Ralph Frese



Ralph Frese passed away December 10th, 2012.


The Chicagoland Canoe Base has been an landmark in Chicago for many years. A fourth generation blacksmith, canoeist, historian and environmentalist, Ralph was lovingly called “Mr. Canoe.”

He touched many people’s lives since the 1940’s when he started to work in his father’s blacksmith shop, but moreover since the late 1950’s when he got involved helping boyscout troops build their own canoes, reenact historical trips like Joliet – Marquette and La Salle, or advocating for a clean environment. His office walls are full of awards and diplomas. In recognition of his contributions, he was inducted into the National Rivers Hall of Fame and in 2007 a stretch of the Chicago River was renamed “The Ralph Frese River Trail.”

We started this blog to collect memories from people who know Ralph. Please click on the “Memories” tab at the top navigation bar and leave few lines about Ralph.

Thank you.


Posted on December 9, 2012, in Home Page. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. French from Paris, i was impressed by his 3000 miles canoe navigation in 1973
    Preparing a memory expedition on the traces of french explorators on Missouri and Mississipi…. somebody could send me connections with one of Ralph children??

    Thanks a lot

  2. My grandfather Phil Stevens told me about special canoe trips he took with Ralph. One was in a huge Viking canoe! He had very fond memories of him.

  3. I had the honor of interviewing Ralph for Chicago Wilderness Magazine a few years ago. His love for rivers, especially the Fox, was inspiring. He was in his early 80’s at the time and rigorous. He told me that the secret to aging well was to keep active doing what you love – in his case paddling. He even gave a demonstration of strength by carrying his canoe single-handed! I also loved his stories of introducing local politicans to the essence and spirit of rivers by taking them paddling. A force of Nature – Chicago will miss you Ralph!

  4. It’s hard to imagine the neighborhood without Ralph. He was our last link to the past. In the midst of all the traffic and hassle of city living, there was Ralph and his blacksmith shop, keeping alive the spirit of a simpler, better time. A sign in his shop read, “If you’re in a hurry, you’re in the wrong place.” We’re all in too much of a hurry.
    Bon voyage!

  5. I stopped by the shop and talked rivers with him. After mentioning Colorado, Wisconsin he asked me if I had been on the Des Plaines, Fox or the Rock.

    He said come back after I had canoed those local rivers. 🙂

  6. I am Ralph’s daughter in law, but he has treated me like his own, I am honored to be in his family, and can’t begin to express how much he has taught me ,. I have enjoyed every time we have been together as a family, I have been very blessed.

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