Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Frances Anne Hopkins Paddles

While researching more info on historical canoe paddles, I of course need to mention the fantastic artwork of Frances Anne Hopkins. In 1858 she married an official of the Hudson Bay Company and accompanied him during his duties traversing the fur trade routes of North America. Many of her paintings are part of the online collection in the Library and Archives of Canada

One of her famous pieces entitled, Canoe Manned by Voyageurs Passing a Waterfall shows her seated amidships in a fur trade canoe with her husband while passing a serene cascade. A closeup of the paddles reveals the long and narrow shape, painted for visual effect, favoured by the hearty voyageurs.

Canoe Manned by Voyageurs Passing a Waterfall
(Ontario), 1869
Archives Canada Citation

Close up of paddles

In another piece, Voyageurs at Dawn, we see a voyageur camp with various actions occuring in the piece. Scattered throughout the work are some images of paddles. Closeups reveal the classic narrow painted and decorated blades

Voyageurs at Dawn, 1871
Archives Canada Citation

Decorated paddles laying on the ground
centre of painting)

More paddles leaning against a rock face
(far right of painting)

I'm not a big fan of painted paddles, but can definitely see the advantage back then both for visual reasons and preservations reasons (before the era of modern wood sealants). Given that these paddles were meant for use in a large, communal boat, I don't think their extremely narrow width and dimensions would be be very suitable for solo paddling - something I confirmed with my own experimental voyageur design made last year. Nonetheless, Hopkins' sketches and paintings of the time are a fantastic glimpse into this part of canadian history.

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