A First for The Canadian Canoe Museum

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?