Meet The Maker: Navarro Canoe Co.

By Tracy Jacks

Rock Island loves its local artisans – and they love Rock Island, where their creativity is nurtured and valued. Our city is made even more special by the abundance of hand-crafted goods made right here. Some of that magic is found at the Navarro Canoe Company, where made-to-order canoes are produced within a stone’s throw of the Mississippi River.

The Navarro Canoe Co., originally founded in California in the 1970’s, was bought by Bruce and Sue Peterson and relocated to Rock Island in 2012. The canoes they create in their downtown workshop are shipped and sold throughout the continental U.S.

“We were looking for a business that we could move to Rock Island,” explains Bruce Peterson.
“Even though we weren’t living here yet, we had already decided that the Quad Cities was where we wanted to be. We heard about the opportunity to take over the Navarro brand and the rest is history.”

At that time, Navarro’s California operation had been shuttered and lay dormant for six years. In many ways, Peterson says it’s been like starting a new company from scratch. “Sue’s persistence in using social media has created national awareness of the great canoes we offer. Now we get custom build requests from all over, and every week we field requests for information on how to refurbish canoes that are 20-30 years old.”

Navarro offers six different models of wooden canoes, ranging in size from 13 to 17 feet. Each made-to-order canoe takes about 100 hours to create. The hulls are made of resin, fiberglass, or a combination of both. Hardwoods are used for the ribs and outer structures to add rigidity and distinctiveness.
“Our canoes are functional works of art that be passed on through generations,” explains Peterson.
Navarro’s products are perfect for canoeists of all skill levels, from expert paddlers to beginners new to the sport.

“If you’re just starting out,” says Peterson, “we can provide the canoe and we’ve got some paddles available, too. You’ll need a personal flotation device/ life-jacket, which are available at many stores throughout the Quad Cities. Then all you need to do is license and register your canoe with the state you live in and you’re good to go.”

For Peterson, nothing beats the satisfaction of constructing an item people can use and enjoy for lifetimes. “When you take a new boat out of the mold,” he explains, “you’re struck by the color of the exterior and the beauty of the wood interior. As the gunwales, seat, and yoke are installed, you have to take a minute to stop and enjoy how pleasant it is to look at the canoe. As we finish up and put the Navarro Canoe Co. decals on, it provides a sense of accomplishment to think your work will provide someone a real enjoyable time on the water.

Navarro Canoe Co. is located at 2219 3rd Ave. in downtown Rock Island. The store is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. You can call the shop at 563-285-1492 or visit their website at