Friday, July 18, 2008

Wooden Canoe Heaven

Just came back from the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association Assembly in Peterborough, Ontario. I had a chance to view some fantastic bark canoes and chat with their builders.

Ted Behne was there demonstrating some of his fantastic models with their precision lashing, sheathing, and winter bark decoration. Ted recently finished a 1:5 scale of a Fur Trade Canoe complete with miniature barrels and canvas stuff sacks. The painted colours were stunning indeed. If anyone intends to make a bark canoe model and needs materials and guidance, Ted is the man to speak with. He was kind enough to clarify why certain canoes had their gores stitched and why some didn't...apparently all to do with how the gores were originally cut. Ted's tech tips were absolute gems during my model canoe build so it was great to discuss these details with him. Check out his site - for more stuff.

Ted's beautiful models including the Fur Trade in back

Also there was Ferdy Goode from Wisconsin. Ferdy brought along an Abenaki style canoe that he built back in 1990. The bark had weathered to a nice grey patina and the workmanship was fantastic. I really appreciated all his feedback to my questions regarding gunwale construction and lashing. Being able to stick your head up close into a bark canoe, touch the lashings, and finely examine the features isn't possible at the Canadian Canoe Museum so this was a real eye-opener into the building process. In particular, the clean lines of the gunwale caps and decorative whip stitching on the bow & stern is how I plan to finish the ends on my eventual bark canoe.

Ferdy's aged bark beauty

A surprise visit came in the form of Rick Nash of Woodland Heirlooms, who's been an avid birchbark builder in Dwight (next town over from our cottage place) for over 20 years. I've been meaning to contact Rick over the phone anyway, but now had the pleasure of meeting him and his wife, Doris. Rick was also kind enough to deal with my barrage of questions and offered some alternative suggestions to common problems I anticipated in facing my first full-scale build. In particular, he mentioned his use of Tamarack roots as an acceptable substitute for White Spruce which will be easier to harvest in my area.

Rick had a few of his models on display which included a fantastic 1:5 Maliseet complete with a stunning chip-carved paddle in cherry. In particular I was utterly amazed at the chip carving work on the grip area - something I hope to try on some of my future paddles. Rick's photo portfolio of bark canoes he's built was amazing...particularly a shot with Pierre Trudeau paddling one of Rick's canoes when he was still Prime Minister in 1981.

Rick's Miniature and chip-carved Maliseet Paddle

Maliseet stem; Trudeau paddling Nash's canoe in '81

I also got a chance to meet Lloyd Stonehouse, another paddle maker who had a workshop class running. He had a bunch of blanks layed out on display as well as a few completed ones, including a stunning Bird's Eye Maple beavertail. I asked Lloyd about some other woods to consider for paddlemaking (other than cherry, walnut, birch, etc) and he mentioned using Willow, Butternut, and Sitka Spruce. So the next time I source out some wood, I'll try these stock

Lloyd Stonehouse's various paddle blanks

All in all a fantastic day for a canoe-addict!

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