Paddling and Reading

Some days, it's too windy to go out on the water. Some days, the water is just plain frozen. Some days, it's too hot and some days, you just plain don't feel like it. When this happens, it can be almost as much fun to read about paddling as it is to do it. Here are three things to read that I think you will enjoy. The history of the canoe building companies that were a significant part of the economic life of Peterborough, Ontario, for more than one hundred years is as rich and tangled a story as you’re likely to find in Canadian business history. Invention, entrepreurship, patents, lawsuits, rivalries, mergers, acquisitions, bankruptcies and catastrophic fires: it’s a tale that has all this and more. It is also a complicated story, and those who are interested in canoeing history, Canadian history, Canadian business history and the story of how the city of Peterborough, Ontario came to be synonymous around the world with the canoe will have a much easier time figuring it out after they have read Peterborough author Ken Brown’s 2011 book: The Canadian Canoe Company & the early Peterborough Canoe Factories.

Reading through this book and learning about the challenges that faced these entrepreurs as they developed their businesses, we are reminded that although the canoes they built are revered today for their craftsmanship, they were originally made in an un-romantic, hard-headed commercial environment. The 16 pages of colour plates at the end are a real treat, as is the back inside cover, which identifies the sites of companies connected with Peterborough’s canoe industry from 1858-1961. This map is particularly valuable because few of these structures are still extant today and these industries which were such a prominent part of downtown Peterborough for so many years are now invisible. You may order a copy of Ken's book directly from the Museum Store.

Another iconic Canadian canoe brand was Chestnut, built for more than 70 years on Canada's east coast in Fredericton, N.B. Roger MacGregor's book When the Chestnut was in Flower: Inside the Chestnut Canoe tells the story of Chestnut's rise from the hardware store of R. Chestnut and Sons through to the closing of the company in 1978. This is a rich and fascinating story of a family business that became part of our country's story which is also available from the Museum Store.

As the author says in the forward:

People are still talking about the Chestnut canoe as something of a dream. . .In dream or reality, there was always a lot to the Chestnut canoe: The beauty of its shape, its musical name, the deep associations with the Canadian landscape, and, often enough, fond memories of youthful days on the lakes and rivers of the country.

And then there are watercraft propelled by paddles with blades at both ends. Qajaq USA, the American Chapter of the Greenland Kayak Association, is dedicated to the preservation and appreciation of Greenland-style paddling. For those of you who haven't had the pleasure of seeing a Greenland boat in action, this means very narrow kayaks propelled by paddles with very skinny blades that are upside-down almost as often as they are right side up, because their paddlers love to roll, and roll, and roll. 

Qajaq USA publishes an occasional journal which is also available from the Museum Store. Well-written and beautifully illustrated and printed, each issue examines the history and context of these intriguing watercraft. Issue #4, for instance, offers explores the German paddling scene between the two world wars, and presents some very interesting material translated into English.

Germans have made an immense contribution to kayaking, most notably through their Klepper brand folding kayaks, or faltboot, one of which is on display until March, 2013 in the Museum's exhibit Canoes to Go: The Search for a Truly Portable Boat.