Monday, November 30, 2015

Indigenous Paddling Technique: Part 2

A few of my previous posts have focused on traditional indigenous paddling techniques by First Nation canoeists. While often described as "inefficient" by today's modern paddling gurus, the short, choppy, non vertical stroke is comfortable for me, since nearly all my paddling is done from the kneeling position down low in the canoe.

A few surviving photos also illustrate how the paddle was held with both hands in a more natural, relaxed "push up" position, with the grip hand often grabbing the shaft or loosely draped perpendicular to the grip. Perhaps the best photo of this is described in Robert E. Pinkerton's The Canoe: Its Selection, Care and Use (published 1916). 

Pinkerton, RE.  The Canoe: Its Selection, Care and Use (1916)
Image Reference Link

Here are a few others that have been posted here before...

Ojibwe Chief Busticogan in a bark canoe on the Big Fork River (MN)
Original Post: Historic Photo: Ojibwe Paddling Method
Image Source Link  

Chippewa Paddlers - Mille Lacs - MN 
Original Post here

Recently I found another article describing this method which originally appeared in an article entitled, "Taking the Tip out of a Canoe" by Charles L. Gilman. It originally appeared on page 21 of Field and Stream (April 1927, Vol. 32  No. 12) and expounds on why native paddlers were so stable in their craft. The text portion has been reprinted as a "classic" on Field and Stream's current website (available here). While the language of the article might be distasteful to modern ears, it does provide a clue to the original method of kneeled paddling before seats in canoes became standard. Furthermore, it clearly explains the design need for longer paddles for use with this more lateral canoe stroke.

A few relevant excerpts from the piece:
"The habit of sitting low in the canoe forces upon the Indian a paddle technique which is different from that of the white man and, in general, less efficient. To reach the water he must slant his paddle out, much like an oar. He does not grip with his upper hand across the head of the paddle shaft, but around it, with his thumb toward the blade. 
This demands a longer paddle than is required by a white man--one as long as the user is tall, as compared with one standing to the height of the user's mouth if he kneels or to his eyes if he sits to paddle. "  

After reading this online, I got interested in searching out the original for photos. Managed to find it in a Library archive and was delighted to see it featured a full frontal shot of a kneeling paddler griping his paddle with this more natural hand positioning.

Field and Stream (April 1927, Vol. 32  No. 12 p21) 

The author then goes on to mention a personal observance with a changing technique trend and paddle designs amongst his circle.

"...Within the last fifteen years the paddle with a plain round shaft has been displaced by that widened for a cross grip among the Indians with whom I am familiar. They sit low and grip around the shaft in rough water, and perch very high and use the cross-grip and vertical stroke when things are calm and peaceful and there is no danger."

This observation seemed to clarify why many early surviving paddles simply had a rounded  "pole grip" instead of something to comfortably grasp with the hand. After all, with the effort to shape out a blade, carving a rudimentary grip would not take much more effort. However, the the paddler simply gripped the shaft in this more natural position, there would be no need for wasting time and effort on a utilitarian device like a paddle.

As a final aside, another photo of this style of paddle and technique being used. This one dated to the October 1909 of Rod and Gun in Canada...

"Successful Moose Hunts on a Quebec Game Preserve" by F.B. Guild
Rod and Gun in Canada Vol 11. No 5. October 1909

The guide in the read is clearly using this method on his pole grip style ...

Image Closeup

Friday, November 27, 2015

Abbe Museum Coming Home Gallery Guide

One of my must visit places when I eventually get to Maine is the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor. Over the years, it has had very informative displays and events showcasing the Wabanaki canoe culture. One of their 2015 exhibits (set to close on December 19th) is Coming Home. The museum was able to borrow various Wabanaki items from various ethnological collections residing outside of Maine.

One of the beautiful paddles on loan for their display is a very interesting paddle from the American Museum of Natural History:

 Catalog No: 50.1/ 7780
Dimensions: L:127.5 W:13 [in CM]
Accession No: 1914-4

I've always been curious about this paddle. The surface has weathered into what looks to be a greyish layer and the grip has very unique carvings right through the wood. Another different element is the paddle's length - a very short 127.5cm (roughly 50 inches). I always thought my paddles (58") were short in comparison to other traditional paddles that generally reach the 70+ inch mark.

Well, the Abbe has partially answered these questions with their Coming Home Gallery Guide available for download in pdf format (link HERE). I found it very generous of the museum to make this available to the public. It does an outstanding job putting the objects of the exhibit into context and describe their cultural significance. Wish more museums would do this.

Pages 22-23 of the document feature some additional photos of the paddle being analyzed along with some interesting finds. Examinations with microscopic and chemical analyses revealed that the paddle had two layers of paint and was originally a green color.  The base layer pigment was made from a green sedimentary rock which formed at the bottom of an ancient seabed. Later it seems, the paddle was repainted with a commercial paint as specks of blue, yellow and white pigments were found.

Also interesting is that despite the paddle's ornate decoration and small size, it was not just a souvenir. The Museum experts concluded that peeling paint on the blade along with a waxy coating detected on the handle are consistent with with other paddles which were known to have been used.

The document also features two additional closeup photos of the blade and handle revealing faint double curve motifs and etchings, not fully apparent in the AMNH's stock collection photo.

Thank you Abbe Museum for making this document available for download and sharing some  wonderful descriptive detail for those of us fascinated by Wabanaki canoe and paddle culture!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

c1900 Folk Decorated Canoe Paddle

LiveAuctioneers has an interesting find described as a circa 1900 Folk Decorated Canoe Paddle. The 61 inch paddle has a pretty standard shape but the blade is decorated on both sides with some etchings.

1900 Folk Decorated Canoe Paddle
Length = 61"

One side of the blade has the words  "Travail Vainc Tout". Loosely translated it means "Work vanquishes all".  The other side features a Gibson Era woman with some initials and additional artistic etchings of birds.

The decorated blades

Even the plain shaped grip has a bit of decorative flair with triangular etching on the face.

Grip Closeup

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Historic Paddle Illustration: Stand up paddle guide

Found an illustration of guide using a stand up paddle technique. It was found on in an otherwise boring government publication - Annual reports of the Forest, Fish and Game Commissioner of the State of New York - 2nd Edition (1895/96).

Venison for the Camp

Closeup of stand up paddle

Friday, November 20, 2015

Ebay Dragon Fly Diamond Grip Paddle

Blog contributor Luc Poitras just notified me of a unique looking paddle up for sale on Ebay. The listing shows various angles of the paddle which feature a strong spine down the blade and a tiny burning of a dragonfly.

The grip features a very interesting design as well - a sort of oval top with diamond or arrowhead lower section commonly found in Adirondack style paddles. Here are a few more of the seller's photos...

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Origami Reflector Oven Project

Back in 2013, a post by Operater6 on the BushcraftUSA forums (link here - member login required) showed his ingenious plans for making a mini reflector oven from a large oven foil tray. Called the "2 Dollar Reflector Oven", it involves making a few cuts and folds to a piece of aluminum resulting in a perfectly functional reflector for solo use.

Oven Liner Aluminum Tray - Cut to a basic hexagon pattern

Folded into shape

Rigged up with small tray

Cooking Biscuits on the trail

He very generously provided plans for others to try and replicate his smart little invention...

Folding Oven Plans

I had saved his link and pics with the hope of creating one as well. Instead of using the aluminum oven trays however, I ended up using something else that was found a few weeks back on garbage day. Someone in the neighbourhood was throwing away a shiny roll of aluminum. I thought is was some sort of flashing but it turns out it was a camping accessory - the BakGlo Campfire Chair Warmer. Here are some shots of the product from the company page...

This one was well used and kind of dirty with tree resin and other junk, but a quick cleanup and polish made it good to go. As soon as I saw it, it seemed perfect for this project. If it's meant to reflect heat from a campfire to warm your butt, figured it could be used to actually bake some real buns on the trail.

First some masking tape was laid out to form the pattern since pencil marks didn't show up well on the shiny surface. Given that there was more material to work with than a dollar store aluminum tray, I deviated from Operator6's original measurements. Top to bottom was 21" long (20" + 1/2" folded edge on each end)

Pattern taped out

Sheet cut out

At this point, I folded along the appropriate lines according to the plans (while keeping the tape on temporarily) and the reflector began to take shape

Folding up and down

The plans call for two tabs to be inserted into slots. These were marked and cut after folding. You can see the tabs partially inserted below

Tabs sliding into cuts

At this point I still felt the whole thing was a bit wobbily but found that by folding the tails on the bottom piece inward 90 degrees stiffened things up.

Folding in the bottom legs for stability

At this point, I used a leather punch to poke 2 holes on either side. A 24" piece of 1/8 steel rod was bent into a long U shape and stuck into the holes. This added a lot of rigidity as well. My plan is to use the 6" aluminum lid of my Mini Trangia cookset as the baking tray. Don't have that cookset with me in the city, but managed to find another 6" steel pot lid as a substitute for the photo. Here's a shot of the reflector stove all rigged up...

Being a single piece, the oven folds up pretty well, but the triangular wings have a tendency to pop up. 

Found that if I folded it up and placed these wings downward, it could be neatly formed into a 10"x10" package.

 10"x10" folded down

With some scrap cardboard to form an envelope of sorts, I've left with a 11x11 bundle that stays put.  I'll be slipping this into the wanigan and giving it a whirl next season. The cardboard might be a bit overkill, but it could always be used to start a roaring fire and made again when needed.

In its cardboard case

Monday, November 16, 2015

Cree Cultural Institute - Kawapit Canoe & Paddles

The Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute has a wonderful online exhibit featuring the many Cree artifacts on loan from various museums. Included in their collections in the well known canvas canoe made by John Kawapit. Some readers may recall that this canoe was the focus 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 (see my original post about it here).

The new exhibit page for this canoe features a wonderful new photo showcasing the lines as well as 2 paddles commissioned with the build. Further details about the build as well as additional photos and a video commentary are available as well.

Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute

It turns out that one can also take a virtual tour of their museum too. The canoe is part of their "Community's Way of Life" gallery. Here is a screenshot...

Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute

The paddles feature some simple thin red line markings (to match the canoe) similar to  paddle design A in Taylor's illustration...

Decorated Cree Paddles

For my own spruce Cree replica made back in 2011, I came up with a slightly different pattern than Paddle (D) on the far right, a museum model piece from Fort Chimo now at the McCord Museum in Montreal.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Crazy Portaging Pics

Check out these vintage pics of some crazy portaging pics. First off there's this guy who hasn't yet learned about a centre thwart or paddle lashing method...

Portaging a canoe, Northern Ontario.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of Interior /  Library and Archives Canada / PA-048127

Here's another gentleman complete with suit and tie muscling his way through through deadfall while a companion looks on...
Portaging a canoe, District of Patricia, Ont.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of Interior / Library and Archives Canada / PA-043440

My favourite of the set is this one. A hardy tripper properly shouldering a canoe while giving a lift to his paddling buddy... 

Quebec - Lake Edward district - W.J.S. in canoe. 
Credit: Canadian National Railways/ Library and Archives Canada Link

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Eldred Auctioneer's Folk Art Paddle

Eldred's Auctioneers is holding a sale on Americana and other Folk art between November 19 to November 21, 2015. Lot # 225 features a late 19th Century decorated paddle. Unfortunately the image provided only showcases the blade.  Below is the image and details provided by the seller...

Late 19th Century
Possibly by the Penobscot Tribe of Maine.

With polychrome geometric decoration, pyrographic acorn decoration and a découpaged image of an American Native's bust. Length 66." Condition Some finish loss.
Low Estimate $300.00
High Estimate $400.00

Not sure about the authenticity of the Penobscot origin.  The "acorn decoration" described by the seller obviously look more like pine cones and coniferous needles. A closeup shot of the découpaged photo also reveals a partially etched name...

It seems the image is of  Southern Cheyenne chief, Wolf Robe (b. 1838-1841, d. 1910, Oklahoma). It was taken by photographer Frank Reinhart showcasing the Chief after being awarded the Benjamin Harrison Peace Medal apparently given during yet another forced migration of his people.

The photo of Wolf Robe was the basis for many sculptors and artists who modified or used this image in their works. Being on the arid midwestern and southern plains, The Cheyenne were never a paddling community so his image seems an odd selection. It's likely the paddle and artwork were meant to portray a romanticized view of native art for the souvenir trade.

Feb 26, 2016 update: The auction listing has now added additional photos of the entire paddle and a closeup of the grip area. See that post here.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Musée des Abénakis Canoe and Paddle Display

Just discovered another museum on my bucket list to visit. The Musée des Abénakis is located in Odanak, Quebec on the shores of the St. Francis River. Home of the "St. Francis Abenaki", the museum looks to have a marvelous display of the canoe culture in the region.

A permanent exhibit called Wôbanaki, People of the Rising Sun features a full length bark canoe with baskets and an interesting paddle.

Photo Credit: Montreal Addicts

More photos from the museum show another angle of the canoe and paddle...

Wôbanaki, People of the Rising Sun Exhibit
 Musée des Abénakis  

The enlarged photo reveals a paddle with some sort of etching on the blade and a zig zag motif of the elongated grip...

Paddle Closeup

While searching on Flickr for any more uploads of the museum by visitors, I stumbled on this one by TourismeNicoletYamaska. The decorative etchings are not very visible but the overall blade shape, carved drip rings and grip shape are quite nicely captured...

Wôbanaki, People of the Rising Sun Exhibit
 Musée des Abénakis
Photo Credit: TourismeNicoletYamaska

Friday, November 6, 2015

1883 Canoe Camp Illustration

This Ebay listing features an antique print of various scenes from a New Brunswick fishing trip dated to 1883. It includes sketches of Guides poling upriver with their humped Mi'kmaq style bark as well as illustrations of scenes in camp. 

"The  Marquis of Lorne's Salmon Fishery in New Brunswick"
Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, Volume 2, April 14 1883 

One particular scene on the lower left has been labelled with the caption "Camping Out" and shows the bark canoe flipped over with a tarp shelter rigged over the canoe poles...

The scene is reminiscent of other photos of canoe camps from the region. Here's one from an online exhibit entitled, Wolastoqiyik, Portrait of a People dated to 1862...

Campsite at Blue Mountain,on a bend of the Tobique River. 1862.
Provincial Archives of New Brunswick, P5-253
Source Link

An another labelled "Up the Tobique" from James E. Jones' book Camping and Canoeing (1903)

Up the Tobique Canoe Camp
 James Edmund Jones. Camping and Canoeing : what to take, how to travel, how to cook, where to go by  (1903) 

For anyone interested, more vintage pics of canoe camp shelters can be found in this post here

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