Saturday, December 28, 2019

Frank B/ Mayer Sketches - Eastern Dakota Canoe Paddles, 1851

The historic sketchbooks of Frank Blackwell Mayer (1827-1899) utilised on his 1851 trip to  Minnesota Territory have been posted on (link here). Mayer was a  Baltimore artist who  journeyed to Traverse de Sioux and Mendota on the Minnesota frontier to record meetings between United States officials and Indian tribes who were ceding title to much of Southern Minnesota and portions of Iowa and Dakota.

His first booklet (#40) contain sketches of the Missouri frontier, the Mississippi, St. Paul, and Kaposia. The next four books (#41-44) contain sketches made at Fort Snelling, Traverse des Sioux, and Mendota. They provide a visual record of Native American life of the era, particularly among the Eastern Dakota (Sioux). There are also sketches of voyageurs and the usage of both dugout and bark canoes.

Page 17 of sketchbook #41 features an image simply labelled "Canoe Paddle"which features slightly recurved shoulders, thick shaft, distinct spine running the full length of the blade and ending in a slightly pointed tip....

Page 30 of the same sketchbook features another example of a Dakota warrior holding onto a paddle with recurved shoulders and pointed tip. The caption states, "Drawn near Fort Snelling".

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Mid-19th century Penobscot paddle (Poplar)

Archived on is an interesting paddle originally from Cowan's  American Indian and Western Art: Live Salesroom Auction (4/8/2017). What makes this one different from other 19th century Penobscot designs is the claim it is made of Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera). While utilised today to make inexpensive paddles and oars, it was not a common wood in the Northeastern paddle making tradition as evident by lack of documentation and surviving paddles made from this wood. Poplar is also a relatively weak wood compared to more commonly used ash and maple, yet this huge 75" paddle has a hefty 7.5" wide blade. To survive the stain of use, the shaft would benefit from being much thicker.

Penobscot Wood Paddle (mid-19th century)
poplar; length 75 in.
The beveled, triangular grip gracefully transitions to a round shaft and teardrop-shaped blade; surface with warm patina 

Grip Closeup

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Odanak Abenaki Postcard Paddle

Found two postcards online featuring a Abenaki style paddle. Both feature the same unknown person listed as being taken at Odanak, Québec, and published by the Peco Ottawa Photogelatine Engraving, Co between 1930-1940.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Royal Trust circa 1860 Mi'kmaq Paddle Reproduction

The British Royal Family has recently consolidated all of their acquired artworks and historic gifts into a new collection called the Royal Collection Trust. Included in this monumental global collection of artefacts are First Nations items gifted to various royal members during their visits to Canada.

A fascinating set is a Mi'kmaq sourvenir bark canoe that came with two dolls, two pair of paddles, a fishing spear and miniature basket. The set was presented then 18 year old Prince Albert Edward (the future King Edward VII) during his first visit to Canada in the summer of 1860.

Mi'kmaq Model canoe and dolls  1860
RCIN 84332
Royal Collection Trust
© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016

The paddle set showcases two similar designs which look like two larger stern paddles and two smaller paddles with pole grips used by the bow paddler. Both feature a pointed spear-like tip

Mi'kmaq model paddles 1860
RCIN 84332
Royal Collection Trust
© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016

While the model canoe is obviously not a true replica, being decorated with dyed porcupine quills and lacking an accurate number of ribs, the paddles do match some existing artworks from the era.

Paddle Detail from Wigwams at Pointe de Levy, Lower Canada
ca. 1836
Artist:  Whitmore, George St. Vincent, 1798-1851.
Credit: W.H. Coverdale Collection of Canadiana

I decided to reproduce the larger stern paddles with the flattened grip section adjusting to my preferred paddle length and scaling the grip width down to more realistic dimensions. The spear tipped blade is very quiet in the water compared to wider blade tips creating much less splash during each paddle stroke. As the originals were left un-decorated, I simply burned the paddle details into the face of the blade.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Antique Oar & Paddle Set

Unfortunately, no details on this set of antique paddles / oars found on a stock photo site...

Friday, November 1, 2019

Musee de Quai Branly Cree Replica

Back in the summer I was working on three more historic replicas. One of the paddles was a reproduction of a pole-grip, Cree paddle dated to circa 1930-1935. The original with a black painted blade is in the Musee de Quai Branly in Paris, France.

Géographie :  Amérique –  Amérique du Nord –  Canada
Culture :  Amérique –  Cree
Date :  1930-1935
Dimensions et poids :  158.5cm  x 12.5cm, 647 g
Donateur :  Paul Coze
Précédente collection :  Musée de l'Homme (Amérique)
Numéro d'inventaire :  71.1931.44.155

My version was made from a nearly flawless piece of spruce, hewn down with an axe and finished with a crooked knife. It turned out ok except for a cumbersome knot at the top of the pole grip which created a slight bulge in an otherwise straight shaft. Since coming back in the city, the blade has been painted to match the original. In a bit of new twist, I left a portion of the blade fast natural where the paddle details were burned.

The plan is to include this interesting design in a future display of more historic paddle designs, similar to the one made in 2018 for the WCHA Assembly

Friday, October 25, 2019

1837 "Indian" Canoe paddle - Michigan

Found on a past listing on LiveAuctioneers:
A 19th Century Native American Michigan Canoe Paddle.  Old hand written note attached that reads "Indian Canoe Paddle 1837 Found in Grand River near mouth of Bellamy Creek, by T.B. North…of 1837-16 Years old at that time".  Very worn with some separation and losses.  57 1/2" long.  

Sunday, October 20, 2019

c.1914 Smithsonian Chippewa Knotty Spruce Paddle Replica

It's been over 10 years since I built a small birchbark canoe and the spruce board building bed has been sitting idle in the cottage garage since then. With space running out, a decision was made to cut up and use some of of the wood and see if more paddles could be carved. Back then, the boards were simply selected for to be free of warping. Plenty of knots didn't matter. As such, there really wasn't any clear sections with grain ideally suited to an attractive looking paddle.

However, I recall posting about a paddle described as a "Chippewa Woman's Paddle" listed in a dated publication from the Smithsonian's Bureau of American Ethnology.

Bureau of American Ethnology
BULLETIN 86 - Chippewa Customs
Plate 53

The original caption from the bulletin also included the following description:
The specimen illustrated is a woman's canoe paddle (pl. 53, a) and is 4 feet 10 inches long, with blade 22 inches long and 4 1/4 inches wide. A man's paddle is usually heavier, longer, and of a somewhat different shape...

The Smithsonian also has the original black & white photo used in the publication. While the bulletin and article was published in 1929, the archival record mentions the photo is dated to 1914.

Creator:   ANONYMOUS
Title:   Canoe paddle (left) and snow shovel (right)
Provenance:   Submitted by Frances Densmore.
Culture:   Chippewa, Ojibwa Indians
Local Number:   NAA INV 9277300
OPPS NEG 596 D 79

This 100+ year old knotty paddle was the inspiration needed to use some of the plank boards. I started with a 60inch piece of the board and used a saw to cut various stop cuts along the shaft and blade. Then hacking away with the axe, the basic paddle shape emerged...

The blade was also thinned down with an axe and then the rest worked down with my home-made crooked knife that has served well over the years. The knots certainly dulled the blade and made carving a bit tricky, but in a leisurely afternoon a functional paddle emerged from the wood stock.

In keeping with the rough nature of the original inspiration, I smooth the carving as best as I could but left all the knife marks on the paddle. It won't be sealed so it the surface can develop a weathered patina, but a description of the paddle has been burned onto the blade face...

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Noel Jerome Bark Canoe

Happened to swing by Algonquin Outfitters at Oxtongue Lake a while back and immediately noticed the well preserved bark canoe suspended over the cash register.

Manager Gord Baker was kind enough to supply some notes about the interesting history of the boat. Apparently it was acquired by original owner, Bill Swift Sr. as payment after someone couldn't pay back their debt with cash. Local bark canoe historian and restorer Rick Nash believes the construction style is consistent with Noel Jerome, a famed Algonquin builder from Rapid Lake, Quebec.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Ebay 77 inch Green Softwood Paddle

Another vintage Maine paddle recently found in a former lodge. Detail's provided by the eBay ad cite dimensions of 77-1/2" long with a 6-3/4" wide blade. Covered in faded green paint, the paddle has a crack at the neck which was strengthened by wrapping some old, cloth backed tape. The underlying grain pattern looks like it could have been carved from a softwood to reduce the weight of this hefty, long paddle. Thankfully, the seller has provided plenty of photos to show the paddle front as well as the grip sides.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Chesnut Keel Garden Decoration

Back when re-canvassing my 14 foot Chestnut canoe this spring, I made the conscious decision to not re-install the long shoe keel. Consulting with a few experts at the 2018 Wooden Canoe Assembly in Peterborough, the consensus was that with the relatively thick ribs and decent original planking job on the canoe, the hull would not need additional strengthening with the re-attachment of the keel. I don't like keels much anyway.

Many folks keep their removed keels in case the canoe is sold at a later date and the new buyer would like original parts. Don't think I'll be departing with my Playmate in the future, but decided to put the keel to use in the garden wall. The reverse side was sealed with some oil and then the keel mounted on to some lattice fencing. Nothing special, but our little garden corner with red lanterns and flags now has another symbol of Canadiana to enjoy

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

J.B. Charleson Ottawa River Paddle

A fascinating collection of Canadian folk art is up for auction.  Pridham's Auction House is running the Burney Collection of Canadiana and Americana on October 5, 2019. The private collection of Joan and Derek Burney was recently outlined as a project for Canada's 150th Anniversary back in 2017. The resulting book, Celebrating Canada: Decorating with History in a Contemporary Home, showcased their extensive collection of historically significant items adorning their modern home.

One of the pieces is a circa 1890 canoe paddle used on an exploratory trip by Jean-Baptiste Charleson. A forest ranger for the province of Quebec, Charleson was charged with scouting the headwaters of the Ottawa River for tracts of white pine to be leased to lumber companies. Charleson completed the trip at the hearty age of 54 with a route covering nearly 3200 square kilometers of wilderness. The trip was deemed a commercial success with his identification of accessible sources of timber valued at over whopping million dollars at the time. It would prove to be a financial windfall for the province.

After his journey, Charleson's personal 57 inch paddle was carefully painted with a map and details of the route. Lake Témiscamingue takes up most of the blade with the smaller up-river streams and lakes forming the serpentine shape up the shaft.

Circa 1890 paddle
57 inches long
Celebrating Canada, page 140
Closeup of blade decoration

Thursday, September 12, 2019

c1890 Tyendinaga Mohawk Canoe and Paddles

An expired Kijiji ad from earlier in the summer featured a birchbark canoe and two paddles being offered for sale. Seller claimed the canoe was from 1890 and built at the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, part of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte First Nation. I had inquired if the paddles were for sale separately and if any more details could be provided. The seller simply responded that they were sold with the boat unfortunately ignored my request for more details.

The advertisement photos show well aged paddles (likely maple) carved in a manner consistent with the Iroquoian tradition of a reverse-spatulate blade with tiny, flattened grips.

c1890 bark canoe and paddles

c1890 bark canoe and paddles

As a comparison, here are some known Iroquois (Mohawk) paddles in the collection of the Royal Ontario Museum:
ROM Paddles - Iroquois
late 19th - early 20th century
Area of Origin: Northeast; Ontario; Canada; North America; Six Nations of the Grand 

Another set of Iroquois paddles were posted on Here is a shot of decorated Iroquois paddles from LiveAuctioneer that I posted on before.

Pair of Painted Iroquois Canoe Paddles,
red and white painted blade, unpainted shaft; each 65.5" long. 
Ex Howard K. Echenstern Collection.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Quaver gripped antique paddle

Here's a very interesting paddle appearing in an Ebay Ad posted from Sainte-Martine, Quebec. This undated paddle has coat of faded red paint and a curve shouldered blade with notches at the neck.

58 1/4" long x 5 3/4"wide 

Most interesting is the grip end, which features an asymmetrical roll. The seller refers to the grip as having a "quaver" shape, referring to the shape of an 1/8th note in music. One side of it is rotten but red paint on the surface clearly shows this was the original shape and not simply a broken grip end.

These hook like asymm grips have been seen before in model canoe paddles sent over to Europe as part of the tourist trade. Most notably they are found in the paddles that accompanied the model canoe sent as a votive offering to the Cathedral de Chartres around 1760. See this post here.

Image Source Link:

The paddle grip is also discussed and illustrated briefly in Graham Warren's 100 Canoe Paddle Designs book.

by Graham Warren
March 2014. Raven Rock Books.
200 pages. A5. Spiral bound.
ISBN  0 9530352 2 0

Saturday, August 31, 2019

WCHA - Northern Lakes Chapter - Cherry Beach Paddle

In an effort to meet local members of the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association, I offered to lead a group paddle to Toronto Islands for the Northern Lakes Chapter.  It was scheduled for August 27th, but after weeks of beautiful weather, that day happened to coincide with heavy rainfall and extremely gusty southerly winds. The event was bumped a few days to Thursday. Joining me on the outing was Chapter Head, Alex G and local Toronto resident, Bernadette F along with her cute dog, Pookie. Bernadette was able to use public transit to arrive at the location as a shuttle bus leaves from Union station and stops right at the foot of Cherry Beach, our access point.

Conditions were much more favourable than two days prior, but a brisk Westerly wind (the prevailing direction) created some chop for the initial departure. Luckily, Alex brought his 16ft North Bay Canoe prospector which handled the conditions well and I  bobbed around in my re-canvassed Chestnut Playmate. Once in the main canal however, all was calm for a enjoyable tour.

We were greeted by a picturesque family of Mute swans, with mother and father book-ending their two cygnets in a postcard formation. This will be my wife and I walking our kids to school in a few days...

Summer canoe camps run on the island and a group had recently landed on the shore of one of the undeveloped islands to sing some camp songs while we silently paddle by...

Water levels on Lake Ontario were down from their all time high earlier this year, but they were still much higher than anything I've seen before. The shoreline which used to be sandy beach was flooded and getting under one particular bridge meant ducking under or getting your forehead smacked with concrete.

Large fibreglass voyageur canoes took tourists around, yet the local wildlife seemed undisturbed by the grunts and competing splashes of the paddles.

The group spotted two herons in the marshy areas which impressed us with their noble poise...

Due to the flooding, the island train that skirts the waterfront was non-operational and many of the farm animals at Far Away farm were inland away from their waterside pens. However, we were later gifted with seeing a mink swim across are bows.

The wind conditions in the inner harbour were too intense to check out the old Hanlan's point where the old baseball stadium once stood and where Babe Ruth hit his first home run into Lake Ontario waters as a pro-baseball player. Instead, we stayed in the protected channels until we reached the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse, the oldest surviving lighthouse on the Great Lakes. At one point it was just 25 feet from the exposed lakeshore, but sand deposits and fill have now left it marooned 100 yards inland. The tree line to the south has also grown so that the lighthouse is no longer visible from the lake as originally intended.

On the way, we got some interesting comments from people riding the Gondola above one of the canals. Mostly, it was how cute Pookie the puppy was while riding in the canoe. The white and brown building in the background is the island church, St.Andrews-By-The-Lake (1884) where the every summer in July, the lagoon fills with all sorts of watercraft for the annual Blessing of the Boats, a neat local tradition.

My re-canvassed stayed completely dry which was nice. I may need to tweak the seat a little bit, but on the whole I'm absolutely delighted with this narrow 14 footer as a solo boat. Plans are to perhaps attempt another group paddle to the Islands in spring. Perhaps we'll have more people turn out after a long difficult winter.

In the meantime, the WCHA Northern Lakes Chapter may run another in another paddling hot-spot in the city - The Humber River Marshes - sometime in late September, early October to coincide with peak fall colours.

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