Minnesota History: Building A Legacy

Rare Dugout Canoes Showcased Across Minnesota

Dugout canoe pulled from Lake Minnetonka, 1934.

Dugout canoe pulled from Lake Minnetonka, 1934.

In 1934, a Minnesota family was extending a dock at Lake Minnetonka when they found a dugout canoe buried in the silt. The canoe eventually landed in the care of the West Hennepin History Center, where it remained in relative obscurity until researchers from Maritime Heritage Minnesota (MHM) learned of its existence.

Wanting to know more, MHM undertook a multiyear research project to analyze the canoe and 12 others across the state, from Beltrami County in the north, to Chippewa County in the west and to Steele County in the south. Funded through an ACHF grant, as well as the George W. Nielsen Foundation and the Mankato Area Foundation, the research garnered international attention when radiocarbon analysis revealed that the canoe was almost 1,000 years old.

Radiocarbon analysis also showed that the 13 canoes studied came from five time periods, seven Native American cultures (along with one "modern" European example), and eight geographical areas. Each is unique and a rare archaeological artifact. Since then, additional ACHF grants have funded the construction of special storage cases for the Lake Minnetonka canoe, as well as canoes on exhibit at the Chippewa County Historical Society and McLeod County Historical Society.

In 2016, MHM earned an American Association for State and Local History Leadership in History award for their work. “These dugout canoes represent the oldest watercraft in Minnesota,” said Ann Merriman, Ph.D, of MHM. “Our shared, rich maritime history is important, and the preservation of these significant artifacts is paramount.” Thanks to ACHF funds, these rare canoes are being preserved and made accessible for future generations.

This site is updated regularly with descriptions and data related to Legacy projects funded through the Minnesota Historical Society by the Legacy Amendment's Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund (ACHF).
Further information about the use and impact of all Legacy Funds can be found on the Minnesota Legislative Coordinating Commission's Minnesota's Legacy site.