Canoe canoe, Canada?

Bing Thom/Lett entry in competition for a new Canadian Canoe Museum. (CCM)

Bing Thom/Lett entry in competition for a new Canadian Canoe Museum. (CCM)

Canoe Canoe? (Can you canoe?)

Canoe Canoe? (Can you canoe?)

Canoe Canoe?” Remember that jingle from the ad for cologne back in, what, the 1970s or ’80s? Get it? Can you canoe! It rushed to mind with news that the design competition for a relocated Canadian Canoe Museum, in Peterborough, Ont., has been narrowed down to five entries.

All but one are predictable, and the one that isn’t is the most predictable of all, but in a puckish way that endears one to its ridiculosity.

I refer to the entry by Bing Thom Architects and Lett Architects. Drawings of all five proposals have been published at The four predictably predictable entries all feature modern architecture that seems, typically, to have little to do either with the elegant Peterborough Lift Lock – designed by Richard Birdsall Rogers, completed in 1904 – on the Otonabee River, which is near Lake Ontario and the new location for the museum, or any other part of the city of some 79,000.

Peterborough Lift Lock. (Wikipedia)

Peterborough Lift Lock. (Wikipedia)

But the Bing Thom/Lett proposal daringly features a pair of crossed canoes. You can see the lift lock toward the right of the illustration above. A pair of crossed canoes is no sillier than the more orthodox modernist entries, but much more refreshing. One thinks of the array of ice-hockey sticks in the tanked entry by Thom Mayne for the Alaska state capitol – though Mayne claims the hockey sticks are actually glaciers. If the Thom/Lett entry wins the museum design competition and gets built, nobody will be in any doubt that the structure is supposed to be a pair of canoes. They are not abstract in the least but fully rendered long hull canoes, very prettily arrayed as the roof of the museum.

Do Canadians really want a Canoe Museum that brings to mind Venturi’s decorated sheds from Learning from Las Vegas? Or would this roof of crossed canoes be more duck than decorated shed? Either way, a little dated, eh?

The museum should cancel and reissue the competition challenge and make noises about how nice it would be to see an entry that picks up on the Peterborough Lift Lock. I’m sure most Ontarians would like that, and it would probably attract more visits from Americans.

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy,, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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4 Responses to Canoe canoe, Canada?

  1. says:

    Canoe! Canoe! Synchronocity. We’re back at the lake house with the great decisions like canoe of kyak. Thinking of you two. One day we might be able to get you three here. Arthur Mark

    Sent from my iPad



  2. Lewis Dana says:

    Dare I suggest that it is a museum about canoes and their rather characteristic forms, and not remotely to do with the 1900s ziggurat or modified Egyptians motif of the lock gates?


    • You have my permission to dare suggest such a thing!

      Good architecture and urbanism call for buildings that can be re-used over time, without being silly. I am not suggesting that the canoe museum should look like a ziggurat or even a lock, only that it look like a building.


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