This is the story of the canoe, that singular American artifact so little changed over time. Featured here are canoes old and new, from birch bark to dugout to carbon fiber; the people who made them; and the adventures they shared. With features of technology, industry, art, and survival, the canoe carries us deep into the natural and cultural history of North America.
Dr. Arpad Gerster, a prominent New York surgeon, vacationed with his family in the Adirondacks during the 1890s. Here, Gerster portages a Rushton pack canoe at Camp Oteetiwi, Big Island, Raquette Lake.
Railroad advertising, such as this 1920 poster by Walter L. Greene, attracted tourists to Lake Placid. An overnight train from New York City brought visitors, rested and fed, to the edge of the Adirondacks.
Prior to the development of hard-topped automobiles, it was a bit of a problem to travel with a canoe on a soft-top car. One solution, which limited the use of all of the car doors, was to strap the boat on side-saddle, such as this wood-and-canvas model.
The Nahanni River in Canada became famous—and a popular destination for whitewater canoe adventurers—after the 1950s publication of the book The Dangerous River by R. M. Patterson, a hair-raising account of a trip into the wilderness region earlier in the century.
The business of canoe liveries and outfitters in the lakes and rivers region of North America, including Ely, Minnesota, in 1958, allowed city dwellers to experience the joys of wilderness travel without actually owning a canoe.
Groups interested in preserving canoe country from development sprang up all over the continent. Canoes were often used as images of a free and quiet outdoors experience, including this poster with artwork by Francis Lee Jaques, ca. 1949.