Long before there were movie theatres, roller rinks or drive-ins teenagers courted in canoes. During the early 1900s young men would take their best girl canoeing for romance and the opportunity to spend some quality time away from parents and chaperones. Canoeing was the thing to do.
Canoeing at the turn of the century however, was much different than the weekend portages and wilderness adventures of today. Courting canoes were designed for afternoons and evenings of stylish leisure and affairs of the heart. These canoes were most often designed for visual appeal rather than transport of goods and may be painted in unique colours or have elaborate stencil patterns on their sides. Most young men would accessorize their canoe to provide the utmost comfort for their special guest. Canoes were outfitted with pillows, picnicking supplies, lanterns and parasols. Some canoes were even customized with phonographs – providing a soundtrack for the perfect date night out.
In the United States a favourite spot for young 'canoedalers' was the lake system of Minnesota. By 1912 the amount of people using the lakes skyrocketed, making it difficult for park officials to monitor the 12am curfew on the lakes. The park service was forced to patrol the lakes after dark with motorized boats and spotlights to catch those who were using the lakes for inappropriate business. A local newspaper went so far as to say that “misconduct in canoes has become so grave and flagrant that it threatens to throw a shadow on the lakes and recreational resorts and to bring shame upon the city”. The park service also had to keep an eye on the offensive phrases being used as names on canoe permits. “Joy-tub”, “Cupids-Nest”, “Kumonin Kid”, “G-I-lov-U”, and “Skwizmtyt” were all used as names to obtain canoe permits for Minnesota lakes.
Here at The Canadian Canoe Museum there is an excellent example of a courting canoe, aptly named the “Girling Canoe”, built by the Peterborough Canoe Company in 1904. This canoe was part of the “Comfort Line” built by the company during the early 20th Century. This particular craft was designed for the young man to sit at the stern, facing his beautiful date. Afterwards his seat could be flipped down providing a backrest. The bow of the canoe was designed for a young girl to sit with her back resting on the bow deck facing her date. It is here were this particular canoe is fitted with a phonograph and special compartment for records. This phonograph was not intended to be used while the canoe was in motion but to provide a serenade for the happy couple while they lunched in a secluded inlet.
In a more recent survey, completed by canada.com, 8% of Canadians admitted to having sex while in a canoe. Canadian non-fiction writer Pierre Burton has been quoted saying “a Canadian is someone who knows how to have sex in a canoe”. This insightful quote then begs the question of you dear reader, “Are you a 'real' Canadian”?
For further reading please see Jeff Pearce's book “How to Make Love in a Canoe: Sex in Canada”.
Happy Valentine's Day!