National Maritime Museum Cornwall and one of the oldest, and most influential families, in Cornwall are working together to conserve possibly the oldest Birch Bark Canoe in existence.

Estimated to be over 250 years old, the canoe has been discovered on the Enys Estate near Penryn, housed in one of the Enys family’s barns. 


Laid to rest for a number of years, the canoe saw daylight for the first time in decades today when it was moved from its shed to its new temporary resting place at National Maritime Museum Cornwall. The Museum’s boat restoration and curatorial team lifted and transported this rare find to the Maritime Museum in Falmouth where she will be conserved, preserved and put on display to the public before being repatriated to Canada.

Andy Wyke, Boat Collections Manager says: “Moving the canoe is the beginning of a whole new journey back to Canada for this incredible find. For over 200 years, the canoe has belonged to the Enys family having been brought to Cornwall by Lt John Enys after his time fighting in the American War of Independence in 1776.

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. 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.”

Wendy Fowler, a descendent of the Enys family, whose records date back to the 13th century, called the Maritime Museum to request they look at the canoe lying in the Estate’s barn. She says: “The Estate is very special to us and holds many secrets but I believe this is the most interesting to date. The Maritime Museum are brilliantly ensuring and repatriating another element of our great family history and I’m most grateful that my great, great, great, great, great Uncle’s travels have led to such a major chapter of boating history being discovered in Cornwall.”

Captain George Hogg, Archivist and Trustee of the National Maritime Museum Cornwall, says: “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.”

Prior to her arrival at the Museum, the canoe was digitally recorded by the curatorial team and during the canoe’s time at the Museum, teams will be researching her history, conserving the remaining wood and preserving what’s left as well as preparing her for the trip back home and representing what she might have looked like over 250 years ago.

After September, the Native American canoe will be repatriated to Canada where the Canadian Canoe Museum will extend further research to see where the boat may have been built and by which tribe. Curators from the Canadian Museum are especially excited to receive this rare and unique part of their history as rarely do they have ‘live’ historic canoes of this far reaching history to help them reveal their own past.

The Birch Bark Canoe is planned to go on display, with supporting artefacts, in the Main Hall of National Maritime Museum Cornwall from late January to September 2011.

My favourite craft film ever is of 67 year old Cesar Newashish building a birch bark canoe, 57 minutes of pure woodworking bliss, simple tools and knowledge of materials to create something of great beauty and utility. view it free online here

Author Robin Wood

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