Sunday 16 September 2012

Perdita II a decked cedar-strip canoe built by Lakefield Canoe Co.

A couple of months ago I wrote about one of my favourite canoes, the Chestnut motor canoe. To continue on this theme, this story is about another favourite; a decked cedar-strip canoe built by the Lakefield Canoe & Mfr. Co. in 1907.  It once belonged to George M. Douglas and is today part of the Canadian Canoe Museum’s collection. Its name is Perdita II and it can be found in the Canadian Canoe Museum’s gallery “The Peterborough Tradition” where it hangs upside down in the ceiling.

Perdita II, a decked cedar-strip canoe built by the Lakefield Canoe & Mfr. Co.
I came across Perdita II for the first time in the fall of 1997 when identifying and documenting canoes for the Canadian Canoe Museum. What caught my eye was the narrow width, only 24" and the round to V-shaped hull bottom. A true reflection of the racing dugouts that once raced on the lakes and rivers of the greater Peterborough region in the mid 1800's. Perdita II takes on greater significance, as regretfully very little material evidence of the racing dugouts of that time remains.

It is a canoe I sponsor through the Canadian Canoe Museum’s cool fundraising program “Adopt-a-canoe”.

For just $15/month you can also adopt one of the canoes in the Museum’s collection. Find out more about the fundraising program and how to adopt your canoe here:

This is the story of this canoe; actually, it is the story of three canoes; the old racing dugout Perdita, and two decked cedarstrip canoes; Perdita I and Perdita II.

In 1884 the two young brothers George and Lionel Douglas fished a racing dugout out of the waters of Katchewanoka Lake just north of Lakefield. Their father, Dr. Campbell Mellis Douglas, an avid canoeist, canoe collector and inventor, took an interest in the dugout and brought it to the Lakefield canoe builder Thomas Gordon. The old leaking dugout was restored and fitted with new butternut decks by Thomas Gordon and Charles Grylls. The old racing dugout got a new lease on life and was named Perdita. The Douglas family named their canoes and boats after Shakespeare characters. Perdita was the name of a character out of A Winter’s Tale.

Perdita was enjoyed by the Douglas family and its visitors for many years. Although a refined and well-built craft with uniform hull thickness and long fluid lines, it suffered all the usual dugout problems; crankiness, excessive weight and of course the bane of all dugouts; severe cracking of the hull. In early 1893 the dugout was again brought to the Lakefield canoe builder Thomas Gordon, who converted the old dugout to a mold from which the hull of Perdita I, a decked cedar-strip canoe was produced.

Perdita I a decked cedar-strip canoe built by Thomas Gordon.
In 1894, Dr. Campbell M. Douglas applied for a new commission in the British Army to pay for his children's education. The family farm “Northcote” was sold to much distress of the boys George and Lionel. The family moved to England and with them came a handful of the collection of canoes and boats, among them Perdita I.  The canoe was kept at Easton Lodge, the private residence of Countess of Warwick who was a friend of Dr. Douglas.

Dr. Campbell M. Douglas and his son George paddling
Perdita I at Broughty  Ferry,  Scotland  October 4, 1899.
With his education taken care of, George Douglas revisited Canada and Lakefield several times and finally bought back the family homestead, “Northcote” in the summer of 1907.

During George Douglas time in England, the Lakefield canoe building firms Thomas Gordon and Strickland & Co had amalgamated to become the Lakefield Canoe & Mfg. Co. Inquiring there about the whereabouts of the old racing dugout mold “Perdita” George was successful in finding it. He placed an order in the fall of 1907 for Perdita II to be built on the same old dugout mold by the Lakefield Canoe & Mfr. Co. 

Perdita II paddled on Katchewanoka Lake, Lakefield
After the death of his father Campbell M. Douglas in late 1909, George managed to secure the return of the Perdita I to Lakefield after a lengthy correspondence with the Duchess of Warwick who reportedly felt an attachment to the canoe.  Both canoes were now part of an growing fleet of canoes and boats at "Northcote" to the enjoyment of the many visitors over the next 50 years.

Perdita I is today in a private collection and Perdita II in the Canadian Canoe Museums collection. The racing dugout/mold Perdita was most likely destroyed in the December 23, 1910 fire of the Lakefield Canoe & Mfr. Co

Thank you to Kathy Hooke for the access and use of the Douglas family photos and diary's. 

1 comment:

  1. Dick, your 2012Sept16 post on Perdita. After reading it I just had to Goole Perdita to learn more about this heroine of The Winter's Tale.

    I wish I had this insightful info before I toured the Canadian Canoe Museum in August.

    Please check your email. I sent you a link to our interview on my blog post (

    I will make your blog "a favorite" on my blog.