CANOE (from Carib. canáoa, the West Indian name found in use by Columbus; the Fr. canot, boat, and Ger. Kahn, are derived from the Lat. canna, reed, vessel), a sort of general term for a boat sharp at both ends, originally designed for propulsion by one or more paddles (not oars) held without a fixed fulcrum, the paddler facing the bow. As the historical native name for certain types of boat used by savages, it is applied in such cases to those which, like other boats, are open within from end to end, and the modern “Canadian canoe” preserves this sense; but a more specific usage of the name is for such craft as differ essentially from open boats by being covered in with a deck, except for a “well” where the paddler sits. Modern developments are the cruising canoe, combining the use of paddle and sails, and the racing canoe, equipped with sails only.
The primitive canoes were light frames of wood over which skins (as in the Eskimo canoe) or the bark of trees (as in the North American lndians’ birch-bark canoe) were tightly stretched. The modern painted canvas canoe, built on Indian lines, was a natural development of this idea. The Indian also used, and the African still uses, the “dug-out,” made from a tree hollowed by fire after the manner of Robinson Crusoe. Many of these are of considerable size and carrying capacity; one in the New York Natural History Museum from Queen Charlotte’s Island is 63 ft. long, 8 ft. 3 in. wide, and 5 ft. deep, cut from a single log. The “war canoe” of paddling races is its modern successor. In the islands of the Pacific primitive canoes are wonderfully handled by the natives, who make long sea voyages in them, often stiffening them by attaching another hull (see Catamaran).
In the earlier part of the 19th century, what was known as a “canoe” in England was the short covered-in craft, with a “well” for the paddler to sit in, which was popularly used for short river practice; and this type still survives. But the sport of canoeing in any real sense dates from 1865, when John MacGregor (q.v.) designed the canoe “Rob Roy” for long journeys by water, using both double-bladed paddle and sails, yet light enough (about 70 ℔) to be carried over land. The general type of this canoe is built of oak with a cedar deck; the length is from 12 ft. to 15 ft., the beam from 26 in. to 30 in., the depth 10 in. to 16 in. The paddle is 7 ft. long and 6 in. wide in the blade, the canoeist sits low in a cockpit, and in paddling dips the blades first on one side and then the other. The rig is generally yawl.
In 1866 the Royal Canoe Club was formed in England, and the prince of Wales (afterwards Edward VII.) became commodore. Its headquarters are at Kingston-on-Thames and it is still the leading organization. There is also the British Canoe Association, devoted to cruising. After the English canoes were seen in Paris at the Exhibition of 1867, others like them were built in France. Branches and clubs were formed also at the English universities, and in Liverpool, Hull, Edinburgh and Glasgow. The New York Canoe Club was founded in 1871. One member of the Royal Canoe Club crossed the English Channel in his canoe, another the Irish Channel from Scotland to Ireland, and many rivers were explored in inaccessible parts, like the Jordan, the Kishon, and the Abana and the Pharpar at Damascus, as well as the Lake Menzaleh in the Delta of the Nile, and the Lake of Galilee and Waters of Merom in Syria.
W. Baden Powell modified the type of the “Rob Roy” in the “Nautilus,” intended only for sailing. From this time the two kinds of pleasure canoe—paddling and sailing—parted company, and developed each on its own lines; the sailing canoe soon (1882) had a deck seat and tiller, a smaller and smaller cockpit, and a larger and larger sail area, with the consequent necessary air and water-tight bulkheads in the hull. Paul Butler of Lowell, Mass., added (1886) the sliding outrigger seat, allowing the canoeist to slide out to windward. The final stage is the racing machine pure and simple, seen in the exciting contests at the annual August meets of the American Canoe Association on the St Lawrence river, or at the more frequent race days of its constituent divisions, associated as Canadian (47 clubs), Atlantic (32 clubs), Central (26 clubs) and Western.
The paddling canoe, propelled by single-bladed paddles, is also represented in single, tandem and crew (“war canoe”) races, and this form of the sport remains more of the amateur type. The “Canadian,” a clinker or carvel built mahogany or cedar or bass-wood canoe, or the painted canvas, bark or compressed paper canoe, all on the general lines of the Indian birch bark, are as common on American rivers as the punt is on the Thames, and are similarly used.
See MacGregor, A Thousand Miles in the Rob Roy Canoe (1866), The Rob Roy on the Baltic, &c.; W. Baden Powell, Canoe Travelling (1871); W. L. Alden, Canoe and the Flying Proa (New York, 1878); J. D. Hayward, Camping out with the British Canoe Association; C. B. Vaux, Canoe Handling (New York, 1888); Stephens, Canoe and Boat Building (New York, 1881).