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Canadian Canoe Museum celebrates new lakeside location in Peterborough, Ont.

The newly located Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough, Ont., opens to visitors on Monday, showcasing its record collection of paddled watercraft.

On Saturday, dignitaries, supporters and donors gathered to hold a grand opening of the museum now on Ashburnham Drive on shore of Little Lake. The museum relocated from a cramped and aging building on Monaghan Road where it had been between 1997 until it closed in September 2022. The building was formerly an Outboard Marine Corp. factory that closed in 1990.

The new museum boasts more than 600 watercraft, 500 paddles, hundreds of other artifacts and more inside the 65,000-square-foot building.

Outside, the museum features canoe and kayak launches onto Little Lake, two docks, and an area for outdoor education.

An emotional museum executive director Carolyn Hyslop says the goal was to build “a home” for the canoes, people and “for the story.”

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“Oh my goodness, I think we’ve done it,” she said to a rousing applause.

“We made it happen. We are in the most exquisite facility that couldn’t be more better,” she said. “And this is where we’re going to spend many, many more years. This is the beginning of the next chapter and I can’t wait to get started with everybody.”

Hyslop noted the $45-million project has been fully funded thanks to donors and all levels of government, led by $10 million federally. Among the biggest private donations was one from the W. Garfield Weston Foundation, which contributed $7.5 million in 2018.

Construction began in the fall of October 2021. However, Hyslop notes the project hit multiple obstacles, mainly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused delays in construction industry supply chains and impacted labour availability.

Among dignitaries who spoke during the opening ceremony was Peterborough Mayor Jeff Leal. He said the city is the ideal home for the museum, noting the “iconic” Peterborough Canoe Company, which built wooden canoes from 1892 to 1961.

He said that when it was clear the museum needed a new home, supporters across Canada “leapt” into action and “made this remarkable dream come true.”

“Their dedication and excellence and their unwavering belief in the power of storytelling, have transformed this vision into a world-class destination,” he said. ‘This museum stands as a testament to collaboration between our partners and we recognize the importance of preserving our shared histories for generations to come.”

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He added that the museum reaffirms the commitment to preserving and sharing stories of Indigenous peoples, early settlers and modern-day adventurers.

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“The museum will serve as a cultural hub, a place of learning, a source of inspiration for all those who walk through its doors,” he said.

In a video message, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau congratulated the museum staff on its reopening, noting their work is “something very close to his heart.”

Trudeau relayed memories of canoeing on Harrington Lake with his father, former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau. The birchbark canoe now resides as an artifact in the new museum.

“And I’m grateful that you are taking such good care of it,” Trudeau said.

The prime minister said the canoe is a symbol of the country’s Indigenous heritage and culture and a “very real part of our country’s identity.”

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“My Dad used to say canoeing is a demanding expedition — it takes effort, strength and perseverance,” Trudeau said. “But for the way it connects you with nature and the world, it is surely the most rewarding.”

Recently National Geographic highlighted the museum as of one of the 20 best cultural spots in the world as part of its “Best of the World 2024 guide.”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford in a video message also congratulated the museum and recalled his family friend Kirk Wipper, who helped found the museum. Wipper died in 2011.

“He had a passion for this, and I know he’s looking down on us today and he’s just so proud,” Ford said. “And there is no doubt that canoes are a big part of Ontario’s history and Canada’s history. I know this museum is going to be a hub of inspiration and knowledge for everyone who walks through its doors.”

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Ontario Lt.-Gov. Edith Dumont, who paddled on Little Lake prior to the ceremony, said it was a “long portage” to relocate the museum.

“I think everyone will agree that this stunning facility has made the journey worthwhile,” Dumont said. “The history of the canoe intersects with many different histories, first and foremost, the history of the Indigenous peoples who invented it and continue to guide its evolution.”

Curve Lake First Nation Chief Keith Knott said the canoe is a symbolize of the past that must be preserved.

“Learn about the canoes, learn about the history, you learn about life by looking at the canoes,” he said. “That is life, it lived. We’ve got to keep it living forever, so that our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, the unborn, can come to this facility and look and see the history that’s within.”

Margaret Froh, Métis Nation of Ontario president, also relished her day on the water. She echoed Knott’s sentiment, calling the canoe an “enduring symbol” of Canada’s history.

She said the museum will play a major role in the “storytelling” of Canada, noting the ongoing work of reconciliation with First Nations and Métis.

“At a time when some seek to render us once again invisible, denying our stories of struggles and loss, denying the lasting legacy of colonial policies — like residential schools and ’60s Scoop — and their impact on our communties still to this day,” she said.

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“And sometimes even for some of us, denying our very existence as a peoples, places like this really matter. Storytelling really matters.”

Admission to the museum is $20 for adults, $18 for seniors, $15 for youth ages five to 17 and free for ages five and under. Hours of operation are Monday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (extended to 8 p.m. on Thursdays). Tours, workshops and summer paddle camps will also be available.

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