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.