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

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