Peterborough Canoe Co.


What really is “a Peterborough canoe?” There was a time in the late 19th century and the early part of the 20th when the term “a Peterboro” might have meant almost any wooden canoe in the traditional Canadian style. That is to say, one resembling the woodland canoe which the aboriginal people had perfected “long before the white man and long before the wheel” as Gordon Lightfoot says in the Canadian Railroad Trilogy. The term “Peterborough” and its short form “Peterboro” to mean “wooden canoe” came into use because much of the evolution from bark canoe and native dugout to the carpentered canoe built with European woodworking skills took place in or near the city of Peterborough, Ontario. Not unnaturally, people took to calling canoes from anywhere in the area “Peterborough canoes.” This tendency was especially pronounced among American sporting enthusiasts of the late 19th century, some of whom were avid canoeists but also authors, editors or publishers of books, newspapers or magazines in which this usage was perpetuated and its scope enlarged.

This broad use of the name “Peterboro” did not necessarily sit well with the established canoe builders of nearby Lakefield like Thomas Gordon or J.G. Brown, but the usage stuck anyway. The same could be said of the canoe builders Herald & Hutchison on Rice Lake to the south of Peterborough.

Quite literally, the Peterborough Canoe Co. rose from the ashes – those of the Ontario Canoe Co. which had been set up in 1883 by J.Z. Rogers across the river from Peterborough. When the Ontario Canoe Co. burned in May of 1892, Mr. Rogers moved the company into town and re-instituted it as the Peterborough Canoe Co., one imagines to capitalize on the name that books and journals were helping to popularize. From 1893 until its demise in 1961 the Peterborough Canoe Co. became something of a national institution in Canada.

[Peterborough Canoe Co. Logo]

Over the years, the shipping department of the company sent out from its red brick factory at 290 Water Street vast numbers of skiffs, launches, runabouts, cruisers, dinghies, dories and all manner of associated equipment such as paddles, oars, skis, toboggans, sleds and even duck decoys. The cedar-strip runabouts themselves became so closely identified with the company that for a time – perhaps in the 1950’s - people might say that the family had bought “a new Peterborough” and mean that it had bought a wooden outboard runabout pure and simple.