Sunday, October 28, 2018

Circa 1770 Cree Paddle Reproduction - Part 1

One interesting paddle with an established providence is item NC0047 of the Splendid Heritage Nagy Collection first described in this post here.

Hudson Bay Cree Paddle
68 Inch long
circa. 1770 
Photo Credit: Clinton Nagy -

Two experts of woodland culture, Dr. Ted Brasser and the late Dr. Cath Oberholtzer provided some interesting notes in PDF format. An excerpt of the writings states the following:

The canoe paddle (NC0047) conforms to the type used by the northern Cree people on Hudson Bay. Typically, the handle is scarcely more than half the length of the paddle; in this case the handle is even somewhat shorter. This may well be the oldest Cree paddle in existence, and its decoration is more elaborate than on recent Cree paddles. Painted paddles from both sides of the Hudson Bay are illustrated in the literature. It is recorded that such paintings had a personal meaning based upon dream experiences. The zigzag pattern on this early example may stand for water.

The paddle was apparently collected by a Mr. George Holt,  a sailor and employee of the Hudson's Bay Company who active in this area between the years of 1768 and 1771. Holt even carved his name on the famous rocks at Sloop Cove - Fort Prince of Wales National Historic site near Churchill, Manitoba a few years after another well known HBC employee - Samuel Hearne. Here's are some additional photos from the June 1943 edition of The Beaver.

Along with some other artifacts obtained by Holt during his time in the Hudson Bay region, the paddle made it into the personal collection of a Dr. Andrew Gifford, a baptist minister who was appointed  the first Assistant Keeper in the Department of Manuscripts of the recently established British Museum. At his death in 1784, Gifford bequeathed his collection to the Baptist Academy in Bristol where it remained as part of the Gifford Collection. The collection was put up to be sold in 1979 where it was snatched up for the private collection of and employee of Christie's Auction who kept it for seven years before selling again. It has changed hands a few more times and is now part of the private Nagy Collection.

The original paddle is 68 inches long and was likely used as a steering paddle given its overall length and blade size (34.5 inch long by 6.5 inch wide) here. My intention was to make a scaled down 58 inch reproduction of this paddle for the WCHA Assembly display, but ran out of time before the event. Since the latter part of the summer, I've been slowly carving this out from a board of hard maple. It's been tough slog on the tools which needed to be resharpened often. Here is a shot of the blank being when it was about 75% carved. The grip and blade edges still need to be evened out but at least the wood did not tear out when hewing out with the axe.

c1770 Cree Paddle Replica in the works

In addition to carving this one out, I've begun preparing an article for submission to Wooden Canoe Journal as part of my series entitled "Paddles from the Past".

Jan 2019 Update: Continue on to Part II of this paddle HERE

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Hot Tenting on Late Fall Canoe Trip - QE II Wildlands Park

Got to spend a few days outdoors on the last trip of the year. I was invited to join two buddies to check out the Queen Elizabeth II Wildlands park just a relatively short 1 1/2 hours north of home. has a detailed topo map of the region, a non-operating park with cottages on the boundary lakes. The southern end of the park is accessed through Head Lake which is locally notorious for its waves given the relatively large surface area and shallow depth. The plan was to travel northeast up the Head River, complete the short 100m portage and continue up into Fishog, then northwest into Round Lake and into Long.

The map marked 3 launch points on the southwestern shore. Just before departing, we learned of a new access point not yet on the map at the Northeastern section past the 100m portage on the Head river. It seemed to be a gift so we wouldn't have to have to cross the width of Head Lake and could easily make it up to Long Lake. Unfortunately once arriving the crew found the road was blocked with a locked gate mentioning that access here closed after October 15th. This despite the fact that the park is open year round without any set operating dates. So with a much delayed start, we eventually made it over to the H1 access point (where there were no parking fees) putting us roughly 6 km further away from our original intended launch point.

I was paddling solo in my 14 ft Chestnut Playmate. It was loaded pretty heavily with my repaired canvas pack stuffed with the homemade canvas wall tent, the wanigan, a kni-co trekker wood stove and other accessories including the wool blanket sweater and other necessary cold weather gear. Paddles were the repaired sassafras tripper and the ash Armstrong paddle.

Access point

The H1 access point was sheltered so the water conditions looked great. However, once out a few hundred meters, strong winds created some rollers. Luckily with the winds blowing from the Southwest, the journey up to the mouth of the Head River was aided by a near perfect tail wind.

 Paddling towards the NW shore

Once around the corner of the bay, the mouth of the Head River was a welcomed wind free picture of solitude.

 Mouth of the Head River

As you can see from the photos, the fall colours were well past peak as most of the leaves had already fallen. A short paddle to the 100m carry around a cascade revealed a very steep portage trail now covered in slippery leaves to contend with in addition to the awkward climb. Given all the gear, this meant triple portages. Despite the short length, the trail was quite technical requiring careful footing. We were well behind schedule given the alternate start point but rushing over this carry was not an option so this slowed the group down considerably.

 Short but relatively steep rocky climb

Once over the other side, there was a slight decent to a pool above where someone has a cottage and motorboats. At this point I checked my watch and it was exactly 2 hours since departing from the H1 access point. Had the other new access been open, we would have started further up the Head River and bypassed all of this section and likely would be approaching our destination lake by now.

Other side of the portage

The Head river widens a bit after this point until you eventually enter to park proper. A new sign marking the park boundary has the campsites illustrated on a graphic. Immediately I realized there were far fewer campsites listed on the sign than on the topo map. Apparently in an effort to preserve this high use lake, many sites have been closed and camping no longer permitted on them. Hunting is permitted throughout the park after September 14th, so it was a good thing we brought some high-visibility orange vests just to be sure.

Eventually the narrow channel opens up into Fishog Lake. By this point I was outpaced by the camping friends in a 16 foot tandem so they went ahead to scout out sites.

Bottom of Fishog Lake

Our sunny skies had faded and rain was seemingly on the way. The shoreline of Fishog still had some remnant leave colour to brighten up and increasingly dreary day.

Around halfway up Fishog, the friends had landed on a pretty site at the base of a slope. It seemed well sheltered for the current conditions. Given the fact that we had to spend a large amount of time and effort to cross Head Lake and carry over the  and decision was made to camp there instead of trying to get up to Long. 

Our remaining daylight was beginning to fade so we got to work setting up our individual tents. For this trip, I tried to lighten the load by not bringing the entire pole frame for the canvas tent. Instead the tent was suspended with a tensioned ratchet strap between two well placed trees at the back of the site. A few closet rod poles were carried to support the sides. Rather than scrounge around for wood limbs for the stove pipe support, I used two aluminum shock-corded poles lashed together. 

Drizzle and rain persisted during the late evening hours but the tent held up well and stayed dry. I didn't use the woodstove in the tent that night, but stayed reasonably warm with sleeping bag and wool blanket combo. However, upon waking early to a very chilly morning with a steady northerly wind, the stove was lit to fend off the cold. The stove worked very well. Here's a working shot with the kettle on. A bit smoky when initially lit if the door was open but no worries when the door shut.

 heating up the tent and water

Within a few minutes the whole tent warmed up and felt cozy enough to begin stripping layers. Breakfast was also begun. Before the trip, I came across a youtube vid by Mark Young showing how to make small reflector oven (similar to the famed Svante Freden design) using an aluminum oven liner from the dollar store. Following his directions, I made one that perfectly fit my 6" trangia mini pan. Normally of course a reflector oven is turned to face the flames of an open fire, but with an elevated pan and the reflector inverted on top of the wood stove, I was able to quickly bake some biscuits to go along with the morning tea.

 Reflector inverted on top of woodstove

My companions awoke and we were able to spend a relaxing morning warm and sheltered in the tent for the morning meal. Hope that the northerly wind would subside never materialized. In fact, it steadily blew into camp throughout the day. Smoke from the stove pipe was blowing sideways. The lake was too choppy to explore so we were effectively windbound.

steady wind kept us windbound

Luckily the sun was shining so after our extended breakfast/brunch we set to work processing some wood both for a hearty evening campfire and for the hot tent. It was enjoyable work sawing and splitting as a group. There was no way I could have processed that much wood on my own during a typical solo trip.   

 modest pile of stove wood

One of the members brought along a huge tarp which was promptly setup to form a windbreak by the fire pit.

Fire pit setup 

The wind began to gust quite seriously, but my tent seemed to hold up quite well.

Our evening fire was pretty awesome given all the effort the three of us expended to saw and split so much wood. Much merriment was had, but the evening was extremely cold with the wind.  Despite being layered up with thermal underwear, 2 merino wool sweaters, my wool blanket sweater, rain jacket and hi-visibility hunting vest the wind would get to you the moment you stepped away from the fire.

Start of the evening campfire

After retiring relatively late that night, I neglected to do one important thing and that was check to see if the guy-lines supporting the wall tent had loosened during the relentless wind all day. I was overly confident that the tent would hold over the night hours given the pretty wicked daytime conditions. Planning to read a little before falling asleep, the wood stove was lit to warm up. The stove had begun to die down for the night when I stripped off some layers and finally crawled into the sleeping bag but hadn't yet fully gotten drowsy. Turned off my headlamp and a few moments later, heard a loud metallic "thonk!". The outer poles on the stove side had collapsed when the wind ripped out all three guylines. Part of the tent (and silnylon tarp) had now collapsed onto the the still hot stove pipe.

Woefully under dressed, I rushed out of the tent (after struggling with a jammed zipper on the sleeping bag) and controlled the flapping tarp and collapsed tent side. It took some creative stretching but in the end I was able to get the material off the stove pipe and reset the guy-lines Unfortunately the damage was done resulting in burn holes in that corner of the tent.

More significantly, after being exposed to the chilly wind with minimal clothing I began to shiver once back in the tent. A decision was made to re-light the stove to warm up again. While I was nowhere near hypothermic, it was definitely the coldest I've been in years of tripping. With this mishap and the cold, adrenalin kept me up for most of the night. This time I made sure the stove pipe was completely cold before getting into bed again.

The wind continued the next morning with no sign of really slowing down. After breakfast, we all began breaking camp. The full extent of the burn damage at the corner was visible in the sunlight. Given the modular design with removable panels, I'm confident it can be repaired so the whole project isn't a write-off. Something to do over the winter, right?


I finished off the water in my gravity filter and discovered ice at the bottom of the bag. We would later learn that the temperature dropped to zero degrees C but the windchill was -9C.

 Ice at the bottom of the water filter bag

At least it wasn't raining when packing up so the gear was put away dry. Still the wind was whipping and gusty at departure which made for a tricky return back to the Head lake access point.

 Gear packed up for the return trip.   

Despite the serious mishap with the tent, it was definitely worth lugging all that extra gear to deal with the chilly conditions. The warmth from the stove was a mood booster and made the outdoor living much more comfortable during the unpredictable autumn conditions. Next time the whole tent frame to prevent a similar incident in gusty conditions. If all goes well, the tent will be repaired over the off season for an early spring trip in 2019.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Historic Photo: Sault St. Marie Poling Rapids

From this Ebay seller comes a steroview photo of a man poling up the rapids near Sault Ste. Marie. Just behind the poler is a paddle resting on the thwarts. The stout paddle shaft has a short, flattened bobble style grip ending.

Title: 7992 Breasting rapids at Sault Ste. Marie with an Indian guide 
Underwood & Underwood, New York, London, Toronto, Ottawa

Unfortunately, there is no date associated with the photo description, but the photographic company,
Underwood & Underwood, were major publishers of stereoscopic photos until 1920.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Historic Paddle Photo: Matt Bernard - Pikwàkanagàn FN Bark Canoe and Paddle

Illustrated Forest and Outdoors (January 1947) from the Canadian Forestry Association featured a 1 page article showcasing the bark canoe building of Matt Bernard of Golden Lake, Ontario  (now known as Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation).

The canoe and image look similar to the photo in the online exhibit Canoe Builders of Pikwàkanagàn where a better photo of the paddle profile is shown.

Location: Pikwakanagan Indian Reserve, Golden Lake, Ontario

Friday, October 5, 2018

Hopkins: Listing of Voyageur Art Work

Jeanne Doucette's blog post MÉTIS THROUGH THE EYES OF A LADY features most of the canoe-related artwork of Frances Anne Hopkins. Worth a look to see the images collected into one place. Clicking the image below will take you to the post.

Newer Posts Older Posts Home Page