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!


Mike said...

As usual you're ahead of most of us on this very important and great news....thanks for bringing o my attention....I'll post something on my blog too if that's OK (with a link to your great article of course)

Murat said...

Sure, go need to ask...let's all spread the news. First found out about in the UK canoe forum - They're just as excited on that side of the pond.

Henri Vaillancourt said...

In early February of this year I got this email with the message ''Very old birchbark canoe found in England''. The email from George Hogg of the National Maritime Museum in Cornwall went on to explain about a canoe believed to be more than 200 years old that was found on the estate of one of the prominent families in Cornwall. It was believed to have been collected by Lt. John Enys who served in the Revolutionary war in the defense of Quebec from the Americans.When I opened up the attached pic , I couldn't believe my eyes ! From many of the details of construction,it was clearly a very early period canoe .I impressed upon Mr. Hogg that this canoe should be preserved at all costs, as it was invaluable to the continuing study of the development of bark canoes from the early period to the 19th century,when more canoes were available for study.Many emails went back and forth with requests for pics on my part so that I might see more detail, and discussions about the best home for this canoe [ which ended up being the Canadian Canoe Museum].After almost a year it is great that this canoe will be preserved for future generations of historians. Its damaged condition is a mixed blessing , as more can be learned from a canoe in this state than an intact one.Many thanks to the National Mariners Museum and the Enys family for making this possible !

Murat said...

Wow...great back story! Sort of starstruck that bark canoe legend Henri Vaillancourt took the time to comment on my little blog here. A heartfelt thanks goes to you as well for being so instrumental in emphasizing the significance of this canoe and getting it preserved for all of us to enjoy!

Can I ask if I was sort of right with the assumption that it is an early Penobscot tribal design?

P.S. I've sent off an email to Rick Nash who's a "neighbor" up near our cottage in case he'd be interested as well...

Henri Vaillancourt said...

Thanks much for the kind remarks ! And thanks also for all the work you do in bringing to light a lot of old material from museums and other collections . Your postings serve a very useful purpose in the research of these aspects of Native material culture. I've been following your site for several years and have been very impressed by what you are doing.

You are right on in your assumption that the Enys canoe is of the Penoscot ''type'', which also includes the Malecite of both the St. Lawrence River and New Brunswick regions as well as the Abnaki. This canoe may also have been made by the Huron or Mohawk who were also in the same region at the same time as Enys. A tribal''type'' of implement often goes beyond the boundary of the tribal definition as neighboring groups can sometimes quickly adopt a new pattern, style or technique when the conditions are right.

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