There aren't many more iconic pieces of camping gear than the food barrel! It seems remarkable that we use it at all, and here is a quick little story (and great photos) about them from author Wally Schaber. (Be sure to pick up a copy of his book Last of the Wild Rivers:The Past, Present, and Future of the Rivière du Moine Watershed for more great canoeing history. You can order by e-mailing Wally directly as well).
In 1983, at a canoe show at the Crystal Palace in London England, I saw my first 60 litre and 30 L barrel being used to display other products.Immediately I knew their size and shape was perfect for waterproofing gear on Canadian canoe trips. I bought four to bring back for testing. Chris Harris and I designed some harnesses for portaging the heavy food barrels. When used to pack personal gear the 30 and 60 L barrels were light and perfect for throwing over the tumpline of your canoe pack without a harness.
In 1985 Trailhead/Blackfeather outfitted Bill Mason and five others including myself and Gilles Couet, with barrels partially to convert Bill, a diehard Woods canvas pack canoe tripper, to plastic. It wasn't hard to sell Bill on the virtues of royalex canoes and waterproof barrels. Gille Couet, owner and creator of Chlorophyll was testing a new group camping tarp as well on that NWT Hood River trip.
Both products were launched in Bill's "Song of the Paddle" book the next year. We tracked down the manufacturer of barrels in the UK and brought in a container load (600) in 1986.
The rest is history.
The barrels of course were made and sold all over the world to ship goods. We insisted on using only new barrels for five years but when the price became prohibitive we began buying used ones like our competitors.
The original barrels came from England and were Green. If you have one today 33 years later it's a collectors item.