Paddle Down to the Canadian Canoe Museum

Everyone knows the ROM in Toronto and the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa, but have you been to the Canadian Canoe Museum? Tucked away in Peterborough, Ontario, this museum offers a glimpse into our Canadian past through well curated displays, a place to learn skills such as canoe paddle carving and even a few extras like a whimsical wedding venue and opportunities to give back to the local community. I had been planning on going all summer, but never found the right time to visit the canoe museum. Recently, on another trip to Peterborough, I had a spare couple hours to visit. And I’m very happy I did. If you are near the area, don’t miss this fantastic attraction.

The small entrance to the canoe museum doesn’t adequately convey the heavily magical feeling of the rest of the space. Once inside, I was greeted warmly by the staff and given a quick rundown of the best way to see the displays. As they were setting up for a wedding later that evening, the twinkling lights added extra radiance to the venue. The first display lies at the top of a large wood carved staircase. Each canoe has a plaque which tells its story and the story of the people or person who made and used the canoe. Wandering through the exhibit, there is a palpable presence of their ghosts steaming and bending and paddling – working away at their craft. It’s a feeling inside you that starts small, but grows as you walk, read and touch some of the interactive displays. The upstairs houses the older canoes and tales of Native Canadian tradition, as well as historical links to the Hudson’s Bay Company in its infancy.

Downstairs, the museum has highlighted facts and tales about the more recent past and the paddling history in Peterborough, the surrounding region, and in Canada as a whole. Documents that show the sale of canoes for use in African river exploration and pictures of canoe races drip with the history of the people involved. It’s similar to the feeling of becoming invested in a movie character, except that the relationship grows in 30 seconds, not 2 hours.  The last set of displays is dedicated to the museum’s originator: Kirk Wipper. Once called the Kanawa Museum, Kirk combined that collection with his own, acquired new items and grew it into the incredible landmark that is the Canadian Canoe Museum.   

The best part about my visit, was meeting museum volunteer and expert wood worker Russ Parker. He saw us gazing through the window of the 1st floor wood shop and with a huge smile invited us to see his latest creations. One piece was a scaled down model of a canoe that kids could put together, as if they themselves were building a real canoe. As Russ talked about how this would become a hands-on display for future school tours, it was clear that this was a not just a passion, but a mission. Cedar strips, resin, jigs and clamps are Russ Parker’s wheelhouse. The more he spoke, the more saw dust fell from his hair and coveralls, and the more I too, wanted to become a canoe maker, or at least a museum donor to support the hard work and community outreach that the museum provides. If you’d like more information about supporting the museum, CLICK HERE. I’m looking into the “Adopt a Canoe” program myself.


canadian canoe museum

As we were leaving, I noticed a large sign on the wall with a photo and caption of a Canadian icon. While he might not be well known among the younger generation, paddling baby boomers would know Walter Walker as an artisan and master canoe builder. The caption defined his love of wood working and sums up how hard one can work for something they are passionate about: “You just keep doing and doing it because you like doing it.  It is clear the employees at the museum and the community of Peterborough love canoes – and paddling – and will just keep doing it, because they like doing it.

Walter Walker

Canoe Museum aroused your nautical nature? Head over to our shop to browse our selection of Hand Painted Canoe Paddles

Until next post, paddle on and keep your head above water!

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