The word “canoe” comes from the Carib people’s word “kenu” (dugout). The Carib tribes would use hollowed out tree logs to travel between the Caribbean islands.
Early North American canoes were generally made with a cedar frame and ribs, which was then covered by a birch bark shell. The frame and ribs were created by soaking the cedar planks in water and then bending them into shape. Birch bark was used as the shell because it was light-weight, durable and waterproof. The joints of the canoes were held together by white pine roots and then covered with hot pine or spruce resin.
In colder climates like northern North America and Siberia kayaks were used rather than the traditional canoe. These were created by stretching animal skins over the tops of the wooden frames. The skins, which were waterproof, would help keep the cold water out of the boat as well as keep the warmth in. Generally, kayaks would carry only one person.
The Scottish explorer John MacGregor (1825-1892) is often considered to be the pioneer of recreational canoeing. He was first introduced to canoes during a trip to North America. Upon his return home, he began building canoes and paddling them all over Europe and the Middle East. In 1866, he founded the British Royal Canoe Club, and in 1874 they held the first canoeing competition (The Paddling Challenge Cup).
Canoeing became an Olympic sport in 1938 in Berlin.