Saturday, February 28, 2009

Silent Movie Birchbark Canoe

From the Archives Society of Alberta, a movie promo pic of silent film star Olive Borden photographed on location at Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park. Apparently, it was for the 1926 film, The Country Beyond complete with a Mountie and other Canadian stereotypes.

Interesting to note that complete lack of gunwale lashing, ribs and sheathing. Furthermore, it looks to be made of 2 layers of bark with the inner brown sides back to back so that both the outer hull and interior have the white side facing out. The layers are delaminating and shredding off. Not a smart or authentic design of course. The canoe obviously was meant to be a prop and fulfill the audiences' expections of Canadian transportation in the wilderness. Another shot below shows the canoe next to a raft with the magnificient scenery in the background.

I think I've finally found a bark canoe that is uglier than my own!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Incised Maine Guide Paddle

The Maine Memory Network, a project of the Maine Historical Society, has a wonderful collection of canoe related images from this area. While searching the site, I came across a listing of a c.1890 paddle pictured below.

Canoe paddle made by Charles West, taxidermist and author of "The Aroostook Woods" (1892).

At first glance, it may not look like anything special, but the blade has some incised decorations depicating images of fishing, hunting and wildlife. The wood has darkened considerable with age so the images are hard to see. Using my meager photoshop knowledge, I adjusted the contrast & colour to better highlight the images on the blade. You can just make out a heron, running deer, and a reclining dog.

Incised paddle blade; Photoshop adjusted image

The site has a magnifier viewer if you want to get a closer peek at this bit of paddle art.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

FDR's Tomah Joseph Bark Canoe

Recently I read of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's birchbark canoe on display at Roosevelt Campobello International Park. Curious to learn a bit more, I learned that it was built by Passamaquoddy artist Tomah Joseph (1837-1914) who befriended the future President and is said to have taught him how to paddle

Tomah Joseph(1837-1914)

Young FDR paddling a canoe built by Tomah Joseph

An aged canoe is now on display on the veranda of the Roosevelt Cottage. Some shots below show a graceful boat that has weathered to a grey patina. Its nailed gunwales and stitched side panels seem to have held up well over time. I doubt my lashed boat will look so good at this age.

On display

Kind of curious, but there appears to be some sort stetched out canvas nailed to the gunwales covering the end thwart. If you look carefully at the pic of Tomah Joseph above, there seems to be something similar attached to boat's stern. It seems to be placed right over the end thwart though I can't imagine why. Maybe a sort of sling seat perhaps? It would explain why FDR is pictured paddling so far astern in his boat. Most solo paddlers today would kneel amidships to allow the boat to sit evenly in the water.

Stetched canvas on stern

If anyone knows more about this canoe and its unusual addition, I'd appreciate some feedback.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Coloured Illustrations of Adney Paddles

Bjorn Thomasson's site has an interesting page (in Swedish only) with some coloured illustrations of paddles documented in Adney's Bark Canoes and Skin Boats Of North America. Not sure if Bjorn did the colouring himself, but it adds a more lively touch to Adney's traditional black and white sketches. Here are some samples below

En havspaddel från 1749
Micmac Paddle documented with a canoe sent to England in 1749. This is the rough blade design I used for the Cherry Fusion paddle

Paddel från en havsgående fiskekanot från Passamaquoddy
Penobscot/Maliseet paddle from the early 1800's, designed for sea fishing and hunting. I used this one for the Cherry Pileated Woodpecker paddle

Top paddle is the c. 1849 decorated Passamaquoddy I attempted to replicate. The middle one is a diamond bladed Passamaquoddy - I've got a yellow poplar blank with this shape that I posted on here. The bottom paddle is a c. 1888 St. John River area paddle

St. Francis Abnaki paddle that Adney documents disappeared from history around 1890.

Adney's surmised Beothuk ocean canoe paddle from the late 1800s. I started a cherry edged laminated version of the paddle, but made a mistake with the lamination. This one is awaiting another attempt

Late 1800 Eastern Cree paddle from Labrador. I recently posted info on other Cree paddles here.

Western Cree paddles. The upper is a man's paddle, the lower a women's paddle. Cree-paddles (mid 1800s) were often decorated with red pigment as pictured. Cliff Speer has a photo with replicas of these paddles on his Flickr page posing his team for the David Thompson Bicentennial canoe trek

Friday, February 20, 2009

Francois Rothan's Beautiful Bark Canoes

One of my favourite YouTube videos is Francois Rothan's fantastic short on his bark canoe build. His video which shows the build taking place on a platform in his garage was a major inspiration for me to tackle my own bark canoe project. A while back I stumbled on his Photobucket Gallery with some additional photos of some his other builds. Francois has since set up his own blogger page,, to showcase his beautiful canoes. Here are some shots below...very impressive stuff!

15 ft Malecite style

16 ft Malecite style

12 ft Algonquin style

13 ft Algonquin style

Now I'm starting to get embarrased about posting pics of my crudely lashed and comparatively ugly canoe, but we all have to start somewhere right? In any event there is a fantastic resurgence of interest in bark canoes and once you attempt to construct your own, one quickly gains a greater appreciation for those who've acquired the amazing skills to build these sophisticated craft. Well done Francois!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Laminated Kestrel Paddle

This weekend while Toronto experienced another mild spell in the weather, I finally finished another full-sized paddle. Back in the fall, work began on one of my many remaining laminated blanks - in this case, an ottertail laminated with a central strip of cherry, 2 strips of basswood, and some large cherry pieces for the blade and grip. I found the dark cherry and creamy basswood to have a nice contrast.

The blank last fall

Graham Warren's book mentions the importance of bookmatching the panels on laminated paddles to maintain a symmetrical look, but I was more interested in using up the offcuts to minimize wood wastage and I didn't really pay much attention to this approach. Given that the cherry was cut from the same board anyway, I assumed there would be a natural symmetry.

When carving down the blade however, some light coloured streaks of heartwood began to show - so light that the normally amber toned cherry looks as pale as the basswood strips on either side of the central shaft. Not so bad on the first side, but on the other, it gives the illusion of an uneven blade. Purely cosmetic of course but this non symmetrical look makes the whole thing look somewhat flawed.

Uneven grain pattern on blade

I decided to decorate the blade and grip in a manner that would offset this visual blemish and ended up with another birding image, this one of an American Kestrel (Sparrow Hawk). These diminutive little birds have a colourful coat of feathers which I tried to replicate with various shades and textures. Some freehand leaves and branches were added as accents. Varnishing will have to wait until the weather warms up again.

Kestrel Image on the blade; Leaves on the grip

The unvarnished paddle

Friday, February 13, 2009

c 1770s Cree Paddle

From the Splendid Heritage website, I came across a very old Cree paddle dating back to 1770-1775 and traces its origins to a George Holt of the Hudson Bay Company. The 68 inch long paddle has a long flattened grip similar to many Abenaki paddles and a decorated blade that was created by marking the sealant when it was still wet. A simple technique with mesmerizing results.

c. 1770-1775 Cree Paddle

An excerpt of downloadable notes from Dr. Ted Brasser, Ph.D. (PDF link) states the following:
The canoe paddle (NC0047) conforms to the type used by the northern Cree people on Hudson Bay. Typically, the handle is scarcely more than half the length of the paddle; in this case the handle is even somewhat shorter. This may well be the oldest Cree paddle in existence, and its decoration is more elaborate than on recent Cree paddles. Painted paddles from both sides of the Hudson Bay are illustrated in the literature. It is recorded that such paintings had a personal meaning based upon dream experiences. The zigzag pattern on this early example may stand for water.

If this really is the oldest Cree paddle in existence, it may be worth replicating in the future. The zig zag patterns would be very easy to reproduce with pyrography. So many paddle little time!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Cedar Duckling Paddle

Back in the late summer, I attempted carving a mini Bushcraft style paddle from a cedar log for my yet-to-born baby boy. It was a fun attempt on a nice afternoon, carving next to the lake with some baby ducklings for some company.

Working with the crooked knife

Duckling company

The paddle's been sitting in the locker room since then and with some much needed relaxation required, I set out to decorate the blade with some free hand burnings of ducklings. White cedar has never been a desired wood for pyrography - its soft nature and open grain with plenty of knots leads doesn't burn evenly. So the result is pretty speckled and uneven, but I don't think my boy will mind when he plays with it.

Ducklings on the blade

The whole paddle

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Survival in the Bush - Bark Canoe

Another fantastic film on the National Film Board of Canada's free site is Survival in the Bush, a 30 minute short filmed in 1954 as a sort of precursor to today's hitshow Survivorman.

The producer, Bob Anderson and an Algonquin guide (plus a camera man) are left in the wilds of Northern Quebec for three weeks, purposely soaked to the neck in cold water with an axe as the only permitted survival tool. In the process, the fantastic Algonquin guide by the name of Angus Baptiste manages to make fire with a split jackpine fireboard, assemble a birchbark lean-to for shelter, catch some sturgeon with a spear and his bare hands, build a successful bear trap (warning...dead bear footage for those who are queezy), and to top it all off, make a birch bark canoe for the three men to paddle out on.

Unfortunately, most of the detailed work documenting the canoe is not shown but here are some stills of the fantastic craft - completed with winter bark decorative etchings.

Bark staked out

Ready for gumming

Portaging down to the water

Paddling away

If you can get past the typical western-centric narrative of the producer as well as some of the scripted dialogue, there are some gems of info in this short film. Typical for the times however, Angus Baptiste, the Algonquin guide who really does all the work isn't even listed with the credits at the end.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Mi'kmaq Paddle Art

While perusing through some Canadian art books at a local library, I came across this image by an unkown artist documenting the blunted end style bark canoes and paddle decorations of Mi'kmaq indians

"Micmac Indians"
Unknown Artist, circa 1850
oil on canvas
45.7 x 61 cm

National Gallery of Canada (no. 6663)

This image was used on an 8 cent Canadian postage stamp back in 1973 as part of Canada Post's "Indians of Canada" series. A closeup of one of the paddles shows a scroll motif decoration reminiscient of the Historic Passamaquoddy I finished a while back. It's a simple design but quite attractive and I may start using more of these motifs with future paddle art.

Paddle Closeup

Monday, February 2, 2009

Pole Grip Paddles

Here are some more pics from the AMNH's Native American collection. They include Ojibwa paddles from the Lake Huron area and a decorated Iroquois paddle with turtle motifs. Interesting to note that some of the paddles lack a grip section, instead having just a simple pole end.

Catalog No: 10 / 18
Dimensions: L:171 W:12 [in CM]
Accession No: 1869-90-70

Catalog No: 10 / 19
Culture: OJIBWA
Accession No: 1869-90-70

Catalog No: 50 / 6501
Country: CANADA
Dimensions: L:126 W:6.3 H:2 [in CM]
Accession No: 1907-8

Newer Posts Older Posts Home Page