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I have to confess that when I started working here at The Canadian Canoe Museum I didn’t know what a wanigan was.  For the small percentage of hard-core canoe trippers (and the large percentage of everyone else!) who don’t know what a wanigan is – it’s a wooden box, carried with a tumpline, and usually used to store kitchen supplies while on a canoe trip.


A wanigan and tumpline sitting in a canoe in the Museum’s ‘A Walk With Kirk’ Gallery

When I had the opportunity to make one for myself, as part of the preparation for a program we were doing here at the Museum, I jumped at the chance.  I went on a trip not long after I finished my wanigan and I have to say that I loved it.  I also have to say that it did take a bit of getting used to.  At first I hadn’t tied the tump correctly for my height and it was resting lower on my back than it should have been, which meant it was bouncing a bit which was very uncomfortable.  Once I adjusted the tumpline it was perfect, and I truly felt like a super-hero carrying much more weight that I ever could have comfortably done with a backpack. Read the rest of this entry »

Last month I began my VIP tour of our Education Programs with an up-close-and-personal account of The Perfect Machine, a grade K-3 science and social studies program that focuses on the First Nations canoe design, flotation, buoyancy & surface tension. Moving into Part Deux of this series, we’ll take a virtual run-through today of our Paddle Carving program for grades four+,  bearing in mind that this program gives kids an experience that is actually just about as far as it gets from virtual — an arguably much-needed balance to all that screen time!

DSC02326 2012 Feb 15 St. Catherine

Yes, that’s a rather small paddle.  I made one for my daughter when she was three (which, to be honest, didn’t see a lot of in-water action), but beyond that age, this size definitely serves as a souvenir or decorative paddle, or, in our household, as the official pinata-whacker and reacher-of-things-under-couches. Frankly, to make a full-size hardwood paddle from scratch takes adult focus and determination and a very full weekend (see our workshop info here); we also run a full-size, full-day paddle carving program for teens 15+ using prepped blanks (please contact me at for info):

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About a year ago now, on the 2nd floor of the Museum, a unused corner of space was transformed into an interactive educational puppet theatre.  This puppet theatre is one of the many kid-inspired and family-friendly components that makes this Museum a museum that I want to bring my own kids to (and often do, like today for strike day camp)!

Cute and cuddly Folkmanis hand and finger puppets of Canadian creatures that dwell in our forests, fields, lakes, rivers and air, are the backbone of this space and provide kids and adults with their inspiration for the many shows that erupt from behind the puppet theatre’s wall.  But these creatures really needed a tapestry to fly, swim and live in…and so we turned to volunteer and artisan, Ipie Van der Veen for help.  And take a look at the magic she created–


She has a long history of helping create props for the School programs at the Museum; from creating faux seal skin hides to cover our kayaks in the Kayak Building program to sewing costumes for our Trappers and Traders program.  When we asked her to create a backdrop for the puppets in the puppet theatre she jumped on the opportunity!

A little background on Ipie; she is the uber creative force here for all things fabric and before fabric she worked in the woodshop and helped build the Museum’s 36′ birch bark canot du maitre!  Her Hudson Bay Company blanket mittens, gun cases and camp vests are on sale in the Museum Store and she co-teaches the HBC blanket coat workshop. To top this off, every Christmas she makes 100’s of HBC blanket coat tree ornaments.

You can find Ipie volunteering in the galleries at the Museum on Mondays and Thursdays



The positioning of the chine stringers is a critical element in building a Greenland skin on frame kayak. The placement of the chine stringers will affect the speed, tracking and stability of the boat. The chine stringers run the length of the kayak from bow to stern and are selectively placed between the keel stringer and gunwales. It is important to consider certain important factors when attempting to determine the appropriate placement of the chine stringers. First, the chine stringers must be placed in a way to ensure that the skin of the kayak is elevated enough by the stringers themselves to prevent the skin from resting on the ribs.

Using cord to see if the stringers are placed in way that will prevent the skin from touching the ribs

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There’s a great little day trip awaiting anyone who’s interested in finding a small bit of the wild in downtown Toronto.  It’s called the Humber River … who knew???  Put in at Étienne Brûlé Park, off Catharine Street just north of Bloor and paddle south to the lake.  Lots of cool stuff to see, including imagining what Brûlé, probably the first European to behold Lake Ontario, saw when he arrived at the exact same spot nearly 400 years ago. A crew from museum paddled this piece of the Humber on National Canoe Day  (it was actually an outing that was sold as a fundraiser at the Beaver Club Gala last fall) in bark canoes.  Helping to celebrate was CCM Piper-in-Residence, Helen Batten, who serenaded all and sundry with rousing renditions of the Paddling Piper’s Waltz and the Athol Highlander’s March. The National Canoe Day Humber Expedition was such a success that when a group of visitors from Siberia were in Toronto in September to celebrate Days of Sakha Yakutia Culture, their first outing in Canada was paddling the mighty Humber. Egor Makarov and his wife Marina had come to Toronto from their home in Yakutsk to launch a book and film about Siberian horses. Read the rest of this entry »

This Saturday (Oct 20th) is our annual Fundamentals of Fléchée: The Basics of Finger Weaving workshop here at the Canadian Canoe Museum!

Colourful finger woven sashes (photo from the Encyclopedia of French Cultural Heritage in North America)

Finger weaving has a long and interesting history.  You may recognize the pattern of the sashes above as the ‘Assomption Sash’ pattern.  This was typically the style of finger woven sash worn by voyageurs and labourers during the peak of the Fur Trade era.

Student learning the ‘arrowhead pattern’

Workshop participants spend the day in the Museum’s beautiful Preserving Skills Gallery starting small and working our way up to more difficult designs.

A selection of woven samples

Want to give finger weaving a try?  Sign up for the workshop this weekend, check out the finger weaving kit in our Gift Store, or buy Fingerweaving Untangled!

There are many talented finger weavers practicing their art today.  Two artists with fabulous websites are Michelle Beauvais and Carol James.

There’s a little village a couple of hours east of Peterborough that has a special affection for the Canadian Canoe Museum.  In fact, even though some of the residents of this village have not yet made the journey to visit the Museum, many of them have a wee sense of ‘ownership’ nonetheless.  That is because the residents of Seeley’s Bay proudly helped with the ‘sea trials’ of Canada One this year, before she went off to do us all proud on the Thames.

Well, more importantly, it is also because the Executive Director of the Museum (we call him Jim) lives here.  So when Raffan called upon his fellow local citizens to help fix up the canoe, test drive her, and christen her, we were all ‘ready aye ready’.  Heck, when we heard that CBC’s The National was sending a film crew to capture the test run, we even called out the local volunteer fire brigade, to make sure Raffan and crew could handle the fireboat sprays anticipated on the Thames.

Anyhow, all of you know about the wonderful journey of Canada One – the airlift from Trenton, the frustrated lorry driver, the lack of opportunity for the crew to practice, the pouring rain, but most of all, the immense pride of Canadians who watched that wonderful canoe in the Flotilla paddled by eight beautifully costumed voyageurs. But what you may not know is that the story did not end there for the people of Seeley’s Bay.

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It’s this way!

Our guest book notes individuals from Canada, the United States, Scotland, Wales, England, Germany,Spain, Peru, Mexico, New Zealand, Austria, Australia, Dubai and other locations.  Comments have included “inspiring”, “an amazing experience” and “well-worth a return visit”.

Our Education Department receives numerous accolades for their presentations and programs.  From thank you cards to personalized drawings, students and teachers have extended their appreciation.

We also appreciate those who have expressed their interest in the Museum through other media.  We would encourage our visitors to share their experience at their favourite travel site.  Haven’t visited us yet?  Read what other visitors have had to say here:

Whether you are a first time, repeat or future visitor, we thank you!

There was excitement buzzing through the Museum on Tuesday as everyone eagerly awaited a Canadian celebrity. While guests munched on snacks and wine, snippets of conversation could be heard; “I just loved “Three Day Road!”, “I can’t believe he’s come to Peterborough, how exciting!”

Joseph Boyden, an acclaimed novelist, has written award-winning novels that include “Three Day Road” and “Through Black Spruce.”

With a drum roll in the back of everyone’s head, Joseph Boyden was introduced to an eruption of applause. Coming to the Museum to talk about how to help rural and urban Aboriginal youth in Northern Ontario and elsewhere, he talked of his heart-wrenching personal stories.

A hush went over the crowd as Joseph gave a literary voice to the troubles that Aboriginal youth face. Joseph’s talk was broken into three separate “acts,” in which he revealed three difficult tales of growing up. He expanded on the idea of youth rediscovering their land and their ties to it, to ultimately make that healing connection again. Joseph warned us that the topics would be dark and depressing, but are issues that need to be discussed in order to begin reconciling the problems.

The talk concluded with a question and answer period, where Joseph publicly addressed any questions we had about his talk, his books, etc. A book signing followed, where there was a steady stream of people eagerly waiting to have their well-read copies autographed.

Fortunately, for those who were able to make it to Joseph’s talk, he leaked a little information about his upcoming book! However, “what happens in the Canoe Museum, stays in the Canoe Museum.” Stay tuned in the upcoming months to hear more about his book via his website at

Passion, fun, thankful, interesting … all of these words have been floating around the Museum lately. Perhaps not typical words you would associate with a Museum, but then again The Canadian Canoe Museum is not your typical museum.

This past Saturday, September 22nd, the Museum hosted its first members-only event. Members were given the special opportunity to explore the Museum’s collection’s storage facility (not currently on display to the general public) and enjoy a passionate talk on the Wabakimi Project as part of the Wipper Lecture Series.

Kicking off the afternoon surrounded by the world’s largest collection of canoes and kayaks, members were able to get up close and personal with the artifacts.

Jeremy Ward, Curator, for The Canadian Canoe Museum guided the members through the stories of a number of the artifacts and shared the interesting story of how the Enys canoe recently made its way home to the Museum. The canoe, which dates back to the late 1700s, is one of the oldest known birch bark canoes and is a significant piece of Canadian history. To find out more on the Enys canoe, please click here.

Hands-on. The Canadian Canoe Museum is not just a series of artifacts and associated plaques, but offers visitors the opportunity to engage with the collection, its stories, and history, in fun and unexpected ways. For example, this member got to try her hand on the Canoe Drum, made by David Hynes.

Following the tour of the collection’s storage facility, members were invited to the Museum’s Education Centre to enjoy refreshments and hear from this year’s Wipper Lecturer, “Uncle” Phil Cotton. Museum Executive Director, James Raffan, greeted the members and thanked them for their invaluable support of The Canadian Canoe Museum. Members are the backbone of this institution, and without their kind support we would not be able to preserve and celebrate the canoe, or offer educational programs to people of all ages.

The grand finale of the afternoon, was guest speaker, “Uncle” Phil Cotton, or as some call the “rogue prophet of Wabakimi”. Accompanied by an interesting mix of breathtaking photos, Phil shared his passion for Wabakimi Provincial Park, information on canoeing opportunities in the Park, and the volunteer conservancy initiative he founded that is known internationally as The Wabakimi Project. Wabakimi Provincial Park lies some 240 km north of Thunder Bay in Northwestern Ontario. Twice the size of either Quetico or Woodland Caribou, it is Ontario’s 2nd largest provincial park and features some of the best canoe camping opportunities the province has to offer.

In the first eight years of operation, 144 different volunteers from across North America and Europe collectively spent a total of 718 days on 82 reconnaissance expeditions exploring, rehabilitating and mapping the canoe routes of the Wabakimi area. Together, they travelled over 3,960km, identified and cleaned more than 751 traditional campsites and located, cleared and measured 758 portages whose total lengths exceed 187,900m. In return for route planning assistance, contributors and partners organize their own self-directed trips to monitor these routes and report on their condition and usage.

A retired high school teacher, avid canoe historian and active environmentalist, “Uncle” Phil Cotton lives in Thunder Bay in Northwestern Ontario from where he has guided canoe trips professionally for over 55 years. Keenly interested in aquatic and outdoor safety, Phil has taught canoe and water safety courses and actively participated in the operations of local volunteer search and rescue organizations. A prolific author in his own right, he contributed a chapter for Kevin Callan’s popular paddler’s guidebook, Quetico and Beyond.

Since 2004, Phil has devoted himself full-time to the preservation and protection of the canoe routes that lie within Wabakimi Provincial Park and on the adjacent Crown lands. His interest in these historic waterways grew out of a concern that they were falling into disrepair due to lack of maintenance and, without intervention, would be lost forever. His determination to complete the monumental task of rehabilitating and documenting this important cultural and historical value has earned him the reputation as the “rogue prophet of Wabakimi” and the nickname of “Wabakimi recon man”.

Stay tuned for more details on the next members’ event. Are you a member yet?