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Canoe love

Canadian Canoe Museum explores the link between paddling and romance
  • Jun 30, 2015
  • 1,530 words
  • 7 minutes
Photo courtesy the Canadian Canoe Museum
Photo courtesy the Canadian Canoe Museum
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“A Canadian is someone who knows how to make love in a canoe.”
-Pierre Berton

Berton’s famous quote has been oft-repeated, but is it really something most Canadians can relate to? Perhaps not in the literal sense, but canoes do seem to hold a special romance that transcends a racy balancing act.

From Boston’s “courting canoes” to summertime canoedling at Toronto Island, the canoe is a vessel built for two.

Being in a canoe with someone is an intimate experience, says Jeremy Ward, curator of an exhibit called Can I Canoe You Up the River?  The Story of Paddling and Romance at The Canadian Canoe Museum.

“It’s not just romantic love,” says Ward, “the canoe connects them to something they love… being out on the landscape.”

Last year, the museum ran a month-long contest, seeking people’s #CanoeLove stories and images. Here are six of our favourite submissions.

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Tippy kissing

“Paddling Canadian solo on Grousehaven Lake one misty morning we completed a figure 8 pattern, meeting in the middle, we bent in towards each other for a kiss. Little did we know, our friend Rick was watching from shore and captured this photo of us which we’ll always treasure.”

– Tom Brandau

Photo: Rick Lalonde

Vintage canoedling

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“The picture below is of my grandparents, Francis Hayes and John Gick. This is only their second date! They went to my grandmother’s best friend’s cottage on the labour day long weekend of 1939, and heard news of the declaration of war while there.

My grandmother has no insight into whether this news had any impact on the rather early on canoe make out. They married six years later and had 5 children and 9 grandchildren, whom were raised with a love of canoes at the family cottage in St Donat Quebec. My grandfather has passed but my grandmother is still going strong at the ripe old age of 95! She really enjoyed the idea of this photo being part of a photo exhibit on canoes.”

– Charlotte Gick

Photo: courtesy Charlotte Gick

Anniversary paddle

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“On September 17th 2011, my Ray Kettlewell ottertail paddle plied the glassy waters of Lake of Bays as I soloed toward the cottage dock, packed with family, friends and my husband-to-be. The Indian summer sun was warm on my face and a lake breeze fluttered the white feathers on my wedding dress as my cedar strip canoe glided across the lake. A year earlier, my hubby had proposed on that same dock, at sunset. Ten years earlier, it was there that our love of each other, paddling and adventure began. Short paddles at the cottage had flowed into leading trips for summer camps in Muskoka and beyond. Soon, we were guiding Arctic river expeditions, together, under the midnight sun.

Back on the cottage dock, with the ceremony complete, we pushed off in the Langford cedar strip for our first paddle as a married couple. Now, wherever we are on September 17th, we take to the bow and stern seats to paddle on our anniversary and continue the flow of our journey together.”

– Chloe Vance

Photo: Mike Last

Camp love

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“My partner Brad and I met 8 years ago at YMCA Camp Wanakita, where we both participated in the intense month-long Student Counsellor training program. We were 15 years old. We made fast friends from our shared love of paddling, but didn’t confess our attraction for each other until many years later. We then taught the SC program at camp, leading numerous canoe trips, and passing on our passion for canoeing to a new generation of paddlers. We have now been dating for nearly 4 years, and our passion for paddling hasn’t faded. We canoe together (and fight over who will get to stern) at every opportunity. Here is a recent photo of us paddling on Lake WahWashKesh in September 2013 at sunset. We hope to paddle together for many more years to come.”

– Claire Webber

Photo: courtesy Claire Webber

Family tradition

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“35 years ago I was proposed to in a green fiberglass canoe in a quiet clean lake in northern Vancouver Island. My adventure began there over time in many canoes, many portages, and many magical moments. We eventually headed back to Muskoka, and my husband was given a 1937 cedar strip Peterborough Prospector to restore, and the next leg of our journey began. Such a beautiful canoe. We hugged the shoreline many an evening with our standard poodle Ben perched proudly and gracefully in the bow, after working on our dovetail log cabin. Many dreams were whispered whilst we glided softly across the lake watching the loons and the moon and each other.

Our daughter was on many a paddle and when she brought a fella home, he asked if he could take the “Dorothy” out for a paddle, and watching them across the lake as he proposed to our daughter, brought such hope and a rekindling of our love playing forward. Sadly Ben passed away and our canoe treks were so empty without him. My daughter wanted a Muskoka wedding, and my husband was eager to paddle his daughter in the finely decorated “Dorothy” to be wed on the dock of our uncle’s vintage cottage. Now, our blessed grandaughter has had her best nap so far in the “Dorothy” tied to the dock. There’s nothing like wood on the water, a canoe requires patience, teamwork or solitude, balance and whimsy, all important aspects in a loving lifetime relationship. We will continue to travel by canoe for a good while yet.”

– Bea Keeler

Photo: courtesy John Keeler

Relationship test

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“Canoes have been a big part of my relationship with my husband, Ray. When we met, I knew that to win his heart, I’d have to learn to love Ray and all of his paddling gear. Over the years, this has consisted of 3-6 canoes, at any given time, kayaks, endless amounts of camping gear and at least 20 paddles between the two of us – although this number continues to grow as Ray handcrafts his own paddles now. As a former canoe guide in Atikokan, Ontario, canoeing ran deep in Ray’s history.

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After just a month of dating, Ray took me on a canoe trip to make sure I could ‘hack’ it in the wilderness. Passing this relationship test was a deal breaker. As an avid camper myself, I saw this was a romantic trip for two and was happy to have time with Ray, out on the water. For our first Christmas together, Ray showed his love for me by buying me something more precious to him than jewelry – he bought me a canoe paddle! Over the past 5 years, many of our ‘big’ gifts to one another have been canoe related – paddles, gear etc. As a note, we’ve been to the Canoe Museum twice on ‘dates’ throughout our relationship.

When we moved in together, a stipulation for our house was that we had enough room to store our canoes. As it turned out, what we thought was enough storage at the time, was clearly not enough. As our ‘fleet’ of boats grew, so did our deck (we renovated) to make more outdoor storage underneath. Soon after this, Ray and I decided to get a dog – the essential canoe companion. We decided on a Bernese Mountain Dog whom we named Swift after the canoe company. It was important that we also had to introduce her to canoeing, so when she was only a few months old when she went on her first canoe trip to the Poker Lakes. She’s been on several more since then and is a great canoe dog.

When Ray proposed, his plan was to do so on a canoe trip; however, severe weather changed his plans and he proposed atop Lookout Trail in Algonquin Park. As I planned our wedding, Ray was very relaxed about the choices I made; however, it was very important to him to include canoes in our day. While we toiled with the idea of getting married in a canoe, we opted not to as we had concerns that some of our elderly guests would not be able to get to an appropriate location for this. Instead, we got married on a much bigger boat – the Island Princess in Orillia, and took our wedding photos on Lake Couchiching, in the canoe. Ray accessorised on our wedding day with canoe cufflinks and our favours to our groomsmen were also personalized canoe paddles. Ray also made not one, but two sets of custom paddles for our wedding day. One set to paddle with (and for pictures) and the other set as our guestbook.

Canoeing continues to be important to us as our family vacations consist of primarily of canoe trips. We look forward to sharing our love of canoes when we have kids someday, but for now, our canoe is built for two…and sometimes a big, furry dog!” – Jenn and Ray McCullough

Photos: courtesy Jenn and Ray McCullough


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