Monday, March 30, 2009

Historic Paddle Illustrations - Lahontan

Louis-Armand de Lom d'Arce de Lahontan was a French officer who traveled extensively in New France in the 17th century. Upon returning to Europe, he wrote an extremely poplar book entitled Nouveaux voyages de Mr. le baron de Lahontan dans l'Amérique septentrionale. A english translated version, New voyages to North-America (1905) is available for download as a PDF (24 MB). There is a brief section that explains the design of a typical paddle (without mentioning tribal affiliation) as well as crude sketch that seems out of scale with the text description.

LaHontan's illustration of a paddle

"The paddles they make use of are made from Maplewood, and their form is represented in the annex'd Cutt. The Blade of the Paddle is twenty inches long, six inches broad, and four Lines [1/3 inch] thick. The Handle [shaft] is about three Foot long, and as big [thick] as a Pigeons Egg"

What struck me however, is the chevron style decorative pattern on the blade which seems consistent with some of the earlier decorations posted in the Codex canadiensis and by Champlain.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Family Heirloom Height Marker

Since our little one's birth back in Semptember, my wife's been keeping a record of his height and weight changes in a scrapbook. When I was growing up, my parents marked my growth on the side of a door frame in our home, but when we moved, the doorframe obviously stayed behind. After making the Historic Passamaquoddy Replica paddle as a family heirloom, my wife came up with an idea of using it to mark our son's growth progress.

Generally, I decorate only one side of the paddle and leave the natural grain to show on the other side. This one has some funky figured grain as well as a hint of heartwood on the right edge. The fact that I had oiled this paddle rather than sealing with varnish was a plus as well because one can add pyrography burnings to an oiled surface but not a varnished one without chemically stripping it first.

To get a nice clean centre line, a metal straight-edge was clamped to the paddle and the line burned with a high temperature flow point. This would eventually be marked off in one inch intervals to serve as the height gauge.

Clamped edge; Center line burned

As a bit of an extra addition, I scanned my little one's hands and feet and used Photoshop to convert the image to get a black and white photocopy effect.

Original scanned feet; Photoshopped version

These were then used as templates and burned onto the blade area so now we have a nice visual record of his pudgy extremities. Sort of wished we had done this at birth but better late than never. Here are some closeup shots of the blade and the paddle as it stands now...

Handprints & Footprints at 4 1/2 months

Blade with his birth weight; The Whole Paddle ready for years of growth

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Reality TV Fur Trade Canoe

Posted on the Duck Works Magazine site is a log documenting construction of a 26 ft Fur Trade canoe commissioned for a French-Canadian Reality TV show. The author, Adam Wicks-Arshack of Spokane, Washington worked with John Lindman of the BarkCanoe Store to build this hefty boat (including doing all the lashings himself...slave labour I tell ya!). Here are some shots of their work.

I recognized the logo and found out that this boat was commissioned for the French Canadian reality show, Destination Nor'Ouest 2: In the footsteps of MacKenzie.

The first show, Destination Nor'Ouest recreated the journey from Lachine (Montreal) to Winnipeg tracing the authentic fur-trade route with an all francophone crew. Here's a YouTube promo clip. It only aired on French TV here in Canada but I missed it (no cable TV). Picking up where the 1st series ended, this second journey attempts to follow the 1793 route of the explorer Alexander MacKenzie to the Pacific Ocean.

From this page, I learned the journey was completed successfuly as is set to air sometime in 2009. In the meantime, there is a Picasa Album showing some nice pics of the journey

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Eastern Cree Canvas Canoe

After waiting 4 months on the Toronto Public Library's system, I finally got a hold of Garth Taylor's book Canoe construction in a Cree cultural tradition(1980). It documents a commission build for the Canadian Museum of Civilization of a traditional Eastern Cree canoe made using canvas as a substitute for birch bark.

The building took place of the summer of 1979 in the village of Great Whale River (now Whapmagoostui) in northern Quebec. John Kawapit and a few assistants constructed the craft using traditional methods and material available to them. Gunwales, ribs, and sheathing were made of spruce rather than white cedar used by more southern builders.

Taylor points out that use of canvas for the hull began early in the 20th century and by 1908 was nearly used exclusively for its ease of use and durability. It required slight modification of the gunwales, use of nails rather that root lashing and an exterior stem piece. Normally the canvas was painted to make it waterproof but a shortage of paint at the time meant it was left untouched save for the red decorative marks on the ends and ribs. The final work is pictured below.

John Kawapit's Eastern Cree Canoe
Artifact Number III-D-686 a
Full Citation

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Canoe & Camera (1882) Illustrations has a downloadable edition (PDF link - 9.2 MB) of Thomas Sedgwick Steele's 1882 publication, Canoe and camera : a two hundred mile tour through the Maine forests . It has some illustrations of his group and their bark canoes as well a pic descending a rapids paddling "northwoods" style.

Zoomed image - "Northwoods style paddling

Interesting to note that the bark canoes of this era seem to have nailed gunwales rather than spruce root lashings. This seems to be consistent with Adney's observation of canoes from this region at the end of the 19th century. It sure makes the building process easier!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Shaving Cedar Sheathing

Spring seems to be in the air in Central Ontario. Mild, sunny temperatures have started to thaw the lake ice and has gotten me excited about the upcoming paddling season. The bark canoe has has come out of winter storage pretty well and despite being dried out, the bark hull still looks to be in good shape.

All the ribs blanks have been carved so next on the to do list is to finish carving the cedar sheathing split back in January. These had been split slightly more than 1/8" thickness and needed some cleaning up, but with some advice from Francois Rothan, I'll be making them thinner still to about 1/16th or less.

Unfortunately my crooked knife skills are nowhere near the the level where I could cleanly shave the delicate sheathing without leaving unsightly and uneven gouges. A few times, I even ended up snapping the thin cedar while working. So as a compromise, I used the crooked knife to clean up some of the ridges from the splitting process and then used a block plane on a workbench to finalize the thickness.

Working with the crooked knife; Workbench with the block plane

In order to break up the monotonous work, I placed some of the sheathing loosely into the hull to get a visual of the boat and see my progess. Normally, the sheathing would be soaked for a few days to soften up and allow them to curve with the hull's shape, but I simply layed down the pieces with very loose temporary ribs to get a sneak peek at what the future interior may look like.

Sheathing pieces; Quick layout in hull

I still need to taper and shape the ends, but first I simply want to finish carving the pile of sheathing blanks. If time permits I'm hoping to carve the headboards before my holiday time this week is up too.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Historic Paddle Illustrations - Champlain

From The voyages and explorations of Samuel de Champlain, 1604-1616 Vol. 2 comes one of the earliest recorded images of a North American paddle I could find. The PDF version (11mb) of his book has a black and white illustration of a native woman (Fig. B) holding onto a child with one hand while grasping chevron decorated paddle with the other.

Champlain's illustration of Native dress

Another illustration I found adds some colour to the original sketch. It is a zoomed versin of Champlain's Carte Geographique de la Nouvelle France (1612). It essential recreates the characters and reproduces the paddle decoration with red and yellow stripes.

Colour version of Champlain's original illustration

This chevron pattern seems to be a common motif as I've seen it in a couple other historic texts. More posts on that to come.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Cheenama the Trailmaker (1935)

While searching for canoe themed material on, I came across what may in fact be the oldest recorded film images of the construction of a bark canoe. It was filmed by Harlan I. Smith, archeologist and ethnographer with the Canadian Museum of Civilization. This film entitled, Cheenama the Trailmaker was supposed to document life in an Ojibway camp by following the "story" of Cheenama and his family. Apparently, it failed as an authentic ethnographic record for many of its posed & stereotyped scenes, but the construction of the bark canoe is fascinating to watch nonetheless. Also interesting is the footage the the main characters harvesting wild rice. Here are some stills

Still frame from: upenn-f16-2090 Cheenama the Trailmaker
Bark staked out

Still frame from: upenn-f16-2090 Cheenama the Trailmaker
Splitting root

Still frame from: upenn-f16-2090 Cheenama the Trailmaker
Stitching the ends

Still frame from: upenn-f16-2090 Cheenama the Trailmaker
Installing Ribs

Still frame from: upenn-f16-2090 Cheenama the Trailmaker
Collecting wild rice with the canoe

You can either watch the movie on the site by clicking any of the images above or download the .mp4 file (155MB) directly.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Robin Egg Blue Paddle

From the Cherry Gallery's current items...
Canoe Paddle in Blue Paint

"A refined handmade paddle with its original dry, robin's egg blue paint surface. Weathering of the paint on one side of the paddle has produced an appealing mottled appearance."
Circa 1910
5.75" w, 65" h

Friday, March 6, 2009

New Orleans or Bust...

Phil Middleton & Richard O’Connor are planning a mother of a canoe journey down the Mississipi River this spring. Starting at the headwaters of the St. Croix River in northern Wisconsin, their plan is to make it to New Orleans in an aluminum canoe. They've set up a great blog site to document their journey complete with their unique brand of humour.

While Rich has already bonded with a lightweight, cedar bent-shaft paddle, Phil took it upon himself to carve his own for the journey. Turns out he got his lumber stock from Timeless Timber, a unique company that deals in salvaged wood recovered from the murky depths of the Great Lakes. Phil scored a pretty interesting bit of yellow birch with a beautiful grain and documented the construction of his paddle (all handtools) in this post. Great stuff and a memorable way to prepare for this grand adventure!

Phil carving away

Phil's custom paddle for their journey down the Mississipi River

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Historic Paddle Illustrations - Codex canadensis

I've been searching old books for artist prints documenting some of their paddle shapes and decoration. As Graham Warren writes in Canoe Paddles: A Complete Guide to Making Your Own early native paddles are frustratingly difficult to research given that many have not survived through the centuries. Most documentation has been in the form of European explorers who often crudely represented the paddles in out-of-scale drawings and sketches.

One fascinating historical document with such imagery is the the Codex canadensis, a 79-page document written circa 1700. It is believed to have been written by Louis Nicolas , a French missionary in Canada in the late-seventeenth and early-eighteenth century. The codex is illustrated with 180 drawings of First Nations peoples, plants, mammals, birds and fish of Canada

Collections Canada has a site setup to view all the illustrations in this piece of Canadian heritage. Here are some shots below that show some of the paddle forms and decorations encountered by Nicholas. I'll be posting more on other historic paddle illustrations soon.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Francois Rothan Carved Paddle

From Francois Rothan's new birchbark canoe site are some pics of his beautifully decorated Malecite ceremonial paddle. It's made from sugar maple and decorated with traditional chip-carved etchings. I took a chip-carving class once and ended up butchering the soft test wood (basswood). Until I get better at this under-appreciated artform, I'll stick to wood-burning.

Malecite Ceremonial Paddle

Chip-carved etchings

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