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canadian canoe museum  

The Canadian Canoe Museum
Canada's canoeing heritage
©Outdoor Adventure Canada

"Canada exists because of the canoe. The canoe determined national boundaries and carried sovereignty to the northern half of the continent. Long before the arrival of Europeans in the Western Hemisphere, the canoe was at the centre of Aboriginal life and was the principal means of trade and communication between First Nations." - from

Canoeing is no longer a necessity but Canadians still embrace this graceful form of transportation and over 2 million Canadians enjoy paddling. When I think of canoeing it is with a sense of cultural heritage and thoughts of Native Canadians, Voyageurs and the exploration of our country.

It is only fitting that Canada has a museum dedicated to canoeing, aptly named the Canadian Canoe Museum. Peterborough, Ontario is the perfect location for the museum because it is steeped in canoe history. The wooden-plank canoe was invented in this region. The city has been home to canoe manufacturers since the mid 1800's and was considered the centre of canoe manufacturing until the early 1960's. Professor Kirk Wipper collected canoes and started the Kanawa International Museum of Canoes and Kayaks. The collection was at Camp Kandalore in the Dorset area until it became too large. Then the collection was moved to Peterborough and was handed over to the entity that is now known as the Canadian Canoe Museum.

It takes a few hours to complete a self-guided tour. The exhibits are very well done. There is even a waterfall as you enter the museum. Exhibits include everything from a Mi'kmaq wigwam the birch bark canoe paddled by Pierre Trudeau who once quoted as saying "I am not a communist; I am a canoeist". The famous red Prospector canoe paddled by Bill Mason is also on display.

There are many feature exhibits. The Grand Portage shows Canada's waterways and discusses the materials used in early canoes. The Origins Gallery is about the canoe in Aboriginal cultures. You will see different types of native canoes which vary greatly.

The tour moves on to the Trade & Alliance exhibit which portrays how instrumental canoes were to the fur trade. This is followed by the Preserving Skills exhibit that illustrates how canoes are built. This exhibit is referred to as a "living exhibit" and is appropriately placed in the reproduction of a French-Canadian shed that would have been used in the 1700's.

Other exhibits include The Land Becomes Canada, It Wasn't All Work, Summer Strokes, The Peterborough Tradition and Reflections: The Land, The People and The Canoe. Artisans illustrate paddle carving and other skills steeped in tradition. There is even an authentic Hudson's Bay Trading Post from 1876.

The museum has been in operation since the summer of 1997 but due to financial hardship and lack of funding it was forced to close its doors for a short period. Thankfully the museum was able to overcome this and reopen in May 2004. It is still going strong but memberships, donations and income generated from visitors to the museum will help ensure that we do not lose this national heritage treasure.

A visit here would be ideal for the entire family. The museum has a hands-on approach providing many interactive features where you can touch. Guided tours are available but must be booked in advance. Tours are available in both English and French plus bus drivers and group leaders are not charged admission.

The Canadian Canoe Museum is a reminder of how instrumental the canoe was in the discovery of our country. It interests me to see how the technology of canoes changes yet our passion for it only deepens.

For more information please visit the Canadian Canoe Museum's website.

Written by Laurie March
Photos courtesy The Canadian Canoe Museum

masthead photo courtesy




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