Canadian Canoe Museum : Plying Waters of Culture, History and Geographic Exploration

I’ve only canoed once in my life.  My day of canoeing was semi-mandatory at a day school camp for physical education and science class when I was 10 years old.  I haven’t gone into the waters since then, because I don’t know how to swim.

Birch bark canoe sealed with dried spruce tree pitch (spruce tree gum). Canadian Canoe Museum. Peterborugh, Ontario 2015. Photo by J.Chong
Birch bark canoe sealed with dried spruce tree pitch (spruce tree gum). Canadian Canoe Museum. Peterborugh, Ontario 2015. Photo by J.Chong

Canoe and Kayak- Icons in Canadian Cultural History
So why would I be beating the drum for canoes and kayaks?  They are iconic water vessels that are both borne from thousand year long cultures of native Indian groups across Canada and from the Inuit in the far Arctic.  I actually

Preserved kayaks. Traditional Inuit spears and harpoon grace top of a kayak. Canadian Canoe Museum 2015. Photo by J.Chong
Preserved kayaks. Traditional Inuit spears and harpoon grace top of a kayak. Canadian Canoe Museum 2015. Photo by J.Chong

didn’t learn of kayaks as a child growing up in the 1960’s in Ontario until later as a teen.  Probably because Arctic life and the Inuit to many southern Canadians at that time, were not yet revealed much to the general public nor written much into books at the time.

1800 Pacific northwest coas t dugout canoe with a sail. After encountering white men, some aboriginals attached a sail. Archaelogical artifact from near Prince Rupert, British Columbia. Canadian Canoe Museum. Photo by J.Chong
1800 Pacific northwest coast dugout canoe. After encountering white men, some aboriginals attached a sail. (lst time I’ve seen one from Pacific coast.) Archaelogical artifact from near Prince Rupert, British Columbia. Canadian Canoe Museum. Photo by J.Chong

As a child, I saw more often, the wooden, fiberglass and birchbark canoes in photos. My friends also went camping and canoeing Ontario lakes and rivers as  part of their family summer vacation.

Museum Still Unknown Even in Ontario
Over 15 years ago, I had visited the fledgling Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough, Ontario. They had a small, but impressive collection.   Peterborough is 120 km. northeast of Toronto, in the Kawartha Lakes region by the Trent-Severn

Kayakers on Otonabee River. Peterborough, Ontario. Sept. 2015. Just 1 km. away from museum. Photo by J.Chong
Kayakers on Otonabee River. Peterborough, Ontario. Sept. 2015. Just 1 km. away from museum. Photo by J.Chong

River Canal Locks. An area where there are forests, rivers and lakes for cottagers and enthusiasts for canoeing.  Peterborough also used to have several booming companies that built canoes for the North American market in the first half of the 20th century.

Even now, most of my long-time Ontario friends, acquaintances and family, still aren’t  aware of this fascinating, well-executed museum only an hour’s car drive (or all day bike ride) away from Toronto.

Showcasing Aboriginal Legacy and Canadian Exploration
I wanted to visit the museum again after its 2015 spring relocation to a larger, better designed facility.  Recently the museum  mounted an expansive

Ojibway birch bark canoe construction camp. Canadian Canoe Museum 2015. Photo by J.Chong
Ojibway birch bark canoe construction camp. Canadian Canoe Museum 2015. Photo by J.Chong

marketing strategy to promote the culture and history of canoes and kayaks that’s deeply rooted in various aboriginal cultural groups across Canada, in 17th-19th century exploration, mapping, and  trading within Canada by aboriginals, British and French colonizers.  Finally the museum highlights canoe in iconic recreational outdoor experiences  for Canadians and visitors.

Map of traditional aboriginal trading routes amongst themselves. Canadian Canoe Museum 2015. Photo by J.Chong
Map of traditional aboriginal trading routes amongst themselves. Canadian Canoe Museum 2015. Photo by J.Chong

Stroll Through Garden of Suspended Canoes
We weren’t disappointed. In fact, you are overwhelmed by the tri-level museum with hanging canoes and kayaks artfully displayed all over the place. It was akin to walking through a carefully planned garden of canoes

Stroll through cleverly planned garden of heritage canoes and kayaks : different vista every few feet. Canadian Canoe Museum 2015. Photo by J.Chong
Stroll through cleverly planned garden of heritage canoes and kayaks : different vista every few feet. Canadian Canoe Museum 2015. Photo by J.Chong

and kayaks.  Every few steps, would reveal a different mini exhibit vista of text posters and jutting birchbark canoes at different angles and of different vintages and shapes.

Canoe design and beaver top right, adorns a bike rack by Vermillion Lake. Banff National Park 2015. Photo by J.Chong
Canoe design and beaver top right, adorns a bike rack by Vermillion Lake. Banff National Park, Alberta. 2015. Photo by J.Chong

Museum staff must have spent many months just play-positioning unwieldy 10 ft. long canoes and eyeballing  their visual effects without cracking a lightbulb, or scratching a wall. Quite impressive.

Different Canoe Curves, and Symbols Adorn An Icon
Who knew that different Canadian aboriginal groups had different canoe designs as marked by different curves of the canoe bow?  Or there were different shaped canoe paddles.    Some canoes were traditionally decorated with beads, images of fiddleheads, 8-point stars, triangles respresenting wigwams and  half circles for clouds.  Later, with the influence of Catholicism for some aboriginals, a fish symbol adorned to signify the canoe was launched on Friday.  Rabbits were magical symbols, while the enemy rival was the lynx.

Mi'kmque Indian wigwam made of birch bark for home shelter. Central and Eastern Canada. Canadian Canoe Museum 2015. Photo by J.Chong
Mi’kmque Indian wigwam made of birch bark for home shelter. Central and Eastern Canada. Canadian Canoe Museum 2015. Photo by J.Chong

Some canoes were held together by caribou sinew and dried spruce tree pitch on its seams.  Such canoes clearly were made of birchbark sheets.  The museum was where you saw large wide rolls of birch bark and a wigwam, a tipi-hut like structure, made completely from large  tree branches or trunks, that held tapering walls woven with birch bark sheets.  A warm traditional shelter for fall and winter.

Different canoes and kayaks are featured – from west to east coast native Indian groups, as well as from Arctic to southern Ontario.  Cedar longboats and dugout boats from the Pacific coast in British Columbia, were often fashioned from steaming cedar wood to shape the boat hull.  A fact, I learned a few years ago from Vancouver’s Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, where the best and most extensive museum collection of Northwest coast aboriginal artifacts, can be found.

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Of Birchbark, Moose Hide and Sealskin
On the other spectrum of canoe natural materials, moosehide was even used to cover canoes since the skin would dry hard and stiff.  The museum tracked the necessity of using animal skin when there were no plastic nor engineered wood at that time.  Awhile ago, Inuit women skinned seals for proper seat  draping in kayaks and clothing. I wondered, if ever, Inuit women did learn to construct kayaks since kayak construction was reserved for men.  Most likely the assimilation of Inuit culture, where now the convenience of fibreglass kayaks trump anything hand-constructed.

Nevertheless, the museum features a canoe and kayak worshop inside where craftspeople fashion the watercraft while visitors watch and learn.

Ceremonial canoe with torch bearer as part the relay race (on foot, by bike, ski, canoe, etc.) of Winter 2010 Olympics in the final stretch in False Creek, downtown Vancouver BC. Photo by J.Chong
Ceremonial canoe with torch bearer as part the Olympic torch relay race (on foot, by bike, ski, canoe, etc.) of Winter 2010 Olympics in the final stretch in False Creek, downtown Vancouver, British Columbia. Photo by J.Chong

Songs and Rigour of Paddlers
Further into the museum, were replica large canoes stuffed with boxes, barrels and baskets of goods that early 1600-early 1900s explorers and traders with

Long list of heavy goods the early canoe voyageurs or for French trading canoeists, Radisson. Made arduous physically demanding rowing for thousands of kms in Canadian wilderness. 1600's to 1800's.
Long list of heavy goods the early canoe voyageurs or for French trading canoeists, Radisson. Made arduous physically demanding rowing for thousands of kms in Canadian wilderness. 1600’s to 1800’s.

Hudson’s Bay Company, used to penetrate Canadian wilderness and waters.  No different than aboriginal groups who would have piled their canoes with household goods and food to move their home camps or from hunting and fishing.

Imagine burning off 9,000 calories a day while canoeing through wind, water rapids and portaging (or carrying) canoe and goods overland through the forest, as a job.  Our 21st century, week- long backcountry vacation hiking would be a whistle in the wind.

Canoeing north on glacial waters of Bow River. Banff National Park, Alberta 2015. Photo by J.Chong
Canoeing north on glacial waters of Bow River. Banff National Park, Alberta 2015. Photo by J.Chong

Cultural Reminders and Feeling Very Canadian
This museum made me feel hopelessly Canadian:  I was reminded of my Ontario schoolchild history lessons of radisson (French fur traders in Canada 1600s -1700s), Metis (aboriginal-French people), singing a traditional French paddling folk song of radisson (en roulant, ma boule roulant), and canoe

Practical art of seal skinning for kayak seating, clothing and blankets for the Inuit. Canadian Canoe Museum 2015. Photo by J.Chong
Practical art of seal skinning for kayak seating, clothing and blankets for the Inuit. Canadian Canoe Museum 2015. Photo by J.Chong

as Canadian government’s signature gift to visiting British royalty. Of course, any long-time Canadian remembers the iconic photo of our former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, who found Zen peace in his favourite activity of wilderness canoeing away from politics, either solo or with his sons.

In fact, I would introduce any immigrant first to the Canadian Canoe Museum:  The canoe and kayak forever remains firmly interwoven in Canadian cultural history.  The cultural romance of canoeing and kayaking lingers in the pleasure and exploration of a vast country.

Ice sculpture incorporates aboriginal imagery. Placed 3rd in an annual competition. Lake Louise, Banff National Park 2016. Photo by J.Chong
Ice sculpture incorporates aboriginal imagery. Placed 3rd in an annual competition. Lake Louise, Banff National Park. Alberta 2016. Photo by J.Chong
Copper metal artwork embedded in wood door of former Bell telephone exchange building. Downtown Peterborough, ON 2015. Photo by J.Chong
Copper metal artwork embedded in wood door of former Bell telephone exchange building. Downtown Peterborough, ON 2015. Photo by J.Chong

More Interesting Reading
Canadian Canoe Museum.

 

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36 Comments Add yours

  1. Fascinating stuff Jean, thanks for sharing your experience here. ❤
    Diana xo

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    1. Jean says:

      🙂 There’s a lot of lore and history with the canoe. One has visions of our federal govn’t gift of a handmade canoe to the Queen, still locked up in Buckingham Palace –unused.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I know, that’s amazing, handmade and so Canadian!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Pit says:

    Thanks for sharing that interesting information!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      Hope you learned something new, Pit.

      Like

      1. Pit says:

        I learned a lot!

        Like

  3. The history behind the canoe is fascinating and old. It’s funny because I would have imgained you being a great swimmer. I like canoeing in Maine but I don’t swim well enough to go too far. I wish, though. There is something calming with the rowing that I like a lot. As long as the water is calm too!
    Great post and great photos too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      Actually, I did canoe a 2nd time in my life…as an adult in a small calm lake with my partner over 15 yrs. ago. It was abit tough for me to totally relax because I can’t swim but was wearing a life jacket. Appreciate your chat, evelyne. I can’t quite imagine canoeing as indigenous to ..ie. France.

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  4. thank you so much for sharing this . I have kayaked and canoed and camped for a lot of my life and its great to see this museum dedicated to these boats

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      Maybe one day I’ll blog about my lst camping trip which happened in my early 30’s. So I’m certain you’re a pro at putting up the tent, etc. You would love parts of Canada given your outdoor experience, Brenda.

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  5. Sue Slaght says:

    Jean a wonderful post rich in history. I spent my youth in swimming lessons in prairie lakes and then was a lifeguard and taught swimming. I will admit I take my comfort with water forgranted.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      Yes, you are a pro at swimming, Sue…and probably not bad at rope rappelling.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Sue Slaght says:

        You make me smile Jean. Yes not bad on rappel either. 🙂

        Like

  6. Mabel Kwong says:

    I never knew canoes in Canada were associated with the native people. Fascinating how they relied on canoes as a means to sustain their livelihoods. I would like to think that the Inuit women constructed canoes at some point. It would be a handy skill to have and I am sure some modern women do that as a profession today.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      I wonder if today’s Inuit younger generation know enough about handcrafting kayaks that would be seaworthy for Arctic waters. I think most of them are like any of us: wanting modern conveniences if they can afford it. The Inuit culture has altered drastically since the early 1900’s because of man’s impact on their environment and some of the restrictions on hunting seals, caribou, etc. This is probably 1 skill that has been lost a lot in present generations. After all, even in southern Canada, there aren’t that many other people who can handcraft canoes. Faster to buy a fibreglass canoe or kayak.

      When I went up to Iqaluit in the Far Arctic in 2003 for a job interview, I dropped by the general store where they sold books and other stuff. I usually try to find local bookstore to look at local authored books. I barely found anything except for academic treatises about the Inuit, coffee table picture books and some poems. It’s not surprising, since a lot of the Inuit are in survival mode and haven’t spend much time writing up their lives, documenting crafts, etc.

      But I digress…

      Interesting….a lot of long-time Canadians know dimly canoes are associated with native peoples’ cultural history. Certainly no evidence, in continental European culture before Columbus discovered America in 1492 nor anywhere in Asia.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Been canoeing & kayaking for over 50 years and love it, though I hardly do any these days, too much cycling. I like the whole history and development and was a canoe & kayak coach. One of the best canoe films I’ve see is https://www.nfb.ca/film/cesars_bark_canoe – César’s Bark Canoe even though it has hardly any canoeing in it. I hope you enjoy it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      I’m going to take a peek at that video. I am familiar with some NFB films (on other subjects). They do some great work. 🙂 Cycling usurping canoeing and kayaking –I guess it’s faster along a river/ocean path??? You might change your tune if you vacationed on the British Columbian southern Pacific coast. Beautiful sealife, temperate rainforests, bald eagles, etc.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s beautiful here as well, just having the right companions and the faff, whereas I can just hop on the bike and away (and do)

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Use to paddle a wood & canvas kayak when I was young too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      Tell us more about…where the canvass was located in that kayak! Wonder what happened if that area got wet.

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      1. It was a wooden frame with the canvas stretched over it, then waterproofed. When we were 15 or 16 my pal & I did a 120 mile trip through the canals over the Penines in England. We had to stop early as we borrowed a lock keepers trolley & put a huge rip in the bottom of the boat sliding it off. It was too large to repair. Here’s my latest canoe adventure done a couple of weeks ago for a FutureLearn course https://youtu.be/9jwxqTaLf44, or a more serious one https://youtu.be/WrDSoEOv-lU.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Jean says:

          It’s great you are still canoeing. Here’s a link to kayaking in the Broken Islands area along the British Columbian coast. http://blog.hellobc.com/kayaking-the-broken-group-islands/ If one types in Broken Islands or Barkley Sound with kayaking, you’ll get other links (some of them tour companies).
          I went camping for the first time in my life, while on a biking trip with my partner when I was 32 yrs. He had an old canvass tent..which the bottom leaked abit. Yes, afterwards he bought a new tent. 🙂

          In downtown Vancouver, people kayak in False Creek, Burrard Inlet and Indian Arm in Deep Cover. It’s quite beautiful. Think of at least going to Vancouver one day.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Leaky tent, sounds familiar! The Broken Islands trip looks magic. Have canoed on the sea a wee bit, as well as surf canoeing but I’m prone to sea seasickness even in a canoe! Shame as we have some magic trips around here as well. The Bass Rock is an amazing one – a sad photo here though http://www.trekearth.com/gallery/Europe/United_Kingdom/Scotland/East_Lothian/Tyninghame/photo1340660.htm but a happier one as well http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/142640, all just five miles or so away.

            Liked by 1 person

  9. And I’d love to visit the museum as well.

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  10. Alex Hurst says:

    What a fantastic essay. I would jump at the chance to go to a museum like that! Just imaging the scale of that “garden of canoes” made me excited. Thank you for documenting it with such lovely pictures, and also giving more context into how closely tied the water vessel is with Canadian history. 🙂

    Like

    1. Jean says:

      It is overwhelming in a good way, to see all sorts of different canoes and kayaks. I used to visit Peterborough for several years because my partner’s mother lived there before she moved. He also had a farm outside of that area. So development of this museum was nice to see.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Alex Hurst says:

        That’s really an awesome opportunity to see a museum grow in that way. 🙂 We often take for granted how much work goes into a final product!

        Liked by 1 person

  11. What a lovely discovery, Jean. I’m a kayaker. Flat water only. I’m in awe of our ancestors who could build and thrive as they did on the water.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      You might enjoy kayaking in downtown Vancouver in the saltwater creek areas …you do get views of city, mountains, trees around you. Best of luck with your new book, Jann!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. anjage says:

    Cool museum 😀 I’d love to visit it one day! 😀
    Happy Easter!

    Like

  13. Lani says:

    There is something rather romantic about simpler times. Canoes and the fur trade capturing that wildness that seems so appealing for its fresh air, adventure and nature.

    I’ve always wanted to do a kayak or canoe camping trip, but I’m afraid that time has past. I mean, I still could do it, but it is doubtful. Its seems like a magical way to see the river and the river banks.

    Like

    1. Jean says:

      Unless you came back to visit North America, Australia, etc. A kayaking trip in Asia would be a real showstopper to locals there.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Lani says:

        I’m sure someone has been crazy enough to do it already!

        Liked by 1 person

  14. BunKaryudo says:

    It looks like an interesting museum. When you mentioned it was an hour’s drive and a one-day cycle ride from Toronto, I couldn’t help but wonder how long it would take to paddle there. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      🙂 And how rapids one would have to plough through from wherever you are.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. BunKaryudo says:

        Good point! 🙂

        Like

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