Every so often, we come across a canoe here at the Museum that raises more questions than it answers. Last summer, a donor brought this interesting boat to our attention.blog post 1 - small

Here’s what stood out for us when we first looked at it:

  • It is very lightly built, almost more like a rowing shell than a canoe, with a 1/8″ veneer hull and sawn frame/batten seam construction;
  • It once had fabric decks, and there are still scraps of varnished linen attached to some of the deckbeams;
  • The cockpit area has a very wide, flaring coaming that adds several inches to the boat’s beam; and
  • It was probably used for flatwater sprint racing.

What we didn’t know was what class or type of canoe it was.

blog post 2 - small

blog post 4 - small

We certainly didn’t have anything else in the collection like it, and so we needed to do a little more research. I wish we could say that all of our research proceeds according to plan, but sometimes it just comes down to luck. Shortly before Christmas, I was going through a late 19th century magazine article about canoeing when I saw a photograph that reminded me an awful lot of the Museum’s new canoe.

cosmopolitan magazine oct 1893 p710 - small

The low, wide, shallow hull, the thwart right at gunwale level aft of the midships point and the fabric decks suggested that our new canoe might be part of a recognized racing class. So far, so good, but why the title of this blog post? Well, long before it was a magazine best known for a focus on certain kinds of womens’ issues, Cosmo was called The Cosmopolitan: An Illustrated Monthly Magazine and it offered its readers material which was a little more family-friendly than today.


The canoe photo appeared at the head of an article by Lee J. Vance entitled “Canoeing in America” that was published in the October 1893 issue of The Cosmopolitan, beginning on page 710. Unfortunately, the article doesn’t offer any details about the canoe, but now we have a lead to follow up on.

And what about that high-kneel position with a double-bladed paddle? At the end of the 19th century, double paddles, which we now associate much more with kayaks, were often used with open Canadian-style canoes. There were even racers who used a double paddle while standing up.

I’ll report back when we’ve done some more research, but meanwhile, the next time you need to ask someone a skill-testing question, try “when was the last time that Cosmo published an article on canoeing?”