Canadian Canoe Museum

After waiting for a number of years I have finally visited the Canadian Canoe Museum. It is about an hours drive east of Toronto in the town of Peterborough. It did not disappoint, in fact it exceeded all expectations. If you are interested in any aspect of paddle sport this is must visit museum.

Walking through the door you are immediately confronted by a range of canoes and artifacts. There is almost too much to take in if you are interested in the history of canoeing and kayaking. The staff, the day we visited, were friendly, enthusiastic and knowledgeable. They were eager to point out a number of the exhibits, which they thought we shouldn’t miss.

We started our visit with a look at the canoe, which had been donated by Gordon Lightfoot. I may have looked at him in a different light when I saw him in concert in Vancouver, if I had been aware of his remote canoeing trips.

Canadian Canoe Museum
Gordon Lightfoot’s canoe which he used on the South Nahanni River, whilst paddling with friends.

Although it is the Canadian Canoe Museum there were also a number of kayaks on display. Many of those were from Greenland but others had their origins in the Canadian Arctic.

Canadian Canoe Museum
A selection of Arctic kayaks. the lower three are from Greenland. The top one, which is upside down, is from Baffin Island.

The exhibits showed the importance of the canoeing in the exploration of Canada plus its economic development. Ranging from the traditional birch bark canoe to the large Montreal canoes linked with the fur trade. Some of the canoes are amazingly well preserved with comprehensive explanations of their significance.

I particularly enjoyed the section on the development of recreational paddling from the mid 19th century. Canoe Clubs were formed all over the country with regular meets and competitions. Exhibits on individuals, included some pretty famous people, such as the Royal Family and Pierre Trudeau. Famous paddlers depicted included Bill Mason, Eric Morse and Herb Pohl, to name a few.

The Canadian Canoe Museum is one of the most enjoyable museums that I have visited. There is so much to see and to reflect upon. Those canoes and kayaks, which are on display are just a part of the extensive collection. A new Canoe Museum is going to be built, by the water, next to the Peterborough Lift Lock, also worth a visit when in town. When the new museum opens, in a couple of years, another visit to Peterborough will be necessary.

Bill Mason
Probably no exhibition on the history of canoeing would be complete without a section dedicated to the life of Bill Mason.
Royal Canoes
Three canoes, which were given as presents to the Royal family, are preserved here. The middle one of the 3 was a wedding present to Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip in 1947.
Canoe sofa
Just what every home should have. A canoe converted into a sofa. Perfect for inspirational thoughts and planning the next trip.

Captain Voss

Many years ago I came across a copy of “The Venturesome Voyage of Captain Voss” which describes his journey around the world in a British Columbian war canoe. For those of you haven’t read it is well worth seeking as there are some fascinating sections, for example, about his development of sea anchors as well as the numerous adventures which would occur whilst sailing a small boat around the world, although loosing your crew overboard whilst in the middle of the Pacific could be viewed as a bit extreme.  What does come through the book is that he is a superb sailor although perhaps not a very pleasant human being and there have been discussions as to whether the mate was washed overboard or murdered.
There are numerous facts about the voyage which are indisputable.  The “Tilikum” was purchased from a Nootka Indian on Vancouver Island.  It was a red cedar dug out canoe and to make it seaworthy there were a number of modifications including raising the top sides and adding a cabin.  The canoe had a length of 38 feet, so when Voss and his partner Norman Luxton, a journalist set sail from Victoria, on May 20th 1901, it was in one of the smallest craft to attempt a circumnavigation of the world.
The voyage last 3 years and 3 months, finishing in England.  Although they didn’t return to the west of America, Voss considered that he had completed a circumnavigation because he had crossed all 3 of the major oceans, covering approximately 40,000 miles in the process.
Ownership of the Tilikum changed hands several times in the first 2 decades but the reality was she was falling into a very poor state.  This was brought to the attention of some prominent inhabitants of Victoria and arrangements were made to ship the vessel back to Vancouver Island in 1930.  Over the next 30 or so years the Tilikum was exhibited in various locations around Victoria until in 1965 she was moved to the Maritime Museum of British Columbia in 1965 and has remained on display there ever since.
You can imagine my frustration on returning home to Jersey, after some kayaking on Vancouver Island, to discover where the boat was on display.  I had read the book but at this time was unaware of the history of the craft after 1904.  Fortunately I returned to the west coast of Canada about 18 months later and pretty much at the top of my to do list was to visit the museum to see the Tilikum.
I wasn’t disappointed and if you ever find yourself in Victoria with a couple of spare hours head towards the Maritime Museum and acquaint yourself with one of the more significant small boat journeys of the early 20th Century and the adventures of Captain Voss.

Captain Voss
Captain Voss
Captain Voss