Sunday, October 30, 2022

Visit to the Peterborough Archives & Historic Walking Tour

This passed weekend, I attended a long planned event with the Northern Lakes Chapter of the WCHA. The day long activities included a visit to the Peterborough Museum & Archives. Nine members from all over the province made the trip including as far away as Renfrew, Belleville and Hamilton. The group was treated to a fantastic private  tour of the facility led by Archivist, Jon Oldham. The huge curatorial storage centre was filled to the ceilings with fantastic objects that were accessible for view and study.


Of particular interest to our group was the collection of full-sized and model canoes. The storage area showcased rare wooden canoes all built with various construction methods. Samples included a rare Strickland, Stephenson, Gordon and Peterborough Canoe Co models. A mid-19th century transitional style birchbark canoe was also on display. Members were able to photograph and get close up to compare building techniques, hull design, wood types and other neat features. 





Also featured was a rare surviving dugout canoe that was fished out of nearby Pigeon Lake in 1970. Recent radiocarbon testing reveals it was made between 1732 to 1807, a time-frame that predates European settlement to the region.


The Archivist also brought out a beautifully preserved, longitudinal strip model to assist in the comparison with full-sized hulls.


The collection also includes numerous canoe accessories, including a lovely full-sized birdseye maple paddle and numerous factory sample miniature paddles mostly from Peterborough Canoe Co. These all had various incarnations of the PCC company logo which have proven useful as a tool for dating various items during the PCC's long history from 1893 to 1961.




After the storage tour, various archival materials including company catalogues, paper records and other ephemera were laid in for further perusal. The Archivist also prepared a digital slideshow featuring a small sample of the facilities vast photographic collection.



A full list of canoe-related items available in the collection has been made available to the group. That list is available for download (*.pdf format) at this link HERE.

After a delicious lunch at the nearby Ashburnham Alehouse down the street, the group began the second portion of our day, a guided historic walking tour of Peterborough to examine and locate the historic sites of the city's once thriving canoe building industry. We were led by the extremely knowledgeable local resident, Ken Brown, author of 2011 publication, The Canadian Canoe Company & the early Peterborough canoe factories


Ken organized a methodical tour  beginning with an historic map in the lobby of the Ashburnham Alehouse. The group was able to visualize the large swaths of land which once occupied the industrialized heart of the town. Now much of this area has been turned into recreational parkland. 


Our tour included stops on the east side of the Otonabee in what was once the village of Ashburnham. This included the location of the former millpond that has now been filled in to create a parking lot. This hydro power from this millpond created the early woodworking and machining industries which eventually transformed Peterborough into a world centre for canoe building. Using historical photos provided by Ken, the groups was able to locate and identify features such as location of mill foundations and the historical change in the river bank. 



Also part of the tour were stops at the still standing former homes of persons involved in the industry, including that of owner of the Ontario Canoe Co, James Z. Rogers. The OCC factory burned down in 1892 and Rogers did not have insurance. Financial difficulties in later years meant the businessman needed to move his family to more modest dwellings later in life.


We walked past the location of where the Ontario Canoe Co factories once stood before the catastrophic fire of 1892. Railways which once passed in front of the factory have now been converted to a walking / biking trail and a historical sign marks the spot.


After noting the local church where all the local businessmen and major players of the early canoe companies attended, we swung by Ken's home where he showcased a remarkable H.B. Rye paddle made on a patented paddle-making machine sometime after 1908. Rye owned a livery business just  downsteam of the town centre and made thousands of paddles on his automatic machine for the major companies between 1908 and 1943. I inquired if any photographs of this remarkable contraption are known to exist, but Ken has been unable to locate any in all his many years of research



Crossing an historic rail bridge to the west side of the Otonabee River, the group stopped to take a look at a parking lot now housing a grocery store. This was the spot for the 2nd location of the Canadian Canoe Co factory from 1904 - 1911. Historic photos provided a glimpse of how much has changed in the area with the brown brick building in the distance being one of the few surviving structures from the historic era.


Continuing our tour, members noted a relatively recent art installation featuring an inverted cedar canvas canoe mounted on a steel frame. The hull had been painted with artistic motifs. A beautiful maple deck actually sported a Chestnut Canoe Co decal and consensus of the hull dimensions led to the conclusion that it was a Bobs Special.


A highlight was visiting the sole remaining structure of the Peterborough Canoe Company which occupied the site from 1893 to 1957.  Here a small brick building once housed the offices of the PCC and is now a canoe-themed café. 


The faded remnants of a painted "Peterborough Canoe Co Ltd." sign are visible on the exterior brickwork which was very neat to see. 


An informational plaque has been added to wall explaining some of the building's significance. 

The tour continued with stops at the locations of William English Canoe factory on Charlotte street whose original buildings have now been replaced. Also included was a sad stop at the location of the former town office of the Ontario Canoe Co (from 1884-1892) and the location of the first Canadian Canoe Co factory from 1892-1904. The building had long ago been razed to create another parking lot.

Given that many of the buildings have been destroyed or heavily altered over time, Ken's historical photos were a fantastic visual tool. These have been made available as a viewable online album at the following link HERE.





1 comment:

seth godin said...

A fabulous post, and great photos too. Thank you.

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