history tidbit?


Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes
I was just reading The Backwoods of Canada. The book is basically the diary entries of Catharine Parr an upper-middle class settler in the Peterborough area circa 1830. While the book contains a few gems on birch bark canoes, I did find one point curious. In the book Parr describes a water lily using the colloquialism “queen of the lake.” It seem interesting that Peterborough Canoes named one of the higher end models “Lake Queen,” possibly in reference to the water lily and the corresponding slang?
Hello Robert. Actually the Lakequeen was Peterborough's low end model and had 3" rib spacing as opposed to the normal 2".

Here's the details..................



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Well I guess that throws my comparison off a little bit! Yet does anyone have any other ideas on the source of the name?

Thanks though for the clarification. The last Lake Queen I saw looked damn fine so I assumed it was a higher end model.

As a secondary thought: Is anyone around here interested in the socio-political history of canoes as well as the nails and tacks? For example, the representation of nature exhibited within canoes. Or the process of mimesis and alterity that took place during the transition between native design and colonial construction?

Yes, I am interested in other historical aspects of canoes besides nails and tacks. The "socio-political history" is not an area that I have researched as much as the transition from native design to later contruction techniques. Tell us more!

Hey Benson:

Being new to canoe restoration I really only started to think about it recently. I am currently working on a Champlain high end, however, while restoring this canoe I started to think about Champlain the man and comparing this to decidedly native lines of the canoe itself. I my mind there is a huge contrast between these two representations.

Champlain the man is one of history’s tricky characters. As much as he is revered for his cartography and exploration, there is also a history of native domination, the exploitation of traditional knowledge, and in general, the exploration of lands intended for exploitation (resource extraction under a capitalistic economy).

As much as we here (in this form and myself included), romanticize the canoe in our homage’s of this craft I can’t help but think we are also preserving a very dangerous colonial tool. Canoes that pay tribute to this long history of colonial power and native domination.

While I understand this is difficult to think about and it challenges the way we think about canoes, I wonder if it wouldn’t be useful to also understand the violence embedded within our canoes, if only to come to a deeper appreciation of our past and the values there in.
From Apsley...

Hey Robert,
I enjoyed reading your posts and I clicked on your member name to find out more about you and was really surprised to find you hail from Apsley, Ont... I used to work at Wagar's Pine Point in the early 50's and consider Jack Lake to be one of my most favorite places in the world. Lots of great memories. Of course, when I was going there, the lake road was a two rut single lane with bunches of logs laid across the blueberry patches so you wouldn't sink getting to the lake. Not quite the same as today...
CYA, Joe
Hey Woodchuck:

Well I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I have been readings the forums and biting my lip thinking about this. I am actually in the process of sketching these ideas out in full. I would like to use this canoe (the Peterborough Champlain) as a site of investigation. Contrasting the ideas of Champlain the man against the Anisinabe social and spiritual understanding of the canoe. However, it’s hard to find a good source of information the Anisinabe. I’m thinking I might go speak to a few people in the Department of Native Studies at Trent University in Peterborough. If anyone knows of any good books on the native understanding of canoes in cultural, social or spiritual terms I would be much obliged.

As for the Jack’s Lake, Apsley thing, you are very right these "times, they are a changing...” The economy is stronger, however, for those that live off tourist dollars it’s a bitter sweet way to make a buck.

Don't forget to check out the Peterborough Canoe Museum... If I recall, they have a books/history section that might be a starting place...
Good Luck, Joe
You might want to look up Craig Macdonald (who is a Ranger in Algonquin Park) in Dwight. He has researched Anisnabe language, culture, history for about 25 years. He reportedly speaks Ansinabe. Craig has compiled and published a large map of the Temagami area with all the traditional native names. He also makes gear (wanigans, wall tents, sleds, etc.), so may well have thought a fair bit about related changes in material culture.
robert said:
As much as we here (in this form and myself included), romanticize the canoe in our homage’s of this craft I can’t help but think we are also preserving a very dangerous colonial tool. Canoes that pay tribute to this long history of colonial power and native domination.

While I understand this is difficult to think about and it challenges the way we think about canoes, I wonder if it wouldn’t be useful to also understand the violence embedded within our canoes, if only to come to a deeper appreciation of our past and the values there in.

I'm having a hard enough time getting my head around the actual history of the canoe and the companies that built them to have even considered what may be embedded in it, if anything.

When it comes to model names you would have to consider the mind set back when they were decided upon, which would be more than 60 years ago. You would probably have to go back further than that.
The people who decided on the names more than likely formed their opinions of Champlain, if they had one, when they were in school based on the text books of the day and how he was percieved in history at that particular point in time.
To me that would be akin to chasing a wisp of smoke........
Personally I only look at the names as marketing tools and nothing more. From what I've been able to learn about the old companies over in Canada they were in business for one reason only. To make money.

Robert, if you come up with some "hidden agenda," then or now, please pass it along as I would be very interested in what you found........ :cool:

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I should think a starting point would be the assertion that Champlain didn’t discover anything or travel anywhere his guides with their canoes didn’t already know about. In other words native American cartography is what Champlain appropriated. Much as with the much-overrated accomplishments of the Corps of Discovery of Lewis and Clark, Champlain would have gotten nowhere without his Native American taxi, the canoe.

As for violence embedded in the canoe, the violence went in many directions and took many forms. Native Americans were not averse to warring upon one another. And toward Native Americans, the Europeans most deadly weapon was in their blood stream: diseases to which they were not immune likely killed more Native Americans than any other cause.

Champlain created what seemed to be a French model for exploitation of the New World: the creation of trading “partnerships” with Native Americans who could deliver the beaver and other goods for export to Europe. One could argue that, compared, to the Spanish approach to discovering and using the New World, as evidenced in South and Central America, and what became the American southwest, the French model was relatively benevolent. That, for climactic and other reasons, not many French were interested in migrating to Canada, may be a mitigating factor.

In their favor, the Spanish reintroduced to the North American continent, the horse, which transformed the lives of many tribes that had once lived east of Mississippi, enabling them to survive in Great Plains between the Rockies and that river. What violence, though, was embedded in that transference of a way of getting around, I don’t know.

You might enjoy a book I am re-reading, One Vast Winter Count, by Colin Calloway. By weird coincidence I read this post and then started up where I left off in the book , a section on Champlain and a paragraph on the Anishanabe. A footnote references an article, “The Anishinabeg Point of View: The History of the Great Lakes Region to 1800,” by Peter MacLeod, Canadian Historical Review 73, (1993).

I’ve enjoyed David Gidmark’s books too.

Hey Jack:

Finally the response I was expecting! I’m glad you raised this point Jack because it touches on an underlining theme to all this, the process of human understanding and interpretation.

Using the example of canoe names lets take our discussion a little further. Although it should be noted that this process of elucidation could be applied to anything, whether it be the naming of a boat or the lines of that boat.

I would whole-heartedly agree that names are used to sell boats, however, they are also intended to capture a certain essence. Not surprisingly some of my favorites are the more questionable names like the Champlain, Big Chief, or Indian Girl.

All told, one of my favorites is Dick Presson’s “Grey Owl.” In my mind its an absolutely genius name. Not only does it pay homage to the idea or representation of Grey Owl in Canadian history but also the idea of becoming native. Grey Owl, a.k.a Archie Belanie, was a white man of British decent. As a child he was obsessed with native culture. On coming to Canada he in fact became native by adopting various cultural and social practices and also by marrying a native women. In turn Grey Owl became a very popular public speaker and was generally understood as a noble savage.
To me the name of Dick’s canoe implies that I too could be come native, become in tune with the land if I owned this canoe.

Furthermore, this idea of becoming nature has had allot of currency in Western Culture. As far as I can tell it started with the American Transcendentalists, in particular Henry Thoreau and Emerson. Recall if you will, Thoreau’s essay “Walking” where he states that Western culture needs “some cedar vita in [their] tea.”

However, what this shows is that a name is not just a name, not a mere marketing tool. It evokes a series of very enticing concepts. If, and how we respond to these concepts is a matter of individual preference. However, when a representation, for instance the representation of Peterborough’s Champlain, is very popular, I would think that the representation in question is effective. This is to say, the name worked to touch the minds of the people and thus they subscribed to this particular vision of “Champlain.” As such I think it is possible, by looking into the social climate of the time to see how this representation of Champlain was understood and what in fact the people where buying into.

You are very correct in saying that, given the time frame, ones interpretation of Champlain was probably a product of schoolbooks. Thus, Champlain was probably understood as a very heroic figure. Was Champlain a heroic figure or should we remember him as such? I know that Chaplin dropped his cartography tools in the Ottawa River, and then used the knowledge of Anisinabe guides to produce his maps from that point forward. Without, I might add, giving credit it the highly skilled knowledge of these native peoples. That is not heroic in my mind. This is not to mention the numerous other horrid colonial characteristics of the man.

What we are dealing with is a miss-representation. A miss-representation that is preserved in various cultural artifacts. One of which happens to be canoes.

Don’t get me wrong, I love canoes as much as anyone else on this forum and I am living proof that Jerry and Rollin where correct in saying building canoes “…will ruin a man or women for any other work.” However, I think we are doing ourselves a huge injustice by buying into old and outdated cultural representations. I wouldn’t change a thing. I think these names and canoes should be preserved, yet, I think we should take into our hearts what we are truly preserving. It may be troubling, it may be humbling and it will surely call into question our own motivation and ourselves; however, in doing so I think we come to terms with a more accurate historical representation and in turn create a deeper appreciation for not only the craft, but for how and why we preserve cultural artifacts.

Am I searching for some hidden agenda that will expose the evil intensions of canoes builders across North America? Of course not; yet we do have the privilege of the historical record to reflect on. History is made in the future not in the past. That is to say, we have the good fortune to look back on the past with impartial eyes and see history for what it was. So why wouldn’t we do this? Why would we treat any history as finished and done when we have the opportunity to re-articulate it faithfully and to the best of our knowledge?

So thanks Jack for your critique, it was and is very appreciated. My apologies and thanks for those of you who actually read this whole thing!

It would be interesting to here from Dick, possibly to tell us why he chose the name for the Grey Owl, or possibly from Mark Reuten. If I’m correct Mark has had some experience learning directly form native peoples in B.C., so possibly he could tell us his feeling on the process of learning and then reproducing a skill that is centuries old.

Rob and Larry:

Thanks for the resources; I will be sure to check them out. Sorry Larry I would have paid homage the issues you raised in your post, however I didn’t see it until after my previous post. I’m think I’m tired of typing for today so I leave it at that.

robert said:
To me the name of Dick’s canoe implies that I too could be come native, become in tune with the land if I owned this canoe.

On the other hand, if we were talking about a Grey Owl model shortly after Archie died on April 13, 1938, some would have immediately thought of a fake, or con man..........

Archie was raked over the coals in the public press, which I consider a shame really. At that time many looked at the messenger and not the message he was trying to convey.

Back to the Champlain model, the Low End to be precise. A person could have purchased a Chestnut canoe with exactly the same lines that carried the name, Moonlight. Same lines, different mental image??

Robert, I'll be passing through Apsley within the week, probably Sunday or Monday. I have stops in both Gooderham and Bancroft on my way down to Lakefield. Up for a short visit?

Here's an image for you Robert. It's from the 1930's.

In all of the many catalogues and old ad's that I have none seem to play on the name of the model, only the attributes which would make it desirable for it's intended use.......



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Given Peterborough's tendancy to name pleasure canoes after bodies of water (e.g. Otonabee, Rideau, Trent, Severn, etc.), it would suggest the Champlain model was named after the lake rather than the man, and perhaps you are reading too much into it...

Now, Chestnut's references to South Africa is a different story...
Guys, Guys, Guys,

My this is deep, especially for this early in the morning. :)

And here I thought canoes were for; work'in on, paddl'in in, and most important, fishing out of. :)

I agree, Dan. Sometimes a canoe is just a canoe.

"Furthermore, this idea of becoming nature has had allot of currency in Western Culture. As far as I can tell it started with the American Transcendentalists, in particular Henry Thoreau and Emerson."

My interpretation differs. The meaning of Thoreau is not so much man "becoming nature" as man become wholly alienated from it. The implication of Thoreau's idea that nature embodies a "higher law" is that any practical or purposeful use of nature is "base and coarse." For more discussion, see my essay at

Our sentimental notion of the canoe derives from the equally influential Parkman, Thoreau's contemporary. As Parkman introduced his readers to "the history of the American forest" he presented the historical actors of the former French dominion as rising "from their graves in strange romantic guise" and, to some degree, Parkman himself idealized Champlain as the heroic champion of French feudalism in the New World, "the domain France conquered for civilization."

From the drift of these posts, it seems that Champlain has fallen into disgrace without any interval of impartial consideration. Once appreciated as the civilizing hero of New France, he is now the perpetrator of villianous exploitative colonialism; once an improver of uncivilized nature, now a disturber of Thoreauvian primeval perfection.

What has changed? Not Champlain. Not history, unless our naive view of modernity leads us to believe ourselves capable of ever-increasing impartiality. Here's the conceit underlying Robert's views: someone else's representation of "Champlain as hero" is "dangerous" but his view of "Champlain as exploiter" is "impartial." We have gained our sentimental illusions of the primeval at the expense of the value of our civilization.
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Hey Larry:

Unfortunately I’m stuck In Toronto right now. I do Grad work at York Universities Faculty of Environmental Studies and between marking and writing papers of my own spring tends to be the busy season.

That would be great to chat in person though, if you are back in the area between late May – yearly October let me know, I’m in Apsley doing research and writing during that period.

You’re right about the ads as well. Most I have seen are fairly benign. The one you posted however is not. That is some great imagery to work with. It basically shows everything is was talking about – becoming native – representations of nature and so forth. The better part is that the native paddler and his canoe are spirits! It makes it seem as if the company is faithfully reproducing (with native approval) the canoe and the paddlers are continuing a long native heritage.

I was thinking the same thing about “Grey Owl” as well. It’s a wonderful irony imbedded in the name. I actually think that makes it a smarter name because it also represents the truth of all this. That the cultural artifact will never make you native will never lend itself or you to some deep spiritual connection with the land. However, because I used the name in reference to Dick’s work, I didn’t want to put words in his mouth or take it that extra step.

You are right about the fate of Grey Owl; I hope the fall of Archie is played down as history passes. On this note have you ever looked at Armand Garnet Ruffo’s “Grey Owl: The Mystery of Archie Belaney?” Ruffo is an Ojibway poet, so he uses his own reflections on Grey Owl the man against the historical interpretation of Grey Owl to create the book. Ruffo’s uncle was also a friend of Archie’s so in the end you get to understand Grey Owl as a person opposed to an ideology of Grey Owl.

In response to Dan:

That a very good point, I had never thought of that. So your experience is greatly appreciated. I don’t think we should assume that a river is free of value though. Rivers are one of those rich sites of social construction. This is to say, although value free by nature, the human race has a tendency to push meaning on to them, thus creating a social construction that is re-articulated by later generations.

This is something I think fly fisherman are very accustomed to. In Hemmingway’s “The Big Two-Hearted River” the author sees this river as a representation of life and death. Although, off topic hopefully this will furnish my point a little more.

Taking this into consideration I would have to think on how we understand Champlain Lake as well. However, I have never seen Lake Champlain so I’m at a loss.

More so, I don’t totally concern myself with the intentions of the creator/crafts person/artist per say. I think the strength of these representations is the fact they hide beyond our normal day thinking. When we look at a representation I don’t think we fully comprehend what we are seeing, but we feel what we are seeing.

Art historians will spend days looking at a painting. While they can’t tell you what they are looking at or what the painting means, they can tell you, after a considerable length, the emotion or feeling that the work of art has had on them. As such, the way we understand representations seems to work on a pre-cognitive level.

Furthermore, the creator of an artifact never has control over the representation she or he created. Society has the final say when it comes to interpretation. As such artifacts gain meaning in society. Representations that are popular spread like wildfire. The representation and the imagery imbedded there in, passed on over the years; even more so when they have some form of utility, as is the case here. That’s what makes representations dangerous.

Also, what is this about Chestnut and South Africa? Are you just pulling my chain?

Dan Lindberg has also made a good point.

This is all pretty heavy. However if you enjoy heavy I will recommend a good book: William Cronon’s “Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature.” It’s basically a collection of essays put together by Cronon with the intension of addressing the history of nature representations, and the modern politics involved in this. Some of you may be familiar with Cronon’s other work, for instance “Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists and the Ecology of New England.” Cronon is in the process of becoming a treasured American historian if he is not already.
Hey Mike:

So scathing; that’s good to see. I wasn’t really expecting a backlash from a postmodern faction in the forum. You are very right; I have made grave error in juxtaposing one notion of Champlain against another. However, I felt it best to introduce the topic as such. A lot of people aren’t comfortable with grey area.

I’m a fan of anyone that is attempting to break down the binaries that exit between nature and culture or natural environments vs. built environments. I agree with your thoughts on Thoreau, the works stands as a testament to one mans removal from nature. In trying to defeat this alienation he used the idea of becoming a natural man, ie. the idea of the noble savage or forms of primitivism. These ideas are continued today and represented in a variety forms. One of which is canoes.

By no means would I say my words are impartial. They are completely partial, as are your words. Although I positioned this conversation in such a way to involve Champlain, the man and the canoe where only intended as a locus of discusion. I am in no way trying to forward one opinion of the man against the other. I championed the idea of Champlain as a malevolent figure only to display the multiplicity of interpretations embedded in the artifact and to draw controversy. (Controversy spurs discussion)

What I fear is reduction. Say for example, the idea of a canoe as a romantic from of primitivism or the idea that “sometimes a canoe is just a canoe.” These forms of reduction completely undermine the complexity of lived experience and our interaction with the world natural or otherwise.