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 –
Robin Cavanagh, Jeremy Ward, and Fred Metallic in Listuguj First Nation viewing where we were in relation to the Seven Traditional Districts of the Mi’gmaq By Robin Binèsi Cavanagh, Director of Indigenous Peoples Collaborative Relations A large part of my...
Every canoe tells a story – and on National Canoe Day, June 26th, the museum encourages Canadians to share theirs
Since its inception in 2008, National Canoe Day has encouraged individuals and communities across Canada to connect – by canoe.National Canoe Day was coined by The Canadian Canoe Museum following a CBC campaign that in 2007, declared the canoe one of the...
By James Raffan, Director of External Relations Even though I’ve been associated in an intimate way with The Canadian Canoe Museum since its birth in Peterborough in the 1990s, when the Adopt-an-Artifact program was launched a few years back, I just had to get in...
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