Caring for a unique collection of more than 600 canoes and kayaks with roots found in waterfront communities around the globe is a tremendous honour and privilege. Museum collections are not typically static and, as the end of 2014 comes into sight, I am delighted to share with you in this (and in a following post or two) a sample of the rich stories and provenance attached to a few of the newest additions to our collection.
I should start by mentioning that the Canadian Canoe Museum’s Collections Committee meets quarterly and, aside from other duties, it works at shaping its artefact and archival collections through acquisition and deaccession. Storage constraints can be a significant challenge for all museums and, as you might guess, many of our artefacts measure sixteen feet or more in length [yes, I do realize that that should read 487.7cm but, even in Canada, canoes still tend to be thought about in feet measurements]. I will also add here that there are times I envy our colleagues at the wonderful Bata Shoe Museum for their choice in artefact size! All possible new acquisitions are always therefore carefully considered and evaluated by museums against responsible criteria that help to shape this collection going forward.
One reason why I find this collection so exciting is because its themed collection is largely unconstrained by geography, tradition or time period. At this time, the Museum is deliberately exploring post-war manufacturing with the same interest as it has the more venerable aboriginal and manufactured traditions as expressed in birch bark, shaped log and varnished cedar.
Unlike the more familiar Grumman aluminum canoes that carry evidence of the stretch forming, flush riveting and precise tooling methods developed while they produced Avengers and countless other aircraft during the war, the Saguenay Canoe Company used new welding methods to join multiple transverse panels together, creating a shapely, tapered hull with distinctive upright seams along the sides that are surprisingly suggestive of a birch bark canoe. This particular canoe was given the romantic name the “Silver Swan” (and mischievously albeit briefly, also “Tin-oe”). For almost seven decades, she was an essential and beloved element of summer life at a Canadian family cottage.
In the early 1980s, while four Canadian destroyers assigned to the Pacific Fleet were on navigation exercise south of the equator, HMCS Qu’Appelle pulled in to Western Samoa for an important rendezvous. Ten years earlier, its ship’s doctor had similarly gone ashore to attend to a mother at risk of dying in childbirth. This time, the community wanted to welcome the ship and her crew back in thanks and to introduce the ten-year-old Samoan youth Qu’Appelle who had also survived that day, named for the Mackenzie-class destroyer.
Amidst celebrations and the inevitable boat and canoe races that ensued, the ship’s navigator became acquainted with a local man and purchased his paopao (the classic Samoan inshore fishing canoe) as well as a pair of paddles. In a caper likely to remain unique in the history of our navy, these purchases were brought to Canada lashed to a grating on the destroyer’s deck.
Like the Silver Swan, the outrigger dugout canoe also came to be beloved to its new owners, the Qu'Appelle's Navigator Romanow’s family, and certainly distinguished herself both on water and also roof rack many times in various parts of Canada over the following decades.
In an upcoming post, I'll introduce three storied canoes originally from the private fleet of Lakefield's Douglas family and a 1930s birch bark canoe named "le Rossignol"
Enjoyed this blog post? Let us know in the comments below! Read through past blog entries for even more informative articles from staff and volunteers at the museum.