Fascinating canoe history and its importance to the development of civilization:
Canoes and kayaks have been important elements in the life of mankind around the globe for countless years. In this modern day of jet travel and computer-oriented lifestyle, we sometimes forget just how essential they have been in our evolution from cave dweller to present day. Canoes contributed to the earliest epic journeys across broad ocean expanses, particularly in the South Pacific; they enabled fur trade commerce which penetrated deep into North America, spurring exploration, then settlement and development. Canoes and kayaks made possible the hunting, gathering and fishing which sustained native populations throughout all continents, including the Arctic. Tens of thousands of years of use by man - and still on-going! I heartily recommend a recent book: "The Sea & Civilization: a maritime history of the World", by Lincoln Paine, Alfred A Knopf, publisher. For a thoroughly informative, well-documented New World perspective, be sure to read the newly-released (Nov. 2016) "Canoes: A Natural History in North America", by Neuzil and Sims, Univ. of Minnesota Press. A fabulous historical survey, complete with wonderful art work and replete with footnotes and source references.
left: dugout canoe models from Africa, Australia, New Zealand, P/NG, Solomon Islands, Gilbert Islands, Philippines; right: birch bark and wood-canvas
canoe models from Northeastern woodlands of Can./US..
Without canoes and kayaks, mankind's growth and intercourse would have been severely limited; nor would we have wonderful recreational watercraft that allow us to enjoy our great outdoor environment. These are truly marvelous creations, be it hand-hewn dugout, bark vessel, skin boat, all-wood planked hull, or factory manufactured craft of wood/canvas, aluminum, fiberglass or carbon fiber. Whether paddled or sailed, a canoe will provide shelter as well as transport. Treated properly, it will get you 'there and back'. In the case of miniature models, they provide historical records, make for a fascinating hobby, a great learning experience, even an investment opportunity.
left, kayak shapes and styles differ all across the Arctic, depending on wave and water conditions as well as cultural heritage; the open boat at the bottom is
an umiak, usually made of walrus hide. right, examples of dugouts from the Northwest Coast, bark canoes from Yukon and British Columbia interior, along with woven
sweetgrass models from the lower mainland .
Almost 30 years ago, I bought my first miniature seal skin kayak; something to help fill in a gap on the shelves of my decoy collection. I was intrigued by its age, which turned out to be about 120 years. I found by researching its shape that it came from the Eastern Canadian Arctic. I soon learned that kayak styles differ across the Arctic from Siberia to Greenland, with each area and each cultural group having slightly differing designs and traditions based mostly on the wave actions of the waters concerned. For me, this was education as well as entertainment! My kayak purchase soon led to the acquisition of a birch bark canoe model, a quill-decorated 'tourist trade' piece somewhat reminiscent of the 'fur trade' style. Again, I discovered there were many variations and styles of birch bark canoes, not only throughout the First Nation tribes of the Eastern Woodlands, but all across North America. Thankfully, someone quickly pointed me to Adney and Chapelle's truly wonderful book "The Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America", an indispensable reference guide published by the Smithsonian.
From that moment, there was no going back; I felt a need to find an example of nearly every style of bark canoe known. Eventually, I encountered wooden dugouts of the Northwest Coast of North America. This led to wondering what canoe 'developments' had taken place in Central and South America, Africa and elsewhere. I was completely 'blown away' by the endless variety to be found when I turned to Asia and the South Pacific. Almost every little island has its own style and building tradition. I then set out to collect as many different varieties of those as I could. Help came in the form of another great book: Haddon & Hornell's "Canoes of Oceania" (3 vols.), published by the Bishop Museum, Honolulu. Such reference books are 'must haves' for any serious collector. The Internet and large on-line auction sites make the task of the collector much easier today. Years ago, folks traveled far and wide seeking out such treasures, then carried them back as best they could. Today, one can shop from home on a computer and easily have an item shipped.
left, the result of being bitten by the 'canoe bug': a growing collection of model canoes and kayaks from around the globe; these, along with several others, represent about ten-years' worth of collecting; middle, catalog cover from the Canadian Canoe Museum exhibit, 2008-09; right, CDOCA exhibit, Niagara Falls, October, 2011.
I learned about the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association (www.wcha.org), and also became a supporter of the Canadian Canoe Museum (www.canoemuseum.ca), which houses the largest collection of canoes and related artifacts in the World. In 2008, I was asked to help organize a display of model canoes for the Museum in cooperation with its Curator, Jeremy Ward. Together, we managed to gather and mount a display of rarely seen items from around the globe and, in particular, a group of historic Canadian and US 'factory display' samples not often available to public view. Our exhibit was called: "The Canoe in Miniature". Photos are available on the Museum's website. A short video of some of the models on display can be found at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TnHhCX6znGA. I am also a proud supporter of the Wisconsin Canoe Heritage Museum, in Spooner, WI, which has a very fine selection of historic items, well worth a visit: http://www.wisconsincanoeheritagemuseum.org.
Early North American canoe manufacturer 'display samples' (aka 'salesman's samples'):
For the past 15 years, I have concentrated on gathering the finest, most diverse collection of early North American canoe factory 'display samples' to be found. Many were exhibited at the Canadian Canoe Museum (2008-09), at the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association 'Annual Assembly' (2012 and 2016), and at the 'Muskoka Antique Boat Show', Gravenhurst, ON, July 2014, as part of the ACBS Toronto Chapter annual gathering. They have also been displayed at annual shows of the Canadian Decoy & Outdoor Collectible Association. Photos of these samples are shown and explained on my Display Samples page. The models range in date from the 1870's to 1940's, with most falling within the 'golden age' of recreational canoeing - 1880's to 1920's. I am presently creating a data base concerning identification and history of such pieces, with hopes of eventually compiling a book. You are most welcome to contribute.
I have written articles for the Wooden Canoe 'Journal', Feb. 2011, and for 'Hunting & Fishing Collectibles' magazine, Mar./Apr. and May/June 2011 issues, giving extensive background history on 'salesman's samples'. Color photos can be viewed on the Wooden Canoe Heritage Assoc. website: http://forums.wcha.org/showthread.php?7202-feb-2011-display-canoes-color-photos. The WCHA is a non-profit organization devoted to "preserving, studying, building, restoring and using wooden and bark canoes". It is a wonderful, friendly group whose members share a passionate interest in all types of wooden canoes. Please consider joining: www.wcha.org. You can also follow us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/groups/219179608982/. You might wish to visit some other great collector sites like: midwestdecoy.org and www.canadiandecoy.com. Come out and enjoy one of our shows.
Part of my efforts have involved helping museums and collector clubs put on displays, as well as to appraise significant donations for charitable tax receipts. In 2012, I had the experience of being a guest on two highly popular tv programs: "Pawnathon Canada" and "Canadian Pickers". Repeats of the latter episode have been showing at: www.history.ca/canadianpickers/video/full+episodes+s3/eye+spy/video.html?v=2298115851&p=1&s=dd#video.
BUYER BEWARE: Because items such as antique model canoes and kayaks are extremely popular with interior decorators, collectors of advertising memorabilia, outdoor enthusiasts and those who love rustic, Adirondack or cottage furnishings, there is temptation for the unscrupulous, or outright fraudsters, to indulge in fakery - to cobble together phony 'reproductions' or pass off cheap imports as being "authentic", "original", "antique", "vintage" "native-made" or "museum quality" items. All the fancy 'buzz words' get used.
If you are seeking to acquire a truly original, antique, factory display ('salesman's sample'), or an item of authentic Native American cultural heritage, make certain you are dealing with a reputable seller who will give you both a written description and a money-back guarantee. Not all vendors are truly knowledgeable of what it is they claim to have. We are all subject to making mistakes from time to time; this does not excuse bogus, exaggerated claims based in ignorance made solely in hopes of promoting sales. That being said, I must add that there are equally a number of extremely fine craftsmen, today, who build excellent replicas, scale models and even modern versions of early factory samples. You can find many talented model builders listed on the WCHA website (www.wcha.org).
TO HELP, I have written an eBay 'buyer's guide' on "antique salesman sample canoes - tips on avoiding fakes" which you may find useful. Below are pictures of some notable, faked-up 'salesman samples' or supposedly 'native' canoes which were sold at online auctions. These are actually imported toy canoes which have been 'antiqued' or distressed by scammers to look old, or had phony factory names or counterfeit totemic designs painted on their sides in an attempt to dupe unwitting buyers. Many attractive small canoes or kayaks seen today are not truly authentic samples, or even of Native American origin, in spite of what some sellers claim. A lot are modern decorative reproductions, miniatures or toys. A large number are cheap off-shore imports with no connection to North American canoe heritage whatsoever. So, be wary.
upper left: advertised in an online auction as an original "Otter Canoe Co." salesman's sample from the late 1800's, and sold for $2000 plus commission and tax; it was later returned by the
high bidder for a full refund when the fakery was pointed out. upper right: sold on eBay for over $600 claiming to be an "authentic" early American factory sample; middle left, sold for $1000 in a west coast auction as a NWC native artifact; bottom right, another hoax, sold in an online auction as being a native-made canoe with authentic designs. There are numerous other cases just as bad, or worse! These are all recent imports from China, worth roughly $25 or so, which were 'done over' by a fraudster or someone deliberately trying to deceive. Note the similarity of shape and profile; usually found in lengths of 15", 27" or 39" and made of light balsa-like material, possibly stained a darker brown. True North American sample canoes are typically much larger (3' to 8') and always made with cedar ribs and planking; hardwoods like oak, maple, mahogany, cherry, etc. were used for gunwales, decks, seats and thwarts. Check carefully; don't be fooled. Lower left, an example of a typical Chinese import, complete with box. Thousands of these have shown up at flea markets, antique shows, and frequently on eBay, with sellers claiming to have rare, authentic, antique "salesman's samples". Hogwash!!! they're nothing more than imported toys or miniatures, cloaked in seller bs.
Want to learn more??? A list of useful reference books and websites:
"Canoes: A Natural History in North America", by Neuzil and Sims, Univ. of Minnesota Press,
"The Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America", by Adney & Chapelle, published by Smithsonian,
"Canoes of Oceania", by Haddon & Hornell, published by Bishop Museum, Honolulu, HI
"The Canoe: A Living Tradition", by John Jennings, published by Firefly Books,
"Bark Canoes: The Art and Obsession of Tappan Adney", by John Jennings, published by Firefly Books,
"The Canoe" by Kenneth G Roberts and Philip Shackleton, published by MacMillan of Canada,
"Qayaq: Kayaks of Alaska and Siberia", by David W Zimmerly, University of Alaska Press,
"Inuit Kayaks in Canada", by E Y Arima, published by National Museums of Canada.
"Kayaks of Greenland", by Harvey Golden
for recent articles and photos of early factory 'sample' canoes see 'Wooden Canoe' magazine, Feb 2011, and 'Hunting & Fishing Collectibles' magazine, Mar./Apr. and May/June 2011 issues. If you cannot get hold of back issues, just email me and I will send you a digital version.
A very interesting and unbelievably good, canoe-related Internet site which I highly recommend:
Paddle Making (and other canoe stuff): http://paddlemaking.blogspot.ca/
and for interesting, stimulating browsing, try these:
Canadian Canoe Museeum - http://www.canoemuseum.ca/
British Museum (online collection - canoes) - http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/search.aspx?searchText=canoe
Wisconsin Canoe Heritage Museum - http://www.wisconsincanoeheritagemuseum.org/
Canadian Science and Technology Museum - www.sciencetech.technomuses.ca/
Museum of Anthropology at University of British Columbia - www.moa.ubc.ca/
Smithsonian National Museum of American History - www.americanhistory.si.edu/
American Museum of Natural history - www.amnh.org/visitors
Burke Museum, Seattle - www.washington.edu/burkemuseum/collections/ethnology/collections
arTok Museum Victoria (Australia) - www.abc.net.au/arts/artok/pasifika/default.htm
There are many other museums which will have interesting and culturally important canoes and kayaks within their collections. Spend some time browsing, exploring and enjoying them.
It is also important to be out on the water enjoying nature and having fun with others, such as my fellow members of the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association at our Annual Assembly, or the folks from the Canadian Canoe Museum doing promotional shows and exhibits. And, then, there's the simple enjoyment of a sunny day in Florida, away from Canadian snow storms!
Fond memories of the day I was visited by 'Canadian Pickers' Sheldon Smithens and Scott Cozzens; here we concluded a deal for kayaks, a Mettlach stein and an old saddle bench. Great fun!!