World's oldest canoe to go back to Canada after National Maritime Museum rescues it

By Culture24 Staff | 09 December 2010
A photo of the wreckage of a boat in a shed
A shed on an estate belonging to the family of an 18th century soldier has yielded a boat experts believe may be one of the world's oldest canoes
A battered 18th century Native American boat believed to be the world’s oldest canoe has been lifted to the Maritime Museum in Falmouth in a daring restoration bid which could see it repatriated to Canada.

Curatorial experts at the National Maritime Museum in Cornwall gave the vessel daylight for the first time in decades by removing it from a shed on the Enys Estate in Penryn and transporting it to the nearby museum.

The estate belongs to the family of Lieutenant John Enys, a soldier who was part of a battle to save Canada from an American siege in the 1776 American War of Independence and discovered the canoe while travelling during breaks from his regiment.
“Moving the canoe is the beginning of a whole new journey back to Canada for this incredible find,” said Andy Wyke, the Boat Collections Manager at the museum.

A photo of people moving a boat out of a shed
A conservation team from the museum moved the canoe out of the estate shed for the first time in decades
“For more than 200 years, the canoe has belonged to the Enys family. It’s incredible to think its legacy has been resting in a barn in Cornwall all this time.”

Wendy Fowler, a relative of Enys, reported the canoe to the Maritime Museum after consulting her personal records from the 13th century.
“The Estate is very special to us and holds many secrets, but I believe this is the most interesting to date,” she suggested.

“The grounds hold a host of wonders, but this really is very special. The Maritime Museum are brilliantly ensuring and repatriating another element of our great family history and I’m most grateful that John’s travels have led to such a major chapter of boating history being discovered in Cornwall.”

An image of a painting of Native Americans sailing a canoe
A painting showing similar birch bark canoes as they would have been used more than 200 years ago© John Buxton
Captain George Hogg, an Archivist at the Museum, admits staff had “no idea” how important the find was when Fowler called them.

“We knew we had something special, but having worked with the British Museum on the artefacts and the Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough, Ontario, we now believe that this is one of the world’s oldest Birch Bark Canoes,” he revealed.

“This is a unique survival from the 18th century.”
A team of investigators will conserve the wood, research the history and recreate the original look of the canoe before it heads to the Canadian Canoe Museum in September 2011, where curators say they are “especially excited” to see it.

Organisers in Falmouth are hoping to put the canoe on display in the Main Hall of the museum by the end of January.
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