’s item. In the spirit of one kind act begets another, Offshore Inflatable Boat Specialists donated a pair of Bending Branches “Arrow” series canoe paddles to be included in the canoe raffle. The total value of the canoe and paddles is $3600, and you can get your ticket for just $10! But hurry, as the raffle ticket will be drawn next Monday, June 24 at 8pm at Rosie O’Hare’s Public House Pub at 702 Water St. in East Dundee! Don’t miss your chance to win a highly-regarded piece of canoe building history donated by a “good buddy and a good Friend of the Fox.”