Gathering model canoes began as an off-shoot from my hobby of collecting vintage hunting decoys. I first fell in love with canoes as a boy of 9 at summer camp, but my actual canoe collecting activities came much later in life when I found a 150-year-old kayak model, followed closely by a 1920's-era 'trading post' quill-decorated birch bark souvenir canoe. That small beginning grew into 160-plus Indigenous items from around the globe, about 1/3rd of them from Oceania. What an education in cultural variations, as seen through their different building styles and traditions. Along the way, I progressed from Eastern Woodland birch bark examples, Arctic kayaks and Northwest Coast dugouts, to those from Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Pacific. These days, the Internet makes it easy to become an international collector; in previous times, collectors often had to personally travel great distances to find things, then carry them home.
Shown below are examples of many of the pieces I have found along my collecting journey.
In the midst of this searching and collecting, I became very intrigued by commercial canoe-making developments, particularly in North America, where early European settlers incorporated the features of local Native-made craft into their 'carpentered' all-wood and later wood-canvas canoes. Exciting innovations took place in Peterborough, ON, in the 1850's, and in New England/New York about 30 years later. A number of these builders turned out 'display samples' or small canoes, often erroneously referred to as 'salesman's samples'. I was captivated by these very scarce items, and researched them deeply in an effort to learn more, since very little information was publicly available. Few were ever made (or have been found) by Canadian factories; somewhat greater numbers are known and seen in the US, especially by two major firms - Old Town and Kennebec.
As it turned out, I had to make a choice - Native-made or factory - for reasons of both space and financial resources; I chose to concentrate on the latter. My large Indigenous model collection - some items very old and rare - went to new homes in several museums and to a number of fellow model canoe aficionados. Today, only a handful of early Indigenous items remain with me alongside a dozen of the finest, early North American canoe factory 'display' pieces known. Locating, and then acquiring these historic items has not always been an easy task. I have benefited equally from the many delightful encounters with folks I have met. This factory sample collection is currently on long-term loan to, and exhibited at, the Canadian Canoe Museum, Peterborough, ON. Photos can be seen on the 'Display Samples' page which follows.