Collection

Founded on the collection of the late Professor Kirk Wipper, and established in Peterborough, Ontario, in 1997, the museum’s holdings now number more than 600 canoes, kayaks and paddled watercraft with over 100 on display in our galleries. Together they span the country from coast to coast to coast and represent many of the major watercraft traditions of Canada.

The museum’s artifacts range from the great dugouts of the First Nations of the Pacific Northwest to the singular bark canoes of the Beothuk of Newfoundland; from the skin-on-frame kayaks of northern peoples from Baffin Island in the east to the Mackenzie River Delta in the northwest to the all-wood and canvas-covered craft manufactured by companies with names like Herald, Peterborough, Chestnut, Lakefield and Canadian. Over the years paddled watercraft from as far away as Paraguay and the Amazon have helped the Museum expand its reach and scope to include International examples.

Some examples from our collection:

1980.21

This is an Algonquin style canoe built by William and Mary Commanda in 1980 for the Kanawa Museum. Winter bark was used in the construction, and it was scraped to reveal images of stars, animals, scalloped edging along the gunwales and other images.  This technique of scraping the bark to create designs and images is typical of the Commandas of Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg near Maniwaki, Quebec.

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2002.5.1

Not currently on exhibit, the Orellana, a battered fibreglass canoe, covered with decals, was recognized in the Guinness Book of Records in 1986, for the longest canoe journey – 12,000 miles. In this canoe, Don Starkell, set out from Winnipeg, Manitoba, with his sons, Dana, and for part of the trip, Jeff. Beginning with upstream travel on the Red River, they reached the Mississippi, and the Gulf of Mexico. Travel along the coast of Mexico was fraught with danger from ocean currents and surf landings, to which were added soldiers and bandits along the coast of Honduras and Columbia. After much-needed professional repairs in Venezuela, they reached the Orinoco River, where 1000 miles of up-stream paddling connected them with the Rio Negro and the Amazon, finishing at Belem at the mouth of the Amazon. Don Starkell had obsessive determination, which he would show again on his next trip, kayaking to the Arctic.

1999.16.1
Bill Mason’s 16 foot red Prospector canoe is possibly the most famous canoe in Canada. It arrived at the Mason home on Meech Lake, north of Ottawa, from the builder in Fredericton, New Brunswick, in spring, 1973. From that moment, the canoe was used in all of Bill Mason’s projects, his instructional films on canoeing,  his books, The Path of the Paddle, The Song of the Paddle, and his last epic film, Waterwalker. It was frequently used on Bill’s month-long solo trips on the north shore of Lake Superior, on family trips in Algonquin Park, on trips down the Pukaskwa River, north of Superior, where the canoe ribs were damaged. Bill danced at his son’s wedding with the canoe on his shoulders, and his wife, Joyce, scattered Bill’s ashes from it in 1989. It was donated to the Canadian Canoe Museum after their daughter, Becky, performed a canoe ballet on the Trent-Severn Waterway in Peterborough in 1999.
1980.6.1
This Salish Clam-Gathering Dugout is a unique example of a craft used for a specific purpose. Measuring 8 feet long, 3 feet wide,1 foot deep, it was built at Sidney on Vancouver Island and designed to be strong and stable to be used by women and children around the islands off the south coast of Vancouver Island to harvest clams. This particular dugout was obtained in 1980 from Mrs. Edith Cross, aged 90.
1977.1.1
The Haida dug-out, 22’ 10”, was commissioned in 1967 by Kirk Wipper, director of Camp Kandalore. It was built by Victor Adams at Masset, on Haida Gwaii, from a single cedar log. No such canoe had been built within living memory, and Adams was mentored by Adam Bell, an elder. Construction took three years and was completed in 1971, along with paddles and a bailer. The canoe, painted black, was decorated by Adams and his daughter, Alice Montjoy, with a white eagle, to symbolize ownership by a chief, the head of the eagle at the bow, the broad tail-feathers at the stern. When Kirk Wipper arrived to accept the canoe and took it out for a trial paddle, he mistook the stern for the bow, and he and his paddlers had to turn around in their seats. The canoe arrived at Ontario Place in Toronto in 1972, and after a ceremonial welcome it was paddled through the Trent-Canal system to Camp Kandalore by a group of campers. The building of this canoe marked the revival of the Haida tradition of canoe-building. To quote Victor Adams, “it was a hard job, but I liked the result”. His son and grandson are now building traditional Haida canoes.

Collection Highlights

– from our blog –

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