Sport and Technology: Learning from Museum Collections

Have you ever wondered how state-of-the-art equipment has impacted our recent athletic achievements as compared to those from over a half-century ago? 

You will see in our most recent temporary exhibit here at The Canadian Canoe Museum (Skimming the Surface: The Unfolding Story of Sprint Paddling) the incredible transformations in materials and designs used in this sport at this level.  The exhibition features 19 boats representing state-of-the-art competition sprint canoes and kayaks over the past 150 years. 

 Adam van Koeverden with his modern sprint kayak and the 1940's kayak restored by Jeremy Ward

Adam van Koeverden with his modern sprint kayak and the 1940’s kayak restored by Jeremy Ward

In preparation for the documentary, The Canadian Canoe Museum was asked to research and, if possible, supply equipment identical to that used by the legendary Swedish sprint kayaker Gert Fredriksson : a remarkable athlete of the mid-1900s who earned 8 medals (6 Gold!) at four Olympic Games. Fredriksson also medalled gold seven times at the International Canoe Federation’s World Championships.

The idea for this portion of the show, was to put a contemporary world record-holding kayaker in Gert’s boat (or one exactly like it) and see what can be learned. As it turns out, a good friend to both The Canadian Canoe Museum and also The Nature of Things is world record-holding sprint kayaker Adam van Koeverden who generously agreed to take this 1940s-era sprint kayak for a test drive against Gert’s time– on camera!


We were lucky to identify and find (within the museum’s collection of more than 600 watercraft!) a suitable kayak for this test – a battered and crudely repaired boat identical to the Max Anderssons “Laxen” model K1 paddled nearly 70 years ago. Without provenance information and in very sorry condition, this particular kayak had been passed over for the Museum’s temporary exhibit.

The kayak featured six holes in the hull, some measuring as large as a handprint! The kayak had clearly been roughly used for decades as a trainer. Our first job was to cut away the crude fiberglass and damaged areas, use intact portions of the hull to carefully form and laminate layers of mahogany veneer into shaped patch repairs, and then fit them into place. The kayak also required replacing the damaged areas of: the cockpit, decking structures and cloth covering, seat, footrests and steering gear!


Once all was complete and the sleek kayak floating again, it was time to take it to the Welland International Paddling Centre and give this kayak a human powerplant once again.

The Canadian Canoe Museum would like to congratulate both The Nature of Things, Adam van Koeverden and the other athletes for this fabulous production. 

Watch the full documentary here!