Monday, March 8, 2021

Atikamekw paddles at the Université de Montreal

The Collection ethnographique of the Université de Montreal houses some Atikamekw artefacts which form the basis of an indigenous watercraft display.

The birchbark canoe canoe was made by Albert Biroté (1899-1977), an Atikamekw master craftsman from Wemotaci (Haute-Mauricie) in 1974. It was commissioned at the request of Norman Clermont, archaeologist from the anthropology department of the University of Montreal, as part of his investigation into the history of Wemotaci and the material culture of its inhabitants. 

Clermont's research was eventually published as a book entitled, La culture matérielle des indiens de Weymontachie. I was able to find a rare copy of this book housed at the Royal Ontario Museum's library. The publication contains a grainy image of the set of paddles also carved by Albert Biroté to accompany the canoe (see original post here).

La culture matérielle des indiens de Weymontachie 
Norman Clermont (‎1982) 

A second sketch appears in the book providing a closeup of the decorative element...

La culture matérielle des indiens de Weymontachie 
Norman Clermont (‎1982) 

New colour photos from the university reveal some more details of the paddle set, including closeup views of the deeply etched leaf patterns on the decorated handle. Curiously, this longer paddle of the two has been labelled as an "Aviron de Femme", a "Woman's paddle". Most other samples of gender specific paddles labelled by other museums and documentation (like Adney's description of Male / Female Cree paddles) had noted the shorter length of paddles typically utilised by women.

Aviron de femme
Item No: 75.5.3
Maple, Varnished
DIMENSIONS: L. 143.5 cm x l. 10.2 cm
DESCRIPTION: Oar in varnished maple. Handle decorated with flower motifs carved on both sides enhanced by light burning of the backwood.

The second paddle, plainly carved in birch features a much smaller bulb grip and is a few centimetres shorter.

Aviron d'homme
Item No. 75. 75.5.2
DIMENSIONS: 134 cm x  13 cm

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