The Canadian Canoe Museum & a trip to the Otonabee River

Around that time there were 11 or 12 major canoe manufacturers in the Peterborough area, stretching from Lakefield in the north to Rice Lake in the south. These companies competed heavily against one another, issuing new models every year, promoting them in shiny catalogues, even stealing skilled labour from one another’s factories. By the mid 1950s, 75% of all canoes made in Canada were manufactured by four large producers in the Peterborough area.

Many companies used to manufacture canoes on the Peterborough area

However, by the late 1950s, the canoe companies had run into major financial difficulties. This was aggravated by the introduction of new boat building technologies that involved fiberglass and aluminum. Combined with excessive labour costs, canoe building in Peterborough finally declined and dwindled by the 1960s when several major manufacturers went into bankruptcy. John added, however, that today wooden canoes are making a comeback, although they are no longer manufactured on the same large industrial scale. An avid paddler himself, he uses a 73 year old wooden canoe.

Canoes made right here in Peterborough

Now on the main floor of the museum, we had a look at some canoes that were built using a European, or more specifically, a traditional Viking boat building technology consisting of 4 wide planks of basswood, ribs and battens to create a light yet strong vessel. These types of boats were built by professional boat builders.

A canoe from Vietnam

We also saw a selection of working canoes that were built for practical purposes such as surveying and exploration. One of the exhibits in this area is a canoe that was used for the Coppermine Expedition in 1911. Equipped with an outboard motor, this sturdy canoe could hold several strong men on its northern excursions. Other boats on display were used by missionaries, prospectors, lumberjacks or by the Canadian Geological Survey for mapping purposes. Even the Royal Canadian Mounted Police used canoes as part of its mandate of “maintaining order with saddle and paddle”.

Canadian Mounties used to “Maintain order with saddle and paddle”

Tucked in the corner of the main floor is a Hudon’s Bay Company Provisions Store, an authentic wooden construction from 1876 that shows the types of goods that could be purchased in some of Canada’s remote outposts. Many basic necessities were available, from fabrics, medicine, alocohol, thread and needles to pieces of beaver fur. This store illustrates the goods that were needed in the distant communities of Canada’s north. Children’s groups often come through here to learn experientially about early Canadian history.

Some of the merchandise on display at the Hudson’s Bay Company Provisions Store

Finally, also on the main floor, John Summers introduced me to the non-North American collection of canoes and kayaks that truly illustrates the global nature of this form of water transportation. I saw fascinating examples of canoes from far-away places like Fiji, Samoa, Lake Titicaca and South East Asia. Although the shapes diverged fairly widely they still shared the double-ended human-powered characteristics of a typical canoe.

Canoes were used to transport a wide variety of goods

A long dugout canoe from Papua New Guinea with amazing carved details and art would be paddled by a large group of men standing up. A reed canoe was on display, which is a type of canoe that would be built in such diverse places as Egypt, Japan, New Zealand and Easter Island. I saw outrigger canoes with a smaller side hulls, and canoes with more than one equal size hull who usually are called catamarans.

A collection of canoes from foreign countries

My excursion to the Canadian Canoe Museum had been fascinating: not only had I learned about the history of the canoe and the different methods of canoe construction, I had also gained a greater understanding of Canadian history and why canoes were so important in developing this huge country of ours. Last but not least, I realized that the world over canoes have been built for countless generations and facilitated human water travel from the tropical to the arctic waters.

Canoes have played a major role in many different countries

Now it was time to head back to the Golden Pathways B&B to get ready for my evening program.

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