Fox Wisconsin Heritage Parkway

A non-profit organization dedicated to the improvement and preservation of the Fox and Wisconsin Rivers.

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Brief History of Canoeing

In recent years, paddling has experienced resurgence on the Fox and Wisconsin rivers. From Green Bay to Prairie du Chien, individuals are taking to this silent pursuit in numbers not experienced since the mid-twentieth century. When paddlers ‘put in’ on the Fox and Wisconsin today, they are continuing a tradition dating back thousands of years.

Developed by native peoples, the canoe is one of the oldest forms of watercraft in North America. Early models, believed to be over 8,000 years old, were carved from large tree trunks. In fact, the word ‘canoe’ is thought to have originated from the word ‘kenu,’ meaning dugout.

Voyageur Canoe circa 1869

A more modern design, the birch bark canoe had a tremendous impact on the settling of North America. This design was popular throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as voyageurs, missionaries, and fur traders explored the interior of North America via its many lakes and rivers.

Known for its large towing capacity and ability to handle a variety of water conditions, it was this type of canoe that Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet selected for their 1673 journey down the Parkway in their search for the Northwest Passage. In 1847, journalist, George William Featherstonhaugh traveled the Fox River by wooden canoe as documented in his published journals, A Canoe Voyage Up the Minnay Sotor.

Virtually unchanged in overall design since the days of Marquette and Joliet, modern canoes are now also made from aluminum and fiberglass.

There are two common types of canoes. The kayak, which has grown in popularity in recent years and originated in Greenland, is a one-person vessel with a closed deck. The traditional canoe, also known as the Canadian, is an open-decked, two person watercraft.

Continue the tradition of canoeing on the Fox! Join us for the Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Paddle, which continues until September 24 in Appleton. To learn more, visit the North East Wisconsin Paddlers website,

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