The Canadian Canoe Museum

heneghan peng architects and Kearns Mancini Architects in collaboration


The museum’s low-slung, serpentine form creates a gentle presence adjacent the Trent-Severn waterway with its historic lift-locks.

Taking the form of a serpentine glass pavilion with a gently sloped, two-acre rooftop garden, the Canadian Canoe Museum rises out of the ground alongside the Trent-Severn Waterway. Embedded into the drumlin-lined landscape instead of dominating it, the museum provides spectacular views of the water and the Peterborough Lift Lock National Historic Site, originally constructed in 1904.

Rooftop view

The museum’s deference to its surroundings embodies the Aboriginal tenet of building lightly on the land. The structure nestles between its green roof and the earth to provide energy-efficient and environmentally controlled display spaces for canoes, kayaks and other artifacts dating back to the 1780s. A sinuous central skylight draws light deep into the interior along the access path. Flexible, internally partitioned floor plates enhance the museum’s ability to adapt to programmatic and technological changes over time.

The building is a dramatic backdrop for formal and informal outdoor events.

Although the building’s lines are organic, it has been designed to be straightforward to construct. Two concrete slabs, one at grade and one forming the roof, are the main structural elements, and the undulating elevation will be glazed with a 4:1 straight-to-faceted glass ratio; no curved glass is required. The green roof affords opportunities to establish a variety of native and pollinator-friendly plantings, while facilitating storm water management.

Exhibition areas within the pavilion offer stunning landscape vistas.

Jury Comments

Manon Asselin :: The museum defers to the landscape and the need to integrate with it, as opposed to standing out like a Bilbao. It’s not architecture as an object, but rather architecture linked to experience. The most significant thing beyond the integration in the landscape is the experience from within, and how the museum frames the view to the outside. It’s a very soft and generous approach to building.

Patricia Patkau :: The Canadian Canoe Museum identifies with the landscape and allows the locks to be the object of focus. My understanding, however, was that the museum wanted to establish a similarly meaningful interaction with the artifacts. They wanted more space to display their canoes, and knowing the amazing quality of the collection, it seems important to address this as the design continues to develop.

David Sisam :: The museum provides two promontories to view the canal. One is the museum itself with its ample glazing and the other is its landscaped roof. It’s very generous in that way, reinforcing the connection to the locks and to the waterway where the canoes have travelled. The single floorplate of the museum offers great flexibility, but moving forward, its undifferentiated exhibit area would benefit from some “interior landscape” elements to frame and highlight this remarkable collection.

Client The Canadian Canoe Museum / Richard Tucker (Project Director), Bill Morris (Museum Chairman) | Engineering Arup | Landscape Foggy River Farm – Phillip Collins | Area 80,000 ft 2 | Budget $35 M | Completion Schematic Design, expected completion 2020