The concrete canoe: Leading students to victory on and off the water


Western Engineering News | November 27, 2015

When you think of concrete, what do you imagine? Do you picture it gliding across an open lake, or sinking to the rocky bottom?  

WECCAIf you asked the Western Engineering Concrete Canoe Association (WECCA), they would assure you that the former is possible. This team of undergraduate students works tirelessly to construct the best concrete canoe, attending multiple competitions every year.

WECCA’s executive team returned from the Ready-Mix Concrete Association of Ontario (RMCAO)’s annual competition in September with a first-place finish over Queens University, the University of Toronto, the University of Waterloo, two teams from Ryerson University and two teams from the concrete industry.

The RMCAO gathers annually at JW Marriot The Rosseau Muskoka Resort & Spa for a four-day long general meeting and convention. The WECCA executive team was invited to attend a Friday evening banquet followed by the concrete canoe competition on Saturday, September 26.

As the team entered the competition, Robert Gratton, a Civil Engineering student at Western University and the WECCA Sponsorship Captain, described the atmosphere as welcoming, not competitive.

“WECCA went into the RMCAO with expectations of networking and having a great time,” said Gratton. “Our canoe was the heaviest. We did not have first place in mind.”

Peter Moylan, General Manager, Dufferin Concrete, CRH Canada, along with other notable executives in the concrete industry, joined the WECCA team in their canoe for the races. This unique addition gained bonus points for the team.

The Friday evening banquet provided an opportunity for networking with concrete and chemical companies who offered the teams sponsorship, materials and expertise. Gratton attributed much of WECCA’s success in the competition to their networking skills on the Friday evening.

“The competition is only a small part of the weekend,” said Gratton. “Making connections and learning about the industry is a large part of the experience.”

In addition to a victory under their belt, the team gained technical knowledge that they hope to use to increase their success at future competitions.

WECCA“Small tricks like soaking structural fibres to make them more supple when casting, to adding a cross bar to our canoe, are just a few suggestions that will lead us towards more innovation as a team,” said Gratton.  

The WECCA team membership has tripled in size from last year, increasing from 26 to 76 students. Gratton spoke to the increased potential this has created for the team.

“To keep all members involved we have initiated small work groups that are researching different aspects of the canoe. Some groups are looking at the addition of a keel, cross bar and ribs, while others are designing a carrying case, reviewing the constitution and planning fundraisers.”

The team has started a rigorous training program to prepare for the 22nd Canadian National Concrete Canoe Competition (CNCCC), which is being hosted by McGill University in May. The 2016 event will mark WECCA’s ninth entry in the competition. Racers currently participate in weekly strength-training sessions and paddling technique sessions in a pool.

While competition and success is important to the team, Gratton emphasized other values the team brings to its members.

"Being on WECCA lets students teach each other about project management, concrete design, CNCing, AutoCAD and SolidWORKS, all before it is taught in the classroom. Students are more inclined to learn in a fun, team setting,“ explained Gratton. “I personally learned the basics of concrete more than a year before I had a concrete class.”

Lastly, Gratton added that his concrete canoe experience is a great topic for professional conversation. “I always get asked ‘what is a concrete canoe?’ during job interviews,” he said. “I see this question as a great opportunity to teach the interviewer something new and help you stand out against other candidates.”

Learn more about WECCA and other Western Engineering clubs and teams online.