Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Voyageur Paddle Artifact vs. Modern Paddle Makers

Responding to the previous post on the voyageur artifacts found during the Grand Portage excavations, Archaeologist and paddle maker Chris Fisher (see post here) got in touch with some interesting observations regarding the blade shapes of these historic finds compared to some modern paddle makers today.

Chris has been using software to properly scale and compare dimensional info of various paddles featured on this site, as well as other notable sources like Adney's Bark Canoes and Skin Boats and Graham Warren's 100 Canoe Paddle Designs book. As part of his ongoing personal research, he has noted that that the intact blade artifact (NPS GRPO 16122) with its roughly 5-1/4"x27" blade dimension is most common to a paddle design by another well know paddle maker here in Southern Ontario, Bruce Smith. Here is an graphic of some of his comparisons.

Here's a captured pic and writeup from Bruce's paddle designs page showcasing the aptly named blade in question - "The Classic":

The Bruce Smith design is a classic multi-purpose paddle, popular with canoe instructors. It is a blend of the Ottertail and Stern with the greatest percentage of surface area in the middle of the blade. This efficient design is excellent for long days of trip paddling but also style paddling in a variety of settings. Designed for solo paddling, lake travel, general tripping.

Chris also extrapolated the blade shape from the surviving paddle fragment with a pointed tip (GRPO -  16123 ) and found some similarities with a model paddle made by Tappan Adney when adjusted to scale. This model paddle is currently in the collection of The Mariner's Museum and a full-sized blade plan with offset data is found on p. 28 of 100 Canoe Paddle Designs.

Paddle Fragment - GRPO -  16123 
Credit: NPS Photo by John Reed

This paddle design lacks a "proper" grip which I've mentioned before wasn't always needed when observing indigenous paddling techniques from old vintage photos. Not having to spend time with a bulbous grip would also allow this design to be carved pretty quickly too. In my mind, it would make a very effective bushcraft / survival design to carve out in an emergency case...or in a paddle addict's case, just for fun!

Many thanks to Chris for sharing his graphical comparison info with myself and the readers. Now he's got me tempted to spend some more time in the woods sourcing out some downed cedar to replicate this design.

1 comment:

David said...

Wow great info there Murat, I've always thought that the voyageur were using much narrower paddles from what I read and saw on drawings ad paintings!!
You should have all that info put into a book... The paddle encyclopedia and other stuff....

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