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Russ Parker and kayak

Russ Parker and kayak

A weekend visit to The Canadian Canoe Museum will often lead to an encounter with a very talented woodworker on our team named Russ Parker. Retired from a long career with the Toronto Fire Services and an avid guitar maker, Russ has also been producing some very fine skin-on-frame kayaks in our Living Traditions Workshop as a Canadian Canoe Museum volunteer.

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Birch bark opened, looking up (CCM/JW)

Birch bark opened, looking up (CCM/JW)

From time to time, The Canadian Canoe Museum uses one of its gallery workshops to explore or recreate the various canoe and kayak-building traditions reflected within its collection.  These opportunities always make for engaging interactive experiences for our guests and have also led to very rewarding collaborations with colleagues. In the end, these projects also aspire to deepen our shared understanding of the many different traditions, techniques and stories reflected within the Museum’s own remarkable collection.

91-year old Walter Walker and helpers with wideboard (photo:CCM/DR)

91-year old Walter Walker (right) and helpers with wide-board raised batten canoe (photo:CCM/DR)

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Like the rest of this community also involved with The Canadian Canoe Museum, I share a peculiar affection for the little human-powered boats that are so celebrated in our country’s heritage. It is certainly my privilege as the Museum’s Curator to spend quite a bit of time with its collection of over 600 of these little boats.

Canadian Canoe Museum onsite Collections Storage Facility (CCM photo)

Canadian Canoe Museum onsite Collections Storage Facility (CCM photo)

If pressed, I do not have a favourite canoe– at least today’s choice would not be the same as yesterday’s favourite. I will however make a small confession: I’ve long had a soft spot for one unusual branch in the canoe’s family tree and it usually has an outboard motor hanging off the end.  Now I’m not really a motorboat person, not at all, but there’s something about the shape and workboat finish of the great freighter canoes found across the Canadian north that gives me a thrill. Read the rest of this entry »

Peterborough Canoe Company 1904 skiff half model

Peterborough Canoe Company 1904 skiff half model

In the world of boat building, the classical method of developing a new hull design (i.e. no software) begins with the designer precisely carving a scale model of one-half of the intended shape. The sculpted results can then be studied, evaluated and easily adjusted until the discerning eye is pleased in every possible way with the model’s shape and anticipated performance.

This half model is then sawn into pieces or, more typically, was carved out of an assembled stack of planks. Disassembled, the shape of each horizontal plank (or waterline) is transferred onto another surface to be scaled up full size to develop the patterns or forms for the boat proper. I cannot think of a cleverer or more elegant method of facilitating the dialogue between designer and builder as they come to an understanding about something as complex and curvy as a boat.

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ORU folding kayak

ORU folding kayak

Determining a useful boundary between what has historically been deemed a kayak rather than a decked, double-paddle canoe is something of a messy task and won’t be the goal of this short piece. Suffice it to say that, 150 years ago, the kayak was pretty much a boat made by and paddled almost exclusively by the Inuit. Meanwhile, the popularity of canoeing in the late nineteenth-century had caused the development of umpteen patented methods of shaping wood into the complex, curved forms required for a canoe (whether open or decked).  Outside of its original Arctic context, efforts at commercial kayak construction continued to experiment well within sight its Inuit root, relying upon a waterproof skin stretched tight by an internal frame even well into the 20th century. Read the rest of this entry »

Many followers of this blog might be familiar with the elegant paintings of voyageurs traveling in bark canoes by British-born artist Frances Anne Hopkins. Of the few artists who have left us an eyewitness graphic account of life in the canoe brigades of the Canadian fur trade, Hopkins’ art has always stood out for its elegant composition and its precision with detail. A bonus element is the “where’s Waldo” feature that the artist, a young woman in her late-twenties accompanied by her husband, is often portrayed sitting amidst the burly paddling crew on top of kit and cargo amidships.

Shooting The Rapids

Shooting The Rapids

Married to Edward Hopkins, 20-year-old Frances accompanied her husband to Canada, settling first in Lachine near Montreal. Edward initially served as secretary to Sir George Simpson, governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and Frances accompanied her husband on many of his travels. The journeys that would serve as strongest muse for the young artist however would be several tours of inspection by voyageur canoe on the Upper Great Lakes and the Mattawa and Ottawa rivers between 1864 and 1869. Read the rest of this entry »

Clinching in the Old Town's new ribsIt is a real pleasure to lead a behind-the-scenes tour amongst our impressive collection of canoes, kayaks and other bits and pieces. Sometimes, as we are wrapping things up and turn to look back across a warehouse of over 500 boats from around the world, I’ve been asked the unexpected question, “how long will it take to restore them all?Collections storage

Now I’m not intending to know how often this question might be put to other museums at a similar moment but I suspect it is rather less common. The inference here might that many of our old boats look a little rough. Indeed, most do lack the shiny, over-glossed appeal of a restored classic boat and perhaps there is something about an old wooden canoe with alligatored varnish, missing some of its paint, canvas or planking that screams for our attention. Maybe it just looks like another chore needed doing at the cottage, but ramped up several hundred times. Read the rest of this entry »

We are quite pleased when we have the opportunity to share our passion for canoeing history.  This passion can take the form of outreach programs, conferences, tradeshows and increasingly often, travelling exhibits.  Forming partnerships with other museums is very gratifying and an important part of what we do as a cultural institution.

Our most recent travelling exhibit is currently installed at Grace and Speed  in Gravenhurst Ontario.  The exhibit, featuring racing canoes, explores the evolution of racing shells and the athletes who propelled them to victory. The boats featured in this exhibit also serve as a little teaser for what is to come.

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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

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Family Day 2013 artist smallWe’ve recently written about several interactive art pieces we were excited to be installing in our galleries. In wonderfully different ways, each of the three artists had found inspiration in the canoe for their creation and these installations also served as inspiration for the range of programming on offer to over a hundred families that joined us at the museum yesterday for Family Day. Read the rest of this entry »