No, this isn’t an early Hallowe’en post.THIS is The Beast:
Okay, so it’s a friendly Beast, aka our Voyageur Canoe, a 33-foot, 450+lb, fiberglass-and-wood canoe designed and painted to look like the birch-bark canoes used during the fur trade. It earns its nickname not only for its weight but for the fact that any time we want to use it, we have to herd up a bunch of staff and volunteers to dismantle it into two (still beastly heavy) sections, load it onto two trailers, arrange for people with hitches to bring their cars, schlep the trailers and our staff/volunteers to the put-in, and then haul it off the trailers and reconstruct it in situ, which is always reminds why IKEA doesn’t make 500lb bookshelves. You just have to laugh, really, at how unbirchbark-ish our Voyageur Canoe actually is.
But, don’t get me wrong: I love the beast, and I’m forever grateful that its builder, Jim Holman, generously donated his craft to us after its illustrious reenactment career with the Red House Brigade. Because THIS is also the beast, in action:
Our unbirchbark-ish behemoth offers one of the best ways to welcome a bunch of non-paddlers of any age to the experience of canoeing. It’s sturdy, stable and safe. Plus, with our trained staffer in the stern, the other paddlers need only a few specific paddling skills that we can teach in a few minutes on shore before heading out. And so, in this precious season leading up to Thanksgiving, we take groups of all kinds – new Canadians, Girl Guide groups, school and camp kids, youth-at-risk, corporate retreat participants – out on the water for what is for most participants a unique and unprecedented experience.
As the Education Coordinator here, I’m most involved with the school and youth groups. With all our education programs, we strive to provide an experiential learning environment, based on the ideas that kids learn most a) at that sweet spot at the inside edge of their comfort zone and b) by experiencing learning through all their senses, mind and body. Honestly, working inside the Museum with our exhibits, it can be a challenge to stay true to the experiential learning model. But get kids out on the water, hands on the paddle, in a kind of canoe they’ve never been in (if they’ve even been in a canoe at all) and it never fails to generate laughter, discovery, teamwork, new skills… all happening at each participant’s own level. Add Voyageur costumes and one of our vibrant and deeply knowledgeable guides to lead the students in a Voyageur role play: suddenly the middle school history curriculum comes alive. And the kids come away from the four-hour experience having worked together to power the Friendly Beast, ahem, Voyageur Canoe, through the varied habitat along the Otonabee River. Pretty great stuff for a class at the beginning of the school year.
We are still taking bookings for fall on-water programs up to Thanksgiving weekend. Thanks to the generosity of the Peterborough Rowing Club, which has been hosting the Friendly Beast at its site near Trent since June, we are offering our two- or four-hour Voyageur paddling programs based at that location through October 9. For more information, please visit our website, or contact Karen Taylor at [email protected], 705.748.9153 x203.