Friday, December 31, 2010

Photo - Historic Muskoka Paddle

Been out of commission for a while with an absolutely nasty flu that's kept me bed-ridden, feverish, nauseous and otherwise incapacitated since Christmas day...brutal way to spend the holidays but thankfully I've finally recovered on the last day of 2010. Want to wish all of the visitors and online friends to my site a very healthy and prosperous new year.

As a last post for the year, found this online exhibit of the Toronto Public Library with a photo dated 1890 showing off some paddles used in the Muskoka cottage region.

Judge Joseph Easton MacDougall and his family
proudly display their catch at their summer cottage

The lower leaning paddled has an interested scalloped mushroom grip that I've seen on a few paddle designs today.

Closeup of paddles

Wonder how many of these antique paddle gems are still in old boathouses and cottages today?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Historic Photos - Mi'kmaq Guides & Paddles

From this great Virtual Exhibit by the Nova Scotia Archives come some pictures of Mi'kmaq bark canoes and paddles

Mi'kmaq Guides with Party of Sportsmen Fishing from Four Canoes, Digby County
Date: May 1899
Photographer: J.A. Irvine
FULL Citation

Paddle Grip Closeup

Indian Encampment outside Dartmouth, NS
Date: ca. 1900
Photographer: W.L. Bishop
FULL Citation

Paddle Closeup

Mi'kmaq guides from Bear River at camp near Weymouth, N.S.
Date: ca. 1893
Photographer: J.A. Irvine

Paddle Closeup

Images courtesy of Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management, Halifax, NS as per their non-commercial use policy

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Historic Paddle Illustration - More Robert Petley

Another historic painting from Lieut. Robert Petley (1809-1869) in the Archives & of Canada.

Indian of the Mic-Mac Tribe
Library and Archives Canada

The painting illustrates a hunter armed with his rifle. Slung over his shoulder is a long fishing spear and two slender paddles with flattened, elongated grips. Once again, faint etchings in the main paddle blade reveals some hash marks in a chevron motif. Given that Peltey was a Military artist, I think it is fair to assume that his work would've reflected a certain military precision and attention to detail. Certainly the paddle shape is consistent with what is found in museums of the area.


August 2016 Update: Click here to see a higher resolution version of Petley's painting.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

World's Oldest Birchbark Canoe

Via this post at comes a writeup of a new contender for the oldest "surviving" birchbark canoe in the world:

Canoe in pieces

Seeing daylight for the 1st time in years

From the pics, it doesn't look like much but it is amazing how these crafts can be restored to some basic shape and functionality. Apparently, it is thought to be more than 250 years old and was discovered in a barn on the Enys estate near Penryn in Cornwall. It is believed the Canadian boat was brought to Cornwall by Lt. John Enys who fought in Quebec during the American War of Independence.

Until now, the earliest surviving bark canoe was the famous Grandfather Akwetin canoe, a 6 meter Maliseet Ocean canoe estimated to be 185 years old and "re-discovered" in Ireland.

There doesn't seem to be any info on the tribal association of the canoe, but just on casual observation, the bow profile, and distinctive gore cut pattern all the way to the stems look very reminiscent to the c.1896 Penobscot canoe of the Peabody museum that was the focus of the WCHA's online reprint of a a 1948 article from the The American Neptune Volume VIII, No. 4, 1948.

Penobscot Canoe [Catalogue E 14268] in the Peabody Museum of Salem

Plans are the for the canoe to be preserved and put on display to the public at the National Maritime Museum before being repatriated to Canada in September 2011 where it is apparently headed to the Canadian Canoe Museum for more research. Exciting news for us on this side of the pond!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Cherry Gallery Birdseye Paddles

Some more antique paddles from the Current Items page of the Cherry Gallery...

Pair of Bird's Eye Maple Canoe Paddles
These handmade paddles have eye-popping figured maple grain and a graceful shape.
Circa 1930
6.75" w, 60" h

Some close up shots of the grip reveal a half varnished - half oiled grip. You can see how the varnishing has really preserved the grain and color with the oiled grip showing how the rest of the paddle would've aged without this protection.

Check out that birdseye grain!

Also on the page is this very interesting c1890 paddle with supposed native origins...

Great Lakes Canoe Paddle
A Native American paddle made of birch, with a classic blade shape and throat scallop found in paddles from the western Great Lakes areas of Michigan and Wisconsin.
Circa 1890
5.25" w, 60" h


Never really seen the scalloped shoulder pattern on paddle blades before although the "horned grip" looks similar to some exotic paddles I've come across.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Bruce Smith - Exquisite Paddle Maker

Swung by the Great Outdoors & DIY Show this past weekend at the Toronto International Centre. For a reasonable door fee, one was granted access to 4 shows under one roof (The Fall Cottage Life Show, Canadian Handyman Show, Outdoor Canada and Explore Show).

A few canoe related exhibitors were there including:
• Swift with their display of quality Badger Canoe Paddles (now including a complementary paddle sock)
Muskoka Paddle Shack with their futuristic Carbon fibre ottertail paddle
• The Canadian Canoe Museum had a booth with a paddlemaking demo and a quaint c1950's, 12ft Bastien Brothers Trapper Canoe

However, the most appealing booth in my biased opinion was the wonderful exhibit featuring the gorgeous paddle creations of Bruce Smith. The visitor was greeted with a wall to wall display of hanging paddles made from a wide array of hardwoods with unique grain patterns. A real eye pleaser was a paddle made from wormy walnut with a fusion blend of creamy and dark colours swirling around the blade. I was kicking myself for not bringing the camera!

Mike Ormsby of Reflections on the Outdoors Naturally blog was helping at the booth and was kind enough to introduce me to Bruce as a fellow paddle maker. With Bruce's permission here are some shots of some of his work from his website, including his trademark grip with a secondary position.

Cherry Ottertail; Bruce's Unique Grip

Sweet looking Walnut paddle

Collection on display

We discussed some ideas about certain woods with Bruce sharing his experience of creating a paddle made from a harvested Tamarack log. Always wondered about this tough wood as a spruce substitute. Here are some photos of Bruce’s booth at show (courtesy of Mike Ormsby)

Also on display was Mike's gorgeous wood canvas canoe built in Bruce's shop. A real stunner complete with cherry gunwales and delicately carved thwarts. What really caught my attention though were the wide, but thin ribs very reminiscient of the Chesnut Ogilvy described on Mike Elliot's Kettle River Canoe Blog. A very hearty construction that also seems easier on the knees that than thicker, widely spaced ribs on my boat. Photos by Mike Ormsby...

According to Mike O's blog, Bruce plans to hold some paddle making workshops sometime in May for the extremely reasonable cost of $100 - a real bargain in my opinion and a perfect opportunity for a novice to learn the craft from a skilled woodworker. More info by contacting Bruce directly.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Voyageur Paddles - CL Sommers Canoe Base

Found this shot on FlickR featuring some decorative "voyageur" paddles at the CL Sommers Canoe Base in Minnesota.

They look very familiar to a paddle I posted on featured at 2008 Indian Summer Festival held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The paddle; The carved grip

I knew I had seen the distinct red tips somewhere before and then realized it was in a historical painting by Frederick Verner. Not the clearest image, but you can just make out the red tip on the paddle in the foreground.

Ojibway Indian Encampment
by Frederick Arthur Verner, 1873
Macdonald Stewart Art Centre, Guelph, Ontario

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

c1900 Decorated Odawa Paddle

Here's an image of a circa 1900 Odawa paddle with decorative etchings referenced in an out of print exhibition catalog, The art of the Great Lakes Indians. Flint, Mich.: Flint Institute of Arts, 1973. p. 98.

Ottawa Canoe Paddle
Length: 136.5cm
Blade width: 10cm

The curator at the Logan Museum of Anthropology was kind enough to send me additional details to post. The paddle, made around 1900, was purchased from Margaret Ashkanock in 1917 in Cross Village, Michigan by Albert Green Heath. The descriptive catalog information refers to the object as a "wooden paddle carved in geometric designs and heart shapes, triangular hole in handle." Despite not being visible on this B&W image, there are traces of red and gray paint between the engraved decorations on the top of blade.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Expensive Canoe Poling Art

An expired (2007) listing on the site lists an original painting by Philip Russell Goodwin (1881-1935) showing two hearty men poling a birchbark canoe. It eventually sold for $30 000!

Framed Piece; Closeup
Lot # 0130
Estimates: $15000 - $25000
Start Price: $10000
Description GOODWIN, Phillip Russell, (American, 1881-1935): Illustration, possibly for a Remington ad, depicting two men poling a canoe down river rapids, Oil/C, 30" x 20", signed and dated 1909, bears partial label verse "and Meelsins went up the Montreal and staked the mine", original frame 35 1/2" x 25 1/2". Small portion of inpaint with tiny patch visible verso, mid-upper right quadrant has minor fleck, pinpoint puncture in man's pant leg, needs cleaning.
Hammer Price $30000

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Cherry Gallery - Adirondack Guide Paddle

November 2010 current items at the Cherry Gallery features an Adirondack Guide Paddle circa 1890...

A delicate cherry guide boat paddle with a lollipop top and a diamond shaped and chamfered upper shaft. Good original surface, with minor damage to one edge of the blade.
Circa 1890
4.75" w, 66" h
The "lollipop" grip the description refers to is similar to a historic one documented in Dr Gordon L Fishers's 2008 publication Guideboat Paddles: An Adirondack Treasure. Specifically, it resembles the grip design popularized by Adirondack Guide and Boatbuilder, Caleb Judson Chase and is often referred to as an Arrowhead Motif grip.

Arrowhead Motif

An online excerpt (.PDF format) of Fisher's book has some photos of the author carving out this interesting grip shape (see last page of excerpt - pg 60). The book has a nice schematic of this grip design with a table of offsets for the blade in the appendix section. I'm planning to get more lumber stock in a few weeks and figure I'll attempt this new grip design as a winter project.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Historic Paddle Illustration - Frank Schoonover Art

From John Lindman's Bark Canoe Newsletter is an image by Frank Schoonover(1877 - 1972). This image shows a rear shot of a bark canoe and clear illustration of a paddle.

F. Schoonover - Unknown Title

Paddle Closeup

The short, angular shoulders of the blade with the relative straight sides in the part visible above the waterline, seem similar to Cree style paddles. In particular, check out the screenshots from Cree Hunters of the Mistassini - the blade profile looks similar to Sam Blacksmith's green painted paddle. The elongated roll grip is also reminiscent of antique Cree Paddle posted on the Cherry Gallery site a while back.

Sept 2015 Update: Found the same image accompanying a fiction piece entitled "His Quest and the End of It" by Gerald Chittenden in Scribner's Magazine Vol XLVIII July 1910

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Ojibwa Grandmother Paddle

Here's a pic that shows an elderly Ojibwa woman with a weathered paddle and simple, flattened grip...

Title: Ojibwa Woman standing beside canoe
Author: Lecours, Ghislaine.
Control no: S72-1266
Canadian Museum of Civilization

Grip Closeup

Friday, October 29, 2010

Celebrity Paddles: Gabriel Acquin's Canoe Paddle

A while back, I came across this intriguing print on with the listing title of "Original Albumen Photograph American Indian Guide".

"INDIAN GUIDE, c. 1870"
Details from the site mentioned a date of circa 1870. An original period photograph, it measures 2.25" x 3.5" and is housed in a beveled 5.25" x 8.25" period mat. The subject, according to the pencil notation below the image, "INDIAN GUIDE, c. 1870", is seen standing leaning on a canoe paddle. Unfortunately, no details regarding the identity of the subject were available.

Later, thanks to an email from blog reader Luc Poitras, I learned the image is of Gabriel Acquin, a Maliseet (Wolastoqiyik) guide who was the first to permanently settle on land that would eventually become St. Mary's First Nation.

Gabe Acquin (St. Mary's), c. 1866
University of New Brunswick Archives

In the photo Acquin is holding a rough looking paddle with an elongated grip typical of this region. Found a detailed bio page that mentioned some pretty neat stuff about the man. Here's an excerpt...
A turning-point in Gabe’s life occurred in 1860 when the 18-year-old Prince of Wales visited Fredericton. Passing by Government House in his canoe, Gabe was hailed by the prince, who asked for a ride. Against the remonstrances of equerries and household, Gabe paddled the future king across the river and into the mouth of the Nashwaak River before returning. Gabe was subsequently invited to England, first in 1883 as one of Canada’s entries in the International Fisheries Exhibition in London. With his canoe and wigwam and wearing an outfit beaded by his wife, an extraordinarily talented craftswoman, he set up camp on the ponds of South Kensington, renewed old friendships with royalty and officers he had known, and became, in the words of William Austin Squires, “the greatest social lion of the day.” Gabe is reputed to have gone to England again in the 1880s though this claim is undocumented. He was 82 when he took his last trip there, in 1893–94 with Paul Boyton’s World’s Water Show.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

1936 Birchbark Canoe Film - Porpoise Hunter

From this thread on the BushcraftUSA forums, I learned about a 1936 silent film featuring Mi'kmaq style birchbark canoes. Entitled "The Porpoise Hunter", it is a re-creation of the traditional hunt enacted by Digby County Mi'kmaq and illustrates the subsequent rendering of the carcasses into oil. The oil was apparently sold by the Mi'kmaq to various local businesses for a time, but the practice died out when there was no longer any market for the product.

Here are some interesting moments in the video
7:27 - Canoe Portage to beach
8:11 - Launching on the rocky shoreling
8:47 - "Indian" Paddling style
9:32 - Quick turn around strokes
The video clearly shows some wonderful images of the unique design of Mi'kmaq style canoes and also illustrates some authentic paddling techniques of these canoe experts - short but powerful strokes with lots of prying of the gunnels. I was also able to capture a screenshot where the sternman's paddle design (looks to be a painted blade) is quickly seen before it is driven back into the water

Sternman's paddle design

Saturday, October 23, 2010

NMAI - C1850 Passamaquoddy Paddle

Another beautiful Passamaquoddy paddle from the National Museum of the American Indian with some barely visible incising decorations on the blade's shoulders...

Passamaquoddy Canoe Paddle
Wood, paint, varnish
Dimensions: 154.10 x 11.80 x 2.50 cm
Date Created:1850-1900
Catalog Number: 25/4432

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Historic Illustration - Champlain Paddle Picture

Here's another image of the paddle featured in The voyages and explorations of Samuel de Champlain, 1604-1616. It contains one of the earliest recorded images of a North American paddle. Figure B illustrates a woman holding onto a child with one hand while grasping chevron decorated paddle with the other.

As far as I can tell, it is one of the oldest images that features the chevron theme I've been consistently seeing in historic paddle art. One must wonder if future artists simply used Champlain's imagery to perpetuate this decorative feature or if it really was as abundant as it seems in art today. I'm still searching for surviving museum paddles with this theme but have yet to come across one.

For more editions of this image, including a colour version from another text, check out an earlier post on Champlain here.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Eric Morse Paddle

Another "Celebrity Paddle" featured at the Canadian Canoe Museum is that of Eric Morse (1904 - 1986). A display to Morse features a worn canvas pack and packbasket along with a tripping paddle featuring the Coat of Arms of the Northwest Territories where Morse did a significant amount of paddling.

Eric Morse Display at the CCM

Blade closeup

Recently ordered a copy of Morse's Paddling Memoir, Freshwater Saga from a used bookstore and found it a pleasure to read. I was surprised to find out that although Morse was a lifelong outdoor enthusiast, he was 49 when the he and several diplomats in the fledgling United Nations began their arduous annual canoe treks. Dubbed "The Voyageurs" by the media, they were the first group of recreational canoeists to travel remote wilderness areas just for pure paddling pleasure. Very inspirational!

More info on the group and their travels can be read at this link here.

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