Iconic Ucluelet building transformed into kayak museum

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A unique new future is rolling into one of Ucluelet’s most cherished icons of the past.

James Manke has officially opened what he believes is Canada’s first dedicated traditional kayak museum inside The Wreckage building on Peninsula Road.

The Wreckage’s visibly quirky exterior and Evelyn Mae vessel perched next to it is a popular photo spot for tourists and passersby, but the building has sat empty for the past few years waiting for a new vision to revitalize its locally hallowed walls.

“Since I’ve moved here, there’s been a lot of talk about this building and how it holds a lot of significance for a lot of elders in this community who grew up here,” Manke says. “I had driven by the building many, many times and seen people looking in the windows and one day I was walking by and poked my head in the front window and I had a vision for this space. I saw a kayak museum and a community space and an area where we build kayaks.”

Manke won Gold competing for Canada in the Greenland International Kayaking Championships in 2014 and has spent the past 12 years teaching traditional kayaking around the world.

“For 12 years travelling around the world, that was all based on the support of the kayak community, being able to live out my passion. This is my way of giving back. This is for the people,” he says. “It’s to really encourage the growth of kayaking in this area.”

Ucluelet is making a name for itself as a “kayaking Mecca of Canada” for its dynamic waters and proximity to the Broken Group Islands, he says.

“It’s very quickly become a world class destination for kayakers,” he says, suggesting the new museum could help introduce kayaking to locals who may not know what they’re missing out on in their own backyard. “It will help expose traditional kayaking and the history of kayaking to people that may not have had the chance to ever experience something like this.”

Manke moved to Ucluelet with his partner Kim last year after frequently visiting the community as a kayak instructor.

“I’ve spent a lot of time in this area and every time I’d come to Ucluelet and I’d leave, I’d get heartache. I’d literally feel like I’m leaving home. So, last year, we decided that really is a true sign that this is home for us. I’m a big fan of the weather and the storms and I’m a big fan of big surf so living in this type of an environment for me is a great balance of life,” he says. “For a lot of years I suffered through depression and finding a good balance in life is a super important thing. For certain individuals that are very outdoors-minded, this is a great place because you can work and then you just step outside and you’re immersed with nature. It’s just an amazing balance for me being here.”

The museum will offer opportunities to learn how to build traditional kayaks and paddles as well as a community lounge where international and local kayak instructors will give presentations.

“It’s just a place where people can come and collaborate and be together,” he says. “The energy that you really get from being around like-minded people is a very empowering feeling and, when the pandemic hit, we kind of lost a lot of that. We couldn’t get together anymore and I think a lot of people have really suffered from that. So, this particular space is really intended to help rebuild and bring people back together and let people collaborate and share that stoke.”

The space already houses several traditional kayaks and paddles with five more frames on their way from Greenland that Manke plans to hang from the ceiling.

“The ultimate goal that I have is that you’ll walk into this place and there will just be framed kayaks all the way around you,” he says. “I really love the frames of kayaks because it shows you the meticulous work and the hard work that’s actually been put into that craft. Sometimes, when you skin it, you don’t see all that amazing work that’s under there. That’s why I’ll have a bunch in here that are just frames.”

The museum is also collaborating with local artists to bring commissioned pieces into the space and will be collecting donations to bring youth into the space where he’ll help them build their own kayak and teach them how to roll before partnering with a local kayaking company to take them on a trip through the Broken Group Islands.

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