“Little” Contributions

Last week, my six-year-old son and I stopped by The Canadian Canoe Museum. I had something to drop off and it was intended to be a quick in and out. I should’ve known better, as what child can resist the tactility of those glorious galleries?

Andrew was under the weather, but his headache didn’t dull his curiosity. He approached Ipie, a friendly-faced volunteer who was working away on a bright red blanket coat amidst one of the exhibits. Ipie welcomed Andrew and soon, they struck up a conversation. Just minutes later, Andrew found himself trying on his favourite, albeit too-big blue capote. As Ipie tied the sash and the scarf, and put up his hood, she explained the function of the fringe and the origin of the beautiful blanket. He was captivated – not only by the information that Ipie was so creatively imparting, but by her own enthusiasm for the experience.


She turned back time, and began role playing with him. Having donned the coat, Andrew would head out into the winter wilderness to begin his work as a trapper. I watched my son’s eyes sparkle and a smile spread across his face, as, transported to another place and time, he pretended to gather wood to build a fire. Next, making himself right at home in the midst of the museum, he tried on the more traditional Hudson’s Bay Company point blanket coat. This one, the perfect size.

Before my eyes, and in what seemed like an instant, the most incredible intergenerational relationship had been born. Despite trying to capture every moment of the experience with my phone, I might as well have been invisible – Ipie and Andrew so focused on each other and the conversation at-hand.

With a scrap of the bright red blanket before her, Ipie quickly crafted for Andrew, a bookmark mouse and soon, he was introducing her to his favourite stuffed animal and best friend Beary. Without missing a beat, Ipie began tracing Beary’s tiny (well worn) body, creating a pattern. It was her intention to make Beary a capote, and proceeded to ask Andrew what colour wool and what colour stitching he would like. Jumping up and down with excitement, Andrew requested a green coat and light blue stitching.

More than an hour after their interaction began, it was time for Andrew to head home, and for Ipie to take a well-deserved coffee break. However, I think these kindred spirits knew full well that they would meet again.

Fast forward four days, and ready and waiting for Andrew at the museum, was a beautifully wrapped package and a hand-written note.

 “Dear Andrew – I hope that your headache is gone. I really liked talking to you last Thursday. Here is the capote for your bear. Take care. Yours truly, Ipie Van Der Veen.”

Andrew was over the moon as he unwrapped the gift and with great care, dressed his bear, discussing every element of the coat’s construction. He tells me that Beary is cozy in the coat and that it is “the most wonderful clothing he has had in his whole life.”

Ipie asked for but one thing in return for the capote. She asked that Andrew “pay it forward” and to one day, when he is older, share his talent and his time with another. Ipie’s request, and the time she spent with Andrew has spurred on many conversations as he contemplates every minute of his extraordinary experience. Already, he’s thinking about how he will follow through on Ipie’s request.

For Andrew (and for his mother), Ipie is an incredible inspiration. And I’ve since learned, that Andrew is not alone in the time and attention he received from her. In fact, I understand that these types of “little” contributions are far from uncommon and that it’s with this same sort of passion and purpose that she volunteers twice weekly at the museum.

“Dear Ipie – Thank you for sharing with Andrew, an extraordinary expression of history, and, even more importantly, of humanity. I don’t doubt for a moment, that he learned from you, more than we’ll every know. Happy National Volunteer Week. With sincere gratitude, Alicia Doris.”

Cultural Spaces Funding announced for new canoe museum facility

Today was a very exciting day for The Canadian Canoe Museum!

The Honourable Maryam Monsef, Minister of Status of Women and MP for Peterborough-Kawartha, on behalf of the Honourable Mélanie Joly, Minister of Canadian Heritage, announced more than $1.4M in cultural infrastructure funding from the Government of Canada towards the development of The Canadian Canoe Museum's new building beside the Peterborough Lift Lock on the Trent-Severn Waterway!

The Canada Cultural Spaces Fund seeks to improve physical conditions for artistic creativity and arts presentation or exhibition. It is also designed to increase access for Canadians to performing, visual, and media arts, and to museum collections and heritage displays.

 The funding will allow us to proceed with the pre-construction phase of the new museum, meaning we are well on our way to realizing a new home for the world’s largest and most significant collection of canoes, kayaks and paddled watercraft.

Visit museum on the move for more information.

The paddle propels the canoe... 

Along with the strength and the skill of the individual holding it, the paddle is a critical component of any canoe trip. Right now, the museum has more than 500 paddles, but collectively, we’re carving one more.

Today, the museum invited all guests whom attended the announcement to contribute to the carving of a canoe paddle, symbolic of our journey towards the new museum. It will take the unique contributions of many – and with great dedication and determination, over time, it will take shape. The finished product will be extraordinary, one-a-kind, and like all the paddles in the museum’s world-class collection, it will have an incredible story to tell. It will also have a home in the new museum.


“Investing in the Canadian cultural sector helps create jobs for the middle class, strengthens the economy and ensures that Canada’s unique perspective is shared with the world.”

 —The Honourable Mélanie Joly, Minister of Canadian Heritage

“The Government of Canada is committed to investing in Canada’s cultural infrastructure. Revitalized cultural facilities, like the one that will house the Canadian Canoe Museum, allow Canadians to share and enjoy the inspiring influences of arts and heritage.”

—The Honourable Maryam Monsef, Minister of Status of Women and Member of Parliament (Peterborough–Kawartha)

“The Canadian Canoe Museum community is incredibly grateful for this federal funding; it will allow us to proceed in earnest with the pre-construction phase of a facility. The new museum, once complete, will care for its world-class collection the way it deserves to be cared for and preserve it, protect it and showcase it for generations to come.”

—Bill Morris, Chair, Board of Directors, The Canadian Canoe Museum

Canadian Canoe Culture

This is one of the most exciting things to happen in quite a while. The Ontario Government has decided to promote the province as a tourist destination with their "Canadian Canoe Culture" campaign.

A group of paddlers and people involved in the tourism industry met at the Canadian Canoe Museum last spring and noodled that idea around, coming up with the idea of celebrating "ordinary heroes" and the various ways in which the canoe can and does promote a host of wonderful human values and outcomes.

We settled on five of those uses or outcomes around which to build the campaign. Steve Bruno from Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership commissioned filmmaker extraordinaire, Goh Iromoto to shoot five stories:

1) A couple chasing the Group of Seven in Algonquin Park

2) A young olympic hopeful training on the Madawaska River

3) A new Canadian exploring Canada through the canoe

4) A family keeping connected through shared paddling trips in Quetico

5) An amazing woman in the Lakehead who is teaching Ojibway youth about who they are through the building of bark canoes.

As this film trailer shows, the results are amazing. The hope is that all the full spectrum of tourism operators from wineries, to outfitters, accommodations, restaurants, lodges, boat rental facilities, etc. etc. will get behind the idea to join this campaign to promote their products and businesses under the Canadian Canoe Culture banner.

You're going to hear a lot more about this in the weeks and months to come but I can tell you that the Canadian Canoe Museum is very excited about this, not only because it will get more people out canoeing but because we think more people getting into and/or involved with canoeing will make Ontario (and Canada) stronger, healthier, happier and more united as we head into this Sesquicentennial year.

Check out the trailer! You'll recognize some of the people, perhaps, as well as some of the places, including the Museum's collection storage! The full feature film will launch in February at the Reel Paddling Film Festival in Toronto.

The Canoe by Goh Iromoto on Vimeo

Looking Closely: Treatment of a Birch Bark Canoe. (Part One)

The Canadian Canoe Museum has taken the first steps in the conservation of an 18th century birch bark canoe. This canoe has only recently returned to its country of origin after laying in Cornwall England for over 200 years. Through a Fleming College internship placement from the Cultural Heritage Conservation and Management program, the museum has put intern Lauren Tregenza to work on the preliminary stages of this project. This is an important first step for closer analysis and treatment of this historic birch bark canoe.

The closer I looked at this 18th century watercraft, the more questions and mysteries arose. When I first encountered the canoe I remember being struck by how beautiful the damaged remains were. The canoe appears almost skeletal, revealing glimpses of the inner rib structure. The bark has faded to a pale tone which gives it an almost ghostly feel. After this initial impression, I began to look more closely at the condition of the artifact and recorded these observations in what museums call a ‘condition report.’ This stage feels like detective work. I use various tools such as a magnifying glass, a handheld microscope and macro photography. This first step in conservation treatment can aid in the understanding of an object through careful inspection, documentation and analysis.

This act of looking is informed by knowledge of the materials that the object is made out of. In this case the materials are birch bark, cedar, spruce, iron, resin, pigments, canvas and potentially other unidentified materials. The more materials an object is composed of the more complicated is its condition. Each material has its own tendencies and vulnerabilities. All these factors play upon each other and have influenced the current state of this birch bark canoe.

In addition to these shifting components are all of the scrapes, fractures, holes and stains that the object now carries. Some of these elements can be improved upon, some may be irreversible and some illuminate secrets concerning manufacture or use. Full restoration is not always desirable, as this can harm the aged materials of the object and erase the stories that old scars may provide. Treatment details will be discussed in Part Two of this series.

Birch bark canoes are ephemeral objects if left exposed to the elements, which is why there are not many old examples. This canoe could potentially be one of the oldest examples available at over 200 years old. When looking at construction techniques, the canoe also has many stories. Traditional birch bark canoe building techniques were used to build the original object.  Not all aspects are traditional however. The ends have been repaired and covered in canvas which has been skillfully painted to match the bark in colour and texture. There is another repair where a thick canvas patch has been wrapped around a portion of the hull. All these elements are now a part of the history of the object.

 Tune in for part 2 of this series which will detail the conservation treatment of this canoe.


Key to dimensional changes diagram.

a.     Gunwales: Want to straighten to their original form, are no longer held in place by lashings.

b.     Spruce root: Will become brittle and loose the necessary strength to bind the structure. This causes the gunwales to separate from the structure.

c.     Ribs: Are expanding horizontally over time, since there is no pressure being exerted on them by the now fractured gunwales. This action pushes out the gunwales and stresses the birch bark cover.

d.     Birch bark: Will curve in upon itself as moisture moves through the bark.

e.     Previous Repairs: Canvas covered ends and older repairs near the centre.

f.      Sheathing: As the canoe unravels, large sections of sheathing are loose. Sheathing should be held in place between the ribs and bark cover through pressure.

g.     Thwarts: They are missing. They would have helped to counteract the force of the ribs pushing on the hull.