Monday, February 15, 2016

Voyageur Paddles from the Grand Portage Excavation project

Surviving authentic paddles from the Voyageur Fur Trade era are few and far between. Paintings, like those of Frances Anne Hopkins give a clue as to the various shape and styles used by these hardy canoemen.

Sometimes, archeological excavations add to the knowledge base of paddle shapes. In the 1970s, the National Parks Service undertook a series of underwater excavations around Grand Portage. Until recently, I was only aware of catalog descriptions outlining some of the interesting finds, including some partial fragments of paddles.

However, now some of the finds have been posted online in this Photo Gallery of Tools from the excavations. Included in this gallery is the full blade of a late 18th, early 19th century voyageur paddle made of white cedar. It looks to be a simple, straight sided blade with a subtle taper from the shoulders to a rounded tip

White Cedar Paddle Fragment
Description: 18-19 cent. voyageur;  87.5 cm long; 14 cm wide; 1.9cm thick.

Another partial fragment (also white cedar) reveals another blade pattern, this one with an angular tip...

.Credit: NPS Photo by John Reed
White cedar paddle blade fragment, straight-sided with dihedral-cross section and angular tip. The paddle fragment measures 49.5 cm long, 10.5 cm wide, and up to 1.8 cm thick

Finally, a last paddle piece of the shoulder area shows a similar angular profile to the first photo in the series.

Paddle Fragment - GRPO 16119
White cedar paddle 40.1 cm long 19.3 wide 1.5 thick.

Found it quite interesting that all three bits are made from white cedar. A lightweight wood but quite soft and prone to breakage. Still, given its ease of carving, one can picture voyageurs quickly making a functional paddle from the abundant cedars dotting the the shoreline of the trade route waterways. 


David said...

Look really similar to one I made last year for a client..../Users/admin/Desktop/IMG_7959.jpg (hope it works)

Murat said...

Sorry David. Your pic didn't show up. Don't think you can attach images in the comment section. Is it on the web somewhere, like your facebook page?

David said...

I think it is... ti is here!!

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