Celebrating paddling traditions
The history of traditional watercraft is rich
and diverse. Long before the Europeans' arrival to the Western Hemisphere,
the canoe and the kayak were some of Canada's most important vessels.
Pre-contact, almost all groups of First Nations peoples across northern
North America used the canoe or the kayak in daily life because these
vessels were essential for their livelihood, travel and trade.
The use of the canoe and the kayak dictates
their design. In other words, they are vessels in which "form follows
function". This characteristic is represented in each of the unique
types of craft that were used across Canada: the closed deck kayaks
used in frigid waters of the North, the huge ocean-going dugouts used
on the West Coast, and the bark canoes used to navigate the great
lakes and rivers of the country. Local materials and local conditions
determined the form, while the skill and cultural traditions of the
builders contributed to the uniqueness of each craft. Historically,
canoes and kayaks were built for hunting, fishing, trade, transportation,
warfare, gifts and ceremonies.
Canadian Canoe Museum's logo reflects the Indigenous heritage
of the canoe. Canoe images have been recorded in dozens of
pictographs (rock paintings) around Ontario, dating back over
hundreds of years. The logo depicts an image from Pictured
Lake, south of Thunder Bay, Ontario.
© The Canadian Canoe Museum
These uses often required the paddlers of canoes and kayaks to possess
skills of strength and speed. Interestingly, these are the same skills
that are sought after in canoe racing. It is, thus, only natural that
the traditional forms of Indigenous watercrafts were useful in the
daily lives of the people, as well as in racing competitions. The
archival photographs found on these pages are evidence of the racing
traditions visible across northern North America.
Because northern North America is a unique land of lakes, rivers and
coasts, the canoe, in its variety of forms, is a resourceful response
to the environment. A canoe's form is indicative of the region from
which it originated. The region of origin dictates the type of water
in which the canoe is meant to be paddled, as well as the type of
materials that are available to construct the vessel. The resulting
variety of canoe forms are a response to the environment, the landscape
and the needs of the people.