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 dugouts of the First Nations of the Pacific Northwest to 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 watercraft 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.
For information on the museum’s deaccessioning process click here.
Some examples from our collection:
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.
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.
The Orellana is currently out of storage and on temporary exhibit, on our Grand Portage, for fall 2020!
The Stories They Hold
Go behind-the-scenes and get up close and personal with three iconic canoes in the museum’s collection!
Featured in these video tours are the stories of William and Mary Commanda’s birchbark canoes, whose work in revitalizing the cultural practice of canoe building in Indigenous communities has been nationally and internationally recognized; the titular “Canary Yellow Canoe” belonging to Gordon Lightfoot that he memorialized in a song; and, the artistic interplay between May Minto, a female canoe builder, which was uncommon at the time, and wildlife painter and environmentalist Robert Bateman.
– from our blog –
Interning with a One-of-a-Kind Collection
Kimberley Wilson cleans an artifact with a brush and a vacuum.Hello, my name is Kimberley. In January of 2023, I began an internship at The Canadian Canoe Museum as an Algonquin College Applied Museum Studies student on the last term of my three years of study for an...
Labrador family begins building a Mi’kmaq canoe for The Canadian Canoe Museum
The canoe being built for The Canadian Canoe Museum begins to take shape. Photo by Todd Labrador.The Canadian Canoe Museum is excited to announce that the talented Labrador family has started building a new, ocean-going Mi’kmaq canoe for the collection. Todd Labrador...
The Canadian Canoe Museum seeks leadership volunteers
The Canadian Canoe Museum, located on the Traditional Territory of the Williams Treaties First Nations, in Peterborough, Ontario, stewards the world’s largest collection of canoes, kayaks and paddled watercraft. More than 600 in number and with a significant representation of Indigenous canoe cultures from across Canada and around the world, the watercraft and their stories have a pivotal role to play in understanding our past – and our collective future. Each year thousands of visitors from across the world visit the Museum, both virtually and in person, to explore the histories of Canada through the lens of the canoe and kayak.
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