250 year-old birch bark canoe in Cornish barn to be returned to Canada

Enys birch bark canoe sees daylight for the time in decades

The birch bark canoe on location on the Enys Estate A painting by historical artist John Buxton showing similar birch bark canoes as they would have been used over 200 years ago

Enys birch bark canoe sees daylight for the time in decades; the canoe on location on the Enys Estate; painting by historical artist John Buxton depicting similar birch bark canoes as they were 200 years ago

National Maritime Museum Cornwall curators are working to conserve what may be the oldest birch bark canoe in existence, before it is sent back to Canada.

For over 200 years, the canoe has belonged to the Enys family having been brought to Cornwall by Lt John Enys after he fought in the American War of Independence in 1776. It is estimated to be over 250 years old.

‘Lt Enys sailed from Falmouth in a packet ship to join his regiment in Canada to relieve the city of Quebec, which was under siege from the Americans,’ said NMMC boat collections manager Andy Wyke.  ‘He fought many military campaigns and toured the area for his personal interest – discovering this canoe along the way. It’s incredible to think its legacy has been resting in a barn in Cornwall all this time.’

The canoe has been kept near Penryn in an Enys Estate barn for many years but this week it was moved to the NMMC, where it will be conserved, preserved and put on show from late January until it is  repatriated to Canada in September.

The canoe came to light when Enys family descendent Wendy Fowler called the museum to request they look at the canoe lying in the Estate’s barn.

Captain George Hogg NMMC archivist and trustee said ‘When we received the call from the Enys family to identify their canoe in a shed we had no idea of the importance of the find. 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. This is a unique survival from the 18th century.’

Canadian Canoe Museum researchers hope to identify where the boat may have been built and by which tribe.

PS – Duckworks has an excellent post explaining how birch bark canoes are made.

8 thoughts on “250 year-old birch bark canoe in Cornish barn to be returned to Canada”

  1. Many of us reading this amazing story are intrigued by the question of how Lt. Enys got it from North America to Cornwall. How does one ship a birch canoe on an ocean voyage on a crowded 18th century war ship. Any thoughts?

  2. Lt Enys may not have travelled home by warship, is my thought.

    My guess is that he was likely to be a man with the funds and leisure if he toured Canada for his own interest, and could well have chosen to travel home in a more comfortable kind of vessel designed gto carry passengers and cargo.

    Gav

  3. Nice find, but why repatriate it? It's not as if we don't have enough canoes here in Canada. It would be nice for others to see. Are there no maritime museums in Britain?

    A lot of the items being repatriated worldwide are being sent back for the wrong reasons. I hope that this is not one of them ….

    1. Perhaps because it's an important relic for the native people of Canada? Perhaps because that's where the experts in these things are?

      I don't know the truth of this situation, but there clearly are good reasons as well as bad.

  4. We Canadians are looking forward to the repatriation of such wonderful specimen. Bircbark canoes are notoriously brittle, so to find one in such great condition is truly remarkable.

    The Canoe museum in Peterborough has the largest collection of North American made canoes in the world. I can't think of a better home!

  5. I wrote about this on my blog http://greenwood-carving.blogspot.com/
    and Henri Vaillancourt filled in some of the detail.

    Henri Vaillancourt said…

    When George Hogg contacted me last february about what I might be able to tell them about an old canoe they had found, my jaw dropped when I saw the pics he sent. The canoe, while clearly identifiable as to tribal type, showed many features that had largely disappeared on canoes in the 19th century , but were corroborated by pictoral and written descriptions of the time period.The canoe's value to research was immense and I impressed upon Mr.Hogg that it be preserved at all costs.After many emails back and forth [ I was asked to write the Enys family at one point in support of getting it to a museum on this side ]the stage was set for its donation to the Canadian Museum. This is truly a happy ending for a valuable piece of material culture that might have been otherwise lost.Hats off to the Enys family for their generosity and to the Maritime Museum for their interest in making this available for future study

  6. In my conversations with George Hogg last february concerning a proper home for this canoe, he said their museum just didn't have the facilities for it's proper preservation and he further felt that it would truly be better appreciated on this side of the Atlantic. He asked me what I might recommend for a museum and I felt either the Canadian Canoe museum or the Mariner's Museum in Newport News, with a stronger preference for the former as this canoe was rather damaged, and canoes were the sole focus of the Canadian museum. A few years back I was able to persuade an owner of an extremely rare Cree ''crooked canoe'' to donate that canoe to the Mariner's Museum but that canoe was perfectly intact and pristine , making for an ideal display specimen

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