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Archive for the ‘Books about’ Category

You know how when you buy a particular marque or model of car you start to see them everywhere? A few years ago, wandering through ebay while avoiding a more important task, I came across some images of canoeing on romantic themes. I can’t recall now which one I saw first, but here’s a representative example.

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How charming, I thought. They’re courting in a canoe. I bought the first one I saw, and then I bought a few more, and soon the search expanded to sheet music and souvenirs too. Last year, while I was still working at the Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough, Ontario, I proposed the idea of an exhibit about canoes and romance. Because I left the museum for another job at the end of the year, I didn’t end up curating that show, though I did do a design concept for it.  I did agree to write the Gallery Guide for the exhibit, however.

These Gallery Guides are a project that I started at the Museum three years ago. The original idea was to publish some of the material that inevitably doesn’t make it into the finished exhibit and provide visitors with some more information that they can take home. The first Gallery Guide was about the Museum’s “It Wasn’t All Work” gallery and explored the topic of canoeing for pleasure. The next Guide in the series was published in 2013 and recounted the story of the Museum’s founding and its origin in the private canoe collection of Kirk Wipper. The third Gallery Guide, I’m proud to say, is my own. It was released when the exhibit it accompanies was opened on Wednesday, April 23rd.

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The collecting of the images and souvenirs was great fun (and continues to this day), and the writing was a lot of hard work, but it’s a great exhibit and I encourage you to drop in if you’re travelling through southern Ontario. It’s open now and will be up until next March. You can purchase a a copy from the Canadian Canoe Museum Store. The first (It Wasn’t All Work: Canoeing for Pleasure) and second (Becoming Kirk Wipper: The Story of the Museum’s Founder) Gallery Guides are also available from the store online.

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 The history of the canoe building companies that were a significant part of the economic life of Peterborough, Ontario, for more than one hundred years is as rich and tangled a story as you’re likely to find in Canadian business history. Invention, entrepreurship, patents, lawsuits, rivalries, mergers, acquisitions, bankruptcies and catastrophic fires: it’s a tale that has all this and more. It is also a complicated story, and those who are interested in canoeing history, Canadian history, Canadian business history and the story of how the city of Peterborough, Ontario came to be synonymous around the world with the canoe will have a much easier time figuring it out after they have read Peterborough author Ken Brown’s new book: The Canadian Canoe Company & the early Peterborough Canoe Factories.

This isn’t Brown’s first crack at the subject. In 2001, The Canadian Canoe Museum published published his book The Invention of the Board Canoe: the Peterborough stories from their sources, which compiled primary source material to explore competing claims for the origin of the Peterborough area’s unique wide-board method of canoe construction. This first book was a modest pamphlet, which did invaluable service in clarifying an important part of the local canoeing story. It wasn’t, however, a book that you would be likely to leave out on your coffee table, or give to anyone but the most hardened canoe-head as a Christmas or birthday present (don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a criticism. I’ve read and enjoyed and used it, and I’ll be forever grateful that he wrote it.) With the publication of this new volume, which has been more than fifteen years in the making, Brown has really raised the bar. Now we’re definitely in gift and coffee table territory, and several people I know will be getting one for Christmas.

Reading through this book and learning about the challenges that faced these entrepreurs as they developed their businesses, we are reminded that although the canoes they built are revered today for their craftsmanship, they were originally made in an un-romantic, hard-headed commercial environment. Brown has done an excellent job with the business history of this industry, not surprising considering that his working life was spent as a chartered accountant. This is an aspect of maritime history that is often neglected, and it is refreshing to see it treated in such detail. It also helps to bring the story out, for we see both the sucesses and the failures of these companies, both the good decisions and the bad.

The book is amply illustrated and visually sumptuous, and publisher Karen Taylor and graphic designer Louis Taylor have done a fine job bringing the story to life. The 16 pages of colour plates at the end are a real treat, as is the back inside cover, which identifies the sites of companies connected with Peterborough’s canoe industry from 1858-1961. This map is particularly valuable because few of these structures are still extant today and these industries which were such a prominent part of downtown Peterborough for so many years are now invisible.

Highly-recommended and just in time for Christmas, The Canadian Canoe Company & the early Peterborough Canoe Factories is available from Cover to Cover Publication Services and from The Canadian Canoe Museum, which also carries The Invention of the Board Canoe: The Peterborough stories from their sources.

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