Now I’ll be the first to admit that the delightful word “Canoodling” doesn’t strictly speaking have anything to do with canoes. Of obscure origin, possibly an english dialect word meaning “foolish lover,” the first recorded use was in 1859. But Valentine’s Day is coming up fast, so putting etymology aside for the moment, it’s an evocative way to introduce all of the romantic associations of canoes. In the latter years of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th, a canoe offered sweethearts a pleasant and chaperone-free means to be alone for a time. Almost any waterfront park had a canoe livery where couples could get on the water and escape prying eyes and ears.

As well as being a vehicle for lovers, the canoe is also a theme for romance, and you don’t have to look very far, or spend much time at all on ebay, to come up with images like this Valentine’s postcard, mailed in 1911 to one Miss Ermina Evertts of Wellsburg, NY.  Our young lady has just burst through a large paper heart in her birchbark canoe, heavily loaded with a cargo of flowers. Perhaps she ran into the heart because she was too busy reading the book on her lap instead of looking where she was paddling? She also appears to have put on her makeup in the dark, or at least her lipstick. Best of all though is the heart pierced by cupid’s arrow that hangs from a dainty ribbon on the right side of the card.

It’s still a little cold for real canoeing, at least here in Peterborough where there’s ice on the river, but this February 14th we can at least go for a paddle in our hearts. Happy Valentine’s Day from the Canadian Canoe Museum.