Inside our Guest Book

I have been a volunteer at the Canadian Canoe Museum since my retirement in 1999.  As the museum moves forward in its capital campaign to relocate and ensure a safe place to care for the collection I would like to share some thoughts. 


My duties involve meeting our visitors at Admissions as well as serving them in the store.  In addition, since 2004, I have been doing the annual retrospective look at our Guest Book, noting where folks come from, why they visit the CCM and what they think about the museum.   It is a heart-warming experience, and although time consuming, it reveals many important and interesting things.  Full disclosure – I personally find this collection of paddled water craft so representative of our rich history in Canada that it takes on spiritual connotations for me.  The importance of the aboriginal presence and their knowledge of nature’s materials to construct some of these canoes and their continued attention to the care of the spirits of the craft in the museum today is profoundly moving.


Approximately two thirds of our visitors who have signed our Guest Book are Canadian – we see people from all provinces and territories.  Some have even paddled here –one visitor wrote “Paddled here from P.E.I to visit (the) museum and see Bill Mason’s canoes.  Today (mid Aug) is Day 95.  Happy to be here.”  Most folks come by car!!  Here are a few of my favourite quotes from Canadians over the years:


     “Exceptional!  What a gift to Canada’s history.  What a gift to Peterborough.”

     “A national treasure!  A worthy tribute to such a noble craft!”

     “Quite possibly the best museum in the country.   A Gem!”

      “Fabulous!  I came as a teacher and became the student.”

     “Canoes made us Canadian!  Thank you for preserving our heritage.”

     “I love this museum!  It has a magnificent spirit!”

The other one third of our Guest Book signers are from abroad.  What is interesting to note however, is the distance people do come to visit Peterborough to see this museum.  We have recently placed a map of the world in the foyer of the CCM where there are red dots affixed to geographic home bases of our visitors and these red dots circumnavigate the world – north, south, east, west!  For example a few years ago we welcomed guests from four different continents – Australia, Asia, Europe and North America in the course of one hour!  It was heartwarming to hear different languages being spoken throughout the galleries as our guests moved through the museum.      


These folks from all over the world are appreciative and touched by the collection and are drawn for different reasons.  Their visits introduce them to the many offerings of a small city in eastern Canada. They contribute to the local economy in many ways – accommodation, food, historical site visits and shopping!  Some comments from our international visitors over the years are encouraging:


     CHINA:  “Learned a lot of knowledge.  Wonderful place!”

     EGYPT:  “I learned new things about the world and of course Canada.”

    GERMANY: “Third time in this museum!  So it must be great!  Looking forward to my next visit!”

     SOUTH AFRICA:  “We were last here 12 years ago and it is wonderful to be back here again!!” 

     FRANCE:  “Superbe musee!”

     TASMANIA: “Brings me home.”

     USA:  “Fantastic presentations well interpreted and engages all (even very old and very young). RIVALS the Smithsonian!!”

    UNITED KINGDOM:  “Brought 16 students here after their 8 day expedition in Algonquin.  A lovely informative way of ending our trip.  Thank you.”

     SAUDI ARABIA:  “A real hidden GEM!  I loved it.”


We are fortunate indeed to have what is considered the preeminent collection of paddled craft in the world, housed in an historical context.  It is our responsibility to maintain this collection safely.   The current buildings are aged and leaking – it is time to move forward, it is our responsibility to move forward.  In addition to generous private donors locally and across the country, the Federal and Provincial governments are on side and our city and county governments, who will benefit through this endeavour, have been approached for support.  

If you have not had an opportunity to see this remarkable collection please do come so that you can see  the first iteration in our current home on Monaghan Road and look forward, with us, to the new Canadian Canoe Museum at the LiftLock.

Connected by Canoe: Rethinking Canada One Stroke/One Conversation at a Time (Part 4 of 4) — A Personal Reflection

It was clear from the outset of the Connected by Canoe Journey that the emotional water level was already high.  During our first media interviews at the send-off event in Peterborough on May 2, Algonquin canoe builder, Stephen Hunter, was in tears as he described the bark canoe model he’d brought with him. His grandfather had made more than one hundred years before.  Listening to him talk to the reporter with an involuntary gush of emotion was a first indication that the idea of bringing indigenous and non-indigenous people together with the canoe as a focus might have potential for the two sides of this cultural divide closer together.


Instead of letting that moment sit as an unprocessed one-off moment of high emotional amplitude, we left that news conference, got in a canoe and paddled together for more than a week.  In a bar in Smiths Falls, after our formal responsibilities to the trip were done for the day, that moment with the model canoe came up again in conversation.  But this time, Stephen pulled out his phone, which contained the most remarkable series of old black and white photos of his family (including his grandfather the canoe builder) growing up in and around Bancroft, Ontario. 

When I beheld the model canoe on Day 1 of our journey, I had imagined his grandfather’s weathered hands, but in these totally arresting photos we saw the whole guy—fishing, logging, hunting, relaxing, building canoes, kibitzing with his brothers, with his family, alone, as a young man, as a middle-aged man, and as an old man just before he died.  It was an absolutely unforgettable moment in space and time. A group of almost-accidental canoe compadres were learning about the life of an Algonquin family in Ontario’s mid-north in a room filled with the clatter of beer glasses and the strains of an earnest young singer/songwriter on the stage whining his way through the entire Neil Young songbook, whether we liked it, or not.  “There is a town in north Ontario…”

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At the table that night we had musician and outdoor educator, Glen Caradus, who connected to things he saw in the photos to tell the story of Adventure in Understanding, a program he’d led for the past few years (founded by the Peterborough/Kawartha Rotary Club in partnership with Curve Lake First Nation and the Canadian Canoe Museum). It involves a big canoe trip from Peterborough to Curve Lake First Nation involving a mix of indigenous and non-indigenous youth with a smattering of Rotary international exchange students.  Glen related how, in the context of those canoe journeys, that family details of the participants flowed naturally into those conversations too in ways that enriched understandings on both sides of the cultural divide.  It occurred to me as the banter went back and forth, that none of this would have been shared had Connected by Canoe not brought these lifelines together in one place.

Listening to all this, in the corner of our booth, was Bill Buxton who, in his real life is Director of Research for Microsoft International, who just happens to be crazy for canoes, particularly bark canoes.  Bill would say things like, “technology is not good, nor is it bad, but it is definitely not neutral,” which, of course, was a bit like putting a cat in the henhouse because everybody had something to say about that. Because we were in a canoe, there was time and frame of mind to noodle the idea around with a bit of back and forth.  But, on this occasion in the noisy Smiths Falls bar, he chimed in that “if we thought for a moment that there was any difference between the level of design and technological sophistication between the fanciest cell phone and a bark canoe, then we were all sorely mistaken.”  Anyway, Bill listened to Stephen’s stories about his grandfather that flowed out of the photographs on his phone, and then he listened to Glen’s stories about Adventure in Understanding.  And then we left it at that.  But several days later, Bill quietly suggested to Glen that he knew a Cree youth in the town of Pelican Narrows in Saskatchewan that he’d like to help join this year’s Adventure in Understanding journey.


That was how the Connected by Canoe ‘floating conversation’ went.  Unable to paddle because of epic rains, flooding and record water levels, we went into the woods near Westport with Stephen and his mentor Chuck Commanda for an opportunity to see the trees and the natural resources therein through their eyes.  The conversations that flowed from that experience led to a discussion of the bark canoe build that Chuck is doing this summer in Perth with Plenty Canada and the Lanark Country Neighbours for Truth and Reconciliation.  When in Perth, we got a chance to meet the people involved in this project, we got a chance to see one of Chuck’s beautiful canoes, and we got a chance to hear some words from Chuck’s grandfather, William Commanda about the centrality of canoes in Algonquin culture.  All priceless opportunities. 

But while the discussion about this was going on in the canoe, another member of the Connected by Canoe Express Leg crew listened intently asked what she might do to help with that kind of thing.  To this, Canadian Canoe Museum General Manager, Carolyn Hyslop, explained that the museum had planned a public build with Chuck in July which would happen as long as sufficient funds could be raised to cover costs.  Shortly after this participant left the journey and went home, a donation to cover the shortfall came quietly.   Moved in significant ways by her experience with Connected by Canoe, she made a personal contribution toward reconciliation, knowing that these funds will help bring indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians just that little bit closer together through the auspices of the Canadian Canoe Museum.  She had seen the process in action and wanted to help spread the power of the idea.

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The most affirming thing about Connected by Canoe was how quickly people who heard the story of the project “got” the idea, once they realized that we were not simply going from one place to another in a canoe.  “This is not so much a canoe trip, as it is a floating conversation about the future of Canada involving a diverse mix of indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians,” we would say to anybody who was interested.  And then, we would add, “Everyone who is participating has been asked to bring an open-ended question about the future of Canada that they are prepared to explore in whatever ways make sense during the journey.”  There would be a pause, and a smile of recognition, and people would say, “Ohhh, cool.  That’s an interesting idea.”  And it is a generative idea, as long as we can figure out how to keep the Connected by Canoe momentum going. But before visiting that briefly, I’d like to take one more narrative foray into the power of the canoe-as-vessel-of-reconciliation idea to move individual perspectives on Canada.

The question I brought to Connected by Canoe was this: “What will a reconciled Canada look like?” When this was first decanted to the group, someone asked, “How can we be re-conciled when we weren’t conciled in the first place.  It is a fallacy to suggest that all was sweetness and light on Turtle Island before the European invasion.”  I’m still thinking about that.  But the essence of the question, as we bandied it back and forth in the canoe and in discussions in Peterborough, Kingston, Seeley’s Bay, Westport, Smiths Falls, Merrickville, Kemptville, Manotick and Ottawa, was really about what we, as Canadians, need to do to make good the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to enact a plan to nourish and grow a fairer, more equitable, and more united country, going forward?  In the mix of sensations and in the wash of emotions released and revealed by the process of paddling from Kingston to Ottawa up the historic Rideau Waterway, strangely perhaps, the beginnings of an answer to the question arose from my growing and now quite profound discomfort with singing our national anthem.


O Canada, our home and native land.  True patriot love, in all thy sons command.  With glowing hearts, we see thee rise, the True North strong and free.  Ton histoire est une épopée, des plus brillants exploits. God keep our land.  Glorious and free.  O Canada, we stand on guard for thee. O Canada, we stand on guard for thee. 

Oh Canada. We can do better than that. Our home on Native Land, maybe. But the whole jingoistic tone of the lyrics.  The square metre of the music, as if written to march our boys off to war. The references to what sounds like a narrowly Christian God. The quasi-military notion of standing on guard… against what? Ourselves? The True North, “strong and free” where more than three-quarters of households are overcrowded and food insecure?  I’m a first generation and would-be-proud Canadian for whom these musical lines and lyrics are increasingly sticking in my craw.  Glowing heart?  No.


At the magical Connected by Canoe evening in Seeley’s Bay, I asked Mayor Joe Baptista (who’s a wonderful singer and musician) if he would lead us in singing the national anthem to close the night.  It seemed like something we could and probably should do to close out the night.  But even only two days into our ‘floating conversation’ I knew that there were First Nation members of our ensemble for whom this would not be a highlight.  But I asked the Mayor anyway.  And he complied.  But he complied in the most remarkable way.  Instead of just asking people to stand, after what had been a moving and inspiring night of sharing with the 100+ people who were there, he asked everyone to come forward and stand together cheek-by-jowl, as it were.  And we sang like that.  It was a seriously memorable moment of togetherness.  But all I could see in the crowd was my fellow paddler Shaelyn Wabagijig, from Rama First Nation, just standing there with a flat look on her beautiful weather-burnished face.

Asking a proud Anininaabe woman, who had given the audience earlier in the night the most amazing performance of a traditional water song sung with a drum, to sing O Canada was, in that moment, like asking her to celebrate publicly 150 years of settler-imposed strife for her people.  In spite of the Mayor’s excellent and enthusiastic musical leadership and standing amongst family, friends and neighbours in my home community, I was completely overcome by the moment and just stopped singing to make room for the flood of emotion that was welling up from deep within.


The legacy of Connected by Canoe, for me, is a realization that if we are to make any meaningful progress at all toward reconciliation — as individuals, communities, as a nation — we need to be doing things together. But for those of us on the settler side of the divide, I think we need to be thinking in terms not of minor tweaks to how we do, and have done, business, but of significant, even symbolic, grand gestures to show that we are serious about a collaborative rebuilding of the country.  One such grand gesture just might be setting aside O Canada for now and coming at the whole idea of a new national anthem from a different point of view.  Maybe the country we’re talking about is too rich and complex and idea to be captured in one song or ten songs.  Maybe the national anthem is the sigh of the wind, the patter of rain, the rush of the river, the heartbeat drum of the land itself or the sound of quiet voices around a crackling campfire.

I do know the feel of the closing of the transformative Connected by Canoe evening at The Table Community Food Centre in Perth was very different from our night in Seeley’s Bay, moving as it was.  After all was said and done in that community conversation in Perth, Algonquin singer and drummer, Francine Desjardins, spoke about how the canoe connects us to the rivers of the nation and to the waters that flow through our bodies and our lives.  And then she led the assembled company in a water song sung to the four directions: “Wishitaah doo-yah, doo-yah, doo-yah, Wishitaah doo-yah, doo-yah, doo-yah-hey…”  That gesture, that song sung communally, was a much better fit to the tone and spirit of the night.  Maybe, with the fusion of musical motifs and voices from east, north and west, it has anthem potential?

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What brought all of this together, what released all this love, all this productive ferment was the canoe.  The Connected by Canoe project affirmed the space created by the vessel itself in this nation of river and in this river of nations is sacred, or can be sacred, if we bring it into our lives with the belief that this simple, beautiful device has things to teach us, still, as we search for new ways forward.  The Canadian Canoe Museum is not the only organization in the country bringing Canadians together with canoes. There are other courageous individuals and organizations doing more or less the same thing, in all regions of the country.  The potential revealed in this journey from Kingston to Ottawa into, for some of us, the heart of new realizations about reconciliation, was that the Connected by Canoe idea, or brand, is one that could be used to unite these efforts under one banner. This might gain even more traction than any of our projects might get individually.

Please stay tuned for updates on the Connected by Canoe page on the Canadian Canoe Museum website.  Watch for a continued flow of response to the project from participants.  And, by all means, think about how you might get some kind of Connected by Canoe project going in your life or your community. 

Back to School

It’s that time of year.

The new-pencil, back-to-school nip in the air, the fresh September energy… and we’re already thinking about P.A. Days. About March Break.

No, you’ve misunderstood.

Because around here, P.A. Days and March Break are the opposite of time off. Around here, they are all about high-energy, full-on, hands-on kids-stuff.  And right now, we get to figure out what all that kids-stuff is. Honestly, it’s one of the best parts of our job (though it’s hard to pick).

This is what it looks like:

Claire and Victoria experiment with Water Marbling 

Claire and Victoria experiment with Water Marbling 


Or this:

Paper making!

Paper making!


Yes, that’s my own kid and her friend. One of our official test audiences.

And from there… it moves on to days like this:

Our awesome workshop guys steam-bending wood for firebows!

Our awesome workshop guys steam-bending wood for firebows!



Educators extraordinaire, Jen and Kerry, prepping leather bag kits!

Educators extraordinaire, Jen and Kerry, prepping leather bag kits!


Until finally, we get to say HEY EVERYONE! We have some really great workshops coming up for Homeschoolers, PA Days, Birthday Parties and, even though it seems like a lifetime away, March Break! Register now and know that your kids will be off-screen, creating unique high-quality artisan-level projects, learning skills like woodworking, paper-making, carving and more -- learning that’s so fun that they don’t notice it’s learning. 

Check out the options here, or, to talk to a real person. Give us a call at 705-748-9153 ext. 218  (Victoria) or ext. 203 (Karen).


Chapters Canoe FUNdraiser

We hope to see you back-to-school shopping on September 16!  Chapters has invited us to join them for a Canoe FUNdraiser, which means 15 per cent of what you spend on regular-priced items will benefit the museum.

In addition to supporting a great cause, families can participate in various canoe-related activities. Canoe races, a canoe craft and a story read by the Chapters education team will all be available.

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We’ll have a team of staff and volunteers onsite with a 16-foot cedar strip canoe. The boat, originally built by the Brown Boat Company, was presented to the museum by Angus and Sandy Matthews, in 2016.

Whether you need to stock up on books, stationery, or home decor items, we hope to see you at Chapters! Present the bookmark below to your cashier to have your purchase benefit the museum.


Our Canoe Story

Although canoes were invented as a method of transportation, they have transitioned into a pleasure craft accessible to all. Our newest exhibit, Artisan and Industry, shares the story of canoe manufacturing, and it illustrates how this industry impacted Peterborough.

In order to celebrate the new exhibit, we’ve been collecting family canoe stories. We wanted to learn about specific canoes and hear why each vessel is special to an individual or family. In June, we asked people to share photos and memories while using the hashtag #OurCanoeStory.

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We received a lot of stories about romantic relationships beginning in canoes. Several people received canoes as wedding presents, and they shared about the canoe trips taken with their spouse. Many shared childhood memories of paddling with their family. We heard stories of breathtaking moments experienced inside a canoe, such as a woman who witnessed a moose just feet away from her family’s boat. Some shared stories from outside the canoe and described the peaceful feeling drawn from watching the rhythmic paddling. Many of these canoes seemed to be transformed from an object into a member of the family. We heard of several canoes with names, such as The Lily Dipper and Battle Axe.

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Submissions were accepted on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and we encouraged people to email stories as well. The contest ran for 10 weeks, and each week, we selected one winner. Thanks to social media, the contest was not limited to people from Peterborough or even Ontario. Some of our winners are located in Quebec, British Columbia and Nevada.

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The contest is over, and prizes have been distributed. Although we’re done formally collecting canoe stories, we still want to hear from you! What’s your canoe story? Feel free to share it on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Don’t forget to use the hashtag #OurCanoeStory!