Tuesday, September 17, 2019

J.B. Charleson Ottawa River Paddle

A fascinating collection of Canadian folk art is up for auction.  Pridham's Auction House is running the Burney Collection of Canadiana and Americana on October 5, 2019. The private collection of Joan and Derek Burney was recently outlined as a project for Canada's 150th Anniversary back in 2017. The resulting book, Celebrating Canada: Decorating with History in a Contemporary Home, showcased their extensive collection of historically significant items adorning their modern home.

One of the pieces is a circa 1890 canoe paddle used on an exploratory trip by Jean-Baptiste Charleson. A forest ranger for the province of Quebec, Charleson was charged with scouting the headwaters of the Ottawa River for tracts of white pine to be leased to lumber companies. Charleson completed the trip at the hearty age of 54 with a route covering nearly 3200 square kilometers of wilderness. The trip was deemed a commercial success with his identification of accessible sources of timber valued at over whopping million dollars at the time. It would prove to be a financial windfall for the province.

After his journey, Charleson's personal 57 inch paddle was carefully painted with a map and details of the route. Lake Témiscamingue takes up most of the blade with the smaller up-river streams and lakes forming the serpentine shape up the shaft.

Circa 1890 paddle
57 inches long
Celebrating Canada, page 140
Closeup of blade decoration

Thursday, September 12, 2019

c1890 Tyendinaga Mohawk Canoe and Paddles

An expired Kijiji ad from earlier in the summer featured a birchbark canoe and two paddles being offered for sale. Seller claimed the canoe was from 1890 and built at the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, part of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte First Nation. I had inquired if the paddles were for sale separately and if any more details could be provided. The seller simply responded that they were sold with the boat unfortunately ignored my request for more details.

The advertisement photos show well aged paddles (likely maple) carved in a manner consistent with the Iroquoian tradition of a reverse-spatulate blade with tiny, flattened grips.

c1890 bark canoe and paddles

c1890 bark canoe and paddles

As a comparison, here are some known Iroquois (Mohawk) paddles in the collection of the Royal Ontario Museum:
ROM Paddles - Iroquois
late 19th - early 20th century
Area of Origin: Northeast; Ontario; Canada; North America; Six Nations of the Grand 

Another set of Iroquois paddles were posted on Here is a shot of decorated Iroquois paddles from LiveAuctioneer that I posted on before.

Pair of Painted Iroquois Canoe Paddles,
red and white painted blade, unpainted shaft; each 65.5" long. 
Ex Howard K. Echenstern Collection.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Quaver gripped antique paddle

Here's a very interesting paddle appearing in an Ebay Ad posted from Sainte-Martine, Quebec. This undated paddle has coat of faded red paint and a curve shouldered blade with notches at the neck.

58 1/4" long x 5 3/4"wide 

Most interesting is the grip end, which features an asymmetrical roll. The seller refers to the grip as having a "quaver" shape, referring to the shape of an 1/8th note in music. One side of it is rotten but red paint on the surface clearly shows this was the original shape and not simply a broken grip end.

These hook like asymm grips have been seen before in model canoe paddles sent over to Europe as part of the tourist trade. Most notably they are found in the paddles that accompanied the model canoe sent as a votive offering to the Cathedral de Chartres around 1760. See this post here.

Image Source Link:

The paddle grip is also discussed and illustrated briefly in Graham Warren's 100 Canoe Paddle Designs book.

by Graham Warren
March 2014. Raven Rock Books.
200 pages. A5. Spiral bound.
ISBN  0 9530352 2 0

Saturday, August 31, 2019

WCHA - Northern Lakes Chapter - Cherry Beach Paddle

In an effort to meet local members of the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association, I offered to lead a group paddle to Toronto Islands for the Northern Lakes Chapter.  It was scheduled for August 27th, but after weeks of beautiful weather, that day happened to coincide with heavy rainfall and extremely gusty southerly winds. The event was bumped a few days to Thursday. Joining me on the outing was Chapter Head, Alex G and local Toronto resident, Bernadette F along with her cute dog, Pookie. Bernadette was able to use public transit to arrive at the location as a shuttle bus leaves from Union station and stops right at the foot of Cherry Beach, our access point.

Conditions were much more favourable than two days prior, but a brisk Westerly wind (the prevailing direction) created some chop for the initial departure. Luckily, Alex brought his 16ft North Bay Canoe prospector which handled the conditions well and I  bobbed around in my re-canvassed Chestnut Playmate. Once in the main canal however, all was calm for a enjoyable tour.

We were greeted by a picturesque family of Mute swans, with mother and father book-ending their two cygnets in a postcard formation. This will be my wife and I walking our kids to school in a few days...

Summer canoe camps run on the island and a group had recently landed on the shore of one of the undeveloped islands to sing some camp songs while we silently paddle by...

Water levels on Lake Ontario were down from their all time high earlier this year, but they were still much higher than anything I've seen before. The shoreline which used to be sandy beach was flooded and getting under one particular bridge meant ducking under or getting your forehead smacked with concrete.

Large fibreglass voyageur canoes took tourists around, yet the local wildlife seemed undisturbed by the grunts and competing splashes of the paddles.

The group spotted two herons in the marshy areas which impressed us with their noble poise...

Due to the flooding, the island train that skirts the waterfront was non-operational and many of the farm animals at Far Away farm were inland away from their waterside pens. However, we were later gifted with seeing a mink swim across are bows.

The wind conditions in the inner harbour were too intense to check out the old Hanlan's point where the old baseball stadium once stood and where Babe Ruth hit his first home run into Lake Ontario waters as a pro-baseball player. Instead, we stayed in the protected channels until we reached the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse, the oldest surviving lighthouse on the Great Lakes. At one point it was just 25 feet from the exposed lakeshore, but sand deposits and fill have now left it marooned 100 yards inland. The tree line to the south has also grown so that the lighthouse is no longer visible from the lake as originally intended.

On the way, we got some interesting comments from people riding the Gondola above one of the canals. Mostly, it was how cute Pookie the puppy was while riding in the canoe. The white and brown building in the background is the island church, St.Andrews-By-The-Lake (1884) where the every summer in July, the lagoon fills with all sorts of watercraft for the annual Blessing of the Boats, a neat local tradition.

My re-canvassed stayed completely dry which was nice. I may need to tweak the seat a little bit, but on the whole I'm absolutely delighted with this narrow 14 footer as a solo boat. Plans are to perhaps attempt another group paddle to the Islands in spring. Perhaps we'll have more people turn out after a long difficult winter.

In the meantime, the WCHA Northern Lakes Chapter may run another in another paddling hot-spot in the city - The Humber River Marshes - sometime in late September, early October to coincide with peak fall colours.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Summer 2019 - Working on new paddles

Any morsel of free time was spent working on paddles this summer. At the moment, I have 3 distinct designs being worked on. First up is a 58" replica of the circa 1860's Woodland paddle collected from the St. John River area in New Brunswick featured earlier in this post here.

Circa 1860
5 ft. 3 3/4 in. 

I didn't have any birds-eye to work with, but just used plain soft maple. Still have to work on symmetry and the grip area, but here is the progress so far. It will likely be stained to match the honey-toned patina of the original.

1860 St. John River paddle in soft maple

Simultaneously, I've been working down a choice piece of spruce to make a reproduction of a pole grip Cree paddle dated to circa 1930-1935. The original with a black painted blade is in the Musee de Quai Branly in Paris, France.

Géographie :  Amérique –  Amérique du Nord –  Canada
Culture :  Amérique –  Cree
Date :  1930-1935
Dimensions et poids :  158.5cm  x 12.5cm, 647 g
Donateur :  Paul Coze
Précédente collection :  Musée de l'Homme (Amérique)
Numéro d'inventaire :  71.1931.44.155

My version was hewn with an axe and turned out ok except for a cumbersome knot at the top of the pole grip which created a slight bulge in an otherwise straight shaft. It was easily worked down with a crooked knife creating lots of wood shavings and bits for the evening camp fires.

c1930-1935 Cree Paddle in spruce

The inspiration for this final paddle is an illustration by famed Canadian artist, Arthur Heming (1870-1940), who travelled with voyageur brigades at the very end of the fur trade era. This specific artwork depicted a hardy voyageur  climbing up a steep slope with a tumpline loaded with a crate and large sacks of supplies. A narrow paddle with an oval bobble grip acts as a support stick.

This particular illustration was selected to visualize a description of a tough uphill portage by the canoe party in J.W. Tyrell's Across the sub-Artics of Canada, published in 1898 and available on Archive.org. Heming accompanied Tyrell on this trip and sketched many realistic portraits of the crew and environment. It stands to reason that the accomplished artist drew this paddle design from a realistic sample in the field.

My version was made from a narrow basswood board and also worked down with a crooked knife and spokeshave. Still not finished yet but it is coming along...

Heming Voyageur replica

Here are all three paddle side by side for comparison. Interesting to see that in their raw states, they all have similar pale tone. 
2019 Summer's work so far

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