Canoes originated with the native peoples of North America, in order to navigate the continent’s copious lakes and rivers. The ingenious vessels first began as dugouts—big, hollowed tree trunks—and evolved into wooden frames covered in lightweight layers of bark or even animal skins, all long before the polyethylene versions you find at stores today.
The history and artistry of the canoe goes back thousands of years, and lucky for us, there’s a museum in Canada dedicated to the cultural vessels. The canoe has long been a symbol of Canadian identity, and with more than 600 canoes, kayaks, and paddled watercraft, the Canadian Canoe Museum is the largest collection of canoes in the world.
Besides being beautiful nautical eye candy, the museum’s exhibitions tell the stories of many different Native American customs and chapters of Canadian history. The unique artifacts include dugouts and bark canoes carved by various indigenous tribes dating back to the beginning of the 20th century. There are also canvas-covered and skin-on-frame kayaks on display — boats built from driftwood covered in the skins of marine mammals, a traditional craft that originated thousands of years ago in the Arctic.
If you visit the museum you’ll have the chance to play with a number of interactive exhibitions, such as a birchbark Mi’kmaq wigwam, kayak simulators, a scavenger hunt, and wood shop. The museum offers school and group tours as well as adult workshops on canoe restoration, finger weaving and wood-burning. One of the early exhibits even featured the famous buckskin jacket and birch bark canoe of former Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau.
If you feel a personal connection with one of the museum’s artifacts, you can opt to Adopt a Canoe, which will earn you an individual membership and official certificate. Alas, you can’t take your adopted canoe out on the water, but you can always come back to the museum to spend time with it.