Over these past few weeks, The Canadian Canoe Museum has enjoyed a far-too-brief visit from Will Meadows. A deserving recipient of the Watson Fellowship, Will is spending the year “pursuing his passion” which happens to be traditional canoe building in a global context. Here are some reflections he left behind as he continues his way, most recently in New Zealand and now headed for Norway. For more on this topic and to learn more about this remarkable person check out his own blog.IMG_5887

A Global MuseumWhat do you think of when you hear the word “museum”? Do you think of old, quiet rooms where nothing can be touched? Do you see the security guard in the corner and a bunch of things that simply go over your head? Well, here at The Canadian Canoe Museum, things certainly go over you’re head too, that’s how your portage a canoe!

Reed Boat Lake Titicaca

Trust me, the typical museum couldn’t be further from the reality and mission of The Canadian Canoe Museum. As a Watson Fellow, I have traveled the world building traditional canoes with native masters. I thought there would be a stutter of disconnect when I arrived to spend three weeks at the Museum and to study their incredible collection of traditional canoes. Yet, when I arrived, I realized that I had shown up amidst another community of canoe builders and enthusiasts. It wasn’t just a single tradition at a time like I had experienced before. This time it was many traditions. That got me thinking…. Hmm, perhaps this museum has a bigger role in preserving the canoe. This is a place for global cultural dialogue.

Ashaninka canoe building

So what does that dialogue mean? Spanning time periods, cultures, and various ecosystems, the collection at the Museum is in its nature global. There is a ceremonial canoe from Papua New Guinea showing lineage and tribal cosmology through its dramatic carvings. There are birch bark canoes spanning all of the regions of the north. There are canoes from every stage of innovation over the past centuries in Canada; from bark, to wood, to synthetics. There are so many others. Each of the different pieces in the collection is a story to be told of culture and creativity. At the Museum, these stories are being told and retold by building them, performing with them and telling of them everyday. Put together, the collection itself is a network of stories that, piece by piece, tell not just a story of canoes but also tell the human story of innovation, meaning, survival and joy.

CCM birch barks

What if? What possibilities lie in front of such a unique collection, such a unique gathering of knowledge and such an important expression by humanity in every corner of the world? As The Canadian Canoe Museum makes its epic push to acquire a new location so many fun possibilities come to mind. Will there be a global network of traditional canoe builders? Will there be more opportunities to learn, do, and make rooted in traditional cultures from around the world? What new traditions will appear, ready to be learned by community members at the Museum? Walking in the front and paddling out the back isn’t just a goal, it is a necessity for such an internationally significant institution to be fully realized, right here in Peterborough, Ontario.