Saturday, September 10, 2022

McCord Museum - Haudensaunee (Iroquois) Paddles

The McCord Museum has updated their online gallery to include a variety of Haudensaunee paddles. Two are from the Lac Tremblant region of Quebec with a decorated paddle blade fragment sourced to the Six Nations Reserve in Southwestern Ontario.

Haudenosaunee Canoe Paddle
Dimensions: 159 x 9.9 cm
Origin: Lac Tremblant, Quebec, Canada
Numéro D'accession: ACC2970.2
Gift of Dr. J. B. Porter

 Haudenosaunee Canoe Paddle
Date: 1900-1920
Dimensions: 159 x 9.9 cm
Origin: Lac Tremblant, Quebec, Canada
Numéro D'accession: ACC2970.1
Gift of Dr. J. B. Porter

Iroquois Boat Paddle Fragment
Dimensions 8 x 55.8 x 2.3 cm
Origin: Six Nation Reserve area, Ontario, Canada
Numéro D'accession: M980
Gift of David Ross McCord

Friday, September 2, 2022

Historic Paddle Photo - 1903 - Song of Hiawatha Performance

Found two historic photos dated to 1903 which feature some decorated paddles. Take note of the decorative checkerboard pattern on the large paddle on the right side...

Actor in Hiawatha [1903]
Johnston, Frances Benjamin, 1864-1952, photographer
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
 Washington, D.C. 20540 USA 
Library of Congress Control Number: 2020637513

Another shot showcases the grip styles of the large steering paddles being used to lash open the door of the cloth teepee.

Actors in Hiawatha [1903]
Johnston, Frances Benjamin, 1864-1952, photographer
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
 Washington, D.C. 20540 USA 
Library of Congress Control Number: 2020637514

These photos were  taken from the annual "Hiawatha Pageant", a major tourist attraction in the Upper Great Lakes at the turn of the 20th century. Odawa and Ojibwa actors from Garden River First Nation (Gitigaan-ziibi Anishinaabe) as well as Waganakising Ottawa communities in Northern Michigan were recruited to take part in Louis Oliver Armstrong's theatrical production "Hiawatha, or, Nanabozho: An Ojibway Indian Play" inspired by Longfellow's epic poem "Song of Hiawatha."  Though the costumes are more reflective of Plains Indian culture stereotype for white audiences, the group included some tribal paddles more reflective of Great Lakes canoe culture.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Miniature Scale Model Paddles

Some of my work has been featured in the latest issue of Wooden Canoe (Issue #227 - Vol 45 - No3). Rob Stevens wrote an article entitled, "Small Paddles: An Exploration" which features the history of miniature paddles manufactured as samples / souvenirs from various canoe companies, as well as historical artists like Alpheus E. Keech (1855-1926).

Over the pandemic years, I've been using up smaller off-cuts of wood to make scale model historic replicas ranging from 12" to 24" long. Many of these are versions of full-sized paddles already listed on the Gallery page. Most have been decoratively burned but a few have been painted. Also made some little stands from other thin remnants. Here are some of the examples...

Wooden Canoe, the journal of the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association, is one of the primary benefits of membership in the WCHA. It is published four times each year, and each 32-page issue is packed with articles about canoe building and restoration, canoe tripping and wildnerness skills, stories about the history and romance of the wooden canoe, news about the WCHA and its Chapters, classified ads, and  more. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Omàmìwininì (Algonquin) Birchbark Canoe Build - Algonquin Park

 I had the privilege of checking out a rare birchbark canoe build taking part in Algonquin Park. The event, taking place on unceded Algonquin Territory, was sponsored in part by Algonquin Outfitters and featured canoe builder Chuck Commanda.

I visited the build site on the 2nd morning of the event. It was taking place under the shaded protection of a canopy at the Lake of Two Rivers store (km 31.4 of the Highway 60 corridor). By then the  hull had already been shaped on an elevated building bed, the gunnels lashed on with spruce root amidships and side panels stitched on. Quite a lot of work for just a single day!

Chuck was kind enough to answer some of my questions regarding pre-contact tools and various construction techniques between builders. 

The build was for a roughly 14 ft hull using a single length sheet of bark for the hull, except for two small side panels along the sides. The bark was indeed impressive. I inquired about the overall length. Chuck lamented that he had found a super tree and was peeling an impressive 42 foot long sheet. At the last moment however, the part of the bark cracked resulting in this roughly 16 foot sheet and another 26 foot sheet being reserved for another future build.

Interestingly, Chuck mentioned that quality white cedar that is straight grained and without branches or knots on the lower section of the tree is getting harder to find than the actual birchbark itself due lumber practices. There was a bunch of split cedar on hand for future parts of the construction which will be taking part at the Opeongo Store near the East Gate of the Park.

Volunteers were on hand to assist with some of the building and the public was encouraged to come in close, take pictures and chat.

Also on hand to answer some cultural questions was Christine Luckasavitch, lead Cultural Consultant of Waaseyaa Consulting, an Omàmìwininì (Algonquin) business focusing on providing cultural awareness and communication.   

For those of you in the area and wish to visit. Further details are below:

AUG 15th until Friday, AUG 19th 2022
Lake Of Two Rivers Store 
South of Highway 60 at km 31.4
GPS location: 45.579811°, -78.506886°

MON AUG 22nd until Friday, AUG 26 2022
Lake Opeongo, Algonquin Park
Located at Access Point #11
GPS location: 45.6356°, -78.3603°

Daily Work Hours: 9 am – 3 pm (approx.)

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Modified pole garbage spear

This year, I was quite shocked at the amount of garbage and human-created debris polluting our cottage lake. Every quick jaunt in the canoe revealed sunken aluminum cans, floating plastic bottles, golf balls thoughtlessly shot into the lake for entertainment with the shoreline marred by abandoned debris of all kinds. I ended up signing up for a program called Clean Muskoka Together, a district wide initiative where volunteers are provided with safety gloves and specially marked bags for collecting recyclables and waste. These bags can then be left at various municipal waste stations at no cost for proper disposal.

As part of my own kit to tackle the garbage problem, I adapted a piece of homemade equipment to make extraction of items from the lake bottom a bit easier.  Back in 2017, I had made a 12 foot, two-piece canoe pole out of some spruce lumber and a carbon-fiber ferrule.

The top half of the canoe  pole contained the hollow, female end of the ferrule with a roughly 35 mm inner diameter.  This formed the basis for the spearing tip as a scrap piece of plumbing tubing fit nearly perfectly in this space. A bit of hockey tape was used to create a friction fit so that that this second inner tube is tight enough to hold but can also be removed to return the pole back to its original intended use. The actual metal spear tip was created with an old pair of emergency ice picks which I used to carry years ago when snowshoeing on frozen lakes in the area.  Mine were a similar set to his stock photo:

I removed the straps from the set and jammed one of the ice picks into the inner grey tube. The foam handle of the ice pick itself fit tightly within the diameter of the grey tubing for another friction fit. A bit more hockey tape and the whole thing was quite secure.

The second ice pick can be secured to cover the sharp point so I don't damage the canoe when the spear is not in use.

The spear worked great. Here it is in action collecting a sunken aluminum can...

The spear has also been useful to extract plastic bags tangled up on shoreline rocks and branches as well as broken fishing lures snagged on rocks. I was also able to extract a half buried, six foot long piece of vinyl siding from where a boathouse was under construction. It is likely this bit of debris was never retrieved from the lake when new siding was being put up. Here's a photo bringing the construction waste out from its watery grave....

On subsequent trips I removed floating real estate signs which had been nailed to trees and broken off, 2 five gallon buckets awash on the shoreline, a floating plastic kids chair, multiple abandoned floating toys, discarded rubber dock edging and even some sunken scrap metal.

But by far the most disappointing find was the incredulous amount of golf balls simply shot into the lake. While there is a lakeside golf course at one of the resorts where a small bay forms a water hazard, these balls were found in areas no where near the course and had obviously been shot into the lake for just the heck of it. Scooping the balls out required a proper golf ball retriever tool. In the end, a total of 46 were removed from multiple regions of the lake.

Online research into golf ball toxicity reveals that they take centuries  to degrade all while shedding irretrievable microplastics into the watershed.. Well before then,  heavy metals (especially zinc) leach from the inner core and add toxicity to the aquatic ecosystem, poisoning plants and fish. 

As part of final message to our cottage community, I laid out all the debris onto a tarp on our property so folks could visualize the unnecessary amount of human created rubbish just one person could remove if an effort was made. Hopefully folks will be more conscientious of their waste production. The final tally of litter collected in just 8 trips on the lake weighed a staggering  69.75 pounds! That's over 20 pounds heavier than the 14 foot cedar-canvas canoe used in the collection!

Items included:
  • 3, five-gallon buckets
  • 11 pounds of sunken scrap metal
  • 6 foot piece of vinyl siding
  • 46 golf balls
  • 6 tennis balls 
  • 35 sunken aluminum cans
  • 13 single use plastic bottles
  • 2, five-litre water jugs
  • 2 glass wine bottles
  • 31 feet of sunken line / rope
  • broken real estate signs
  • 2 waterlogged PFDs
  • a punctured 2 person inflatable raft
  • broken 40" foam bodyboard
  • sunken buoys and rubber dock edging
  • numerous bits of food wrappers, plastic bags, snagged fishing lures, bits of dock foam, punctured inflatable vinyl floaties, plastic beach toys

Calculations revealed I paddled approximately 66 km during these multiple trips effectively travelling 3 times the perimeter of the shoreline as part of the cleanup effort.


How I Spent my Summer Holiday

Monday, July 18, 2022

Oscar Farrington Canoe Paddles, circa 1864

In the collections of the The Maine State Museum are a set of decorative paddles with some interesting decorative and carved elements. 

Catalog Number: 75.10.1
Object Name: Paddle, Canoe
Artist-Maker: Unknown
Place Made: MAINE
Date Made: Circa 1875
Media Materials: Wood, Oil paint
Measurements: 63" x 6 1/2" x 1 1/8"

The painted blades have tiny shoulders and a distinct spine. The tips have been painted black and the blade face features some double curve motifs. The handle consists of a stepped grip similarly scene in traditional Penobscot paddles, but this one features a cylindrical roll grip on top. More painted scroll patterns appear on the flattened grip face. Stamped twice onto the grip face is the name "O. Farrington" along with a date of "1864".

A digital copy of Maine Fish and Wildlife Magazine (Spring 1982) features an article entitled, "Oscar Farrington. Canoe Builder?" on pages 24-25. The article discusses the likelihood that a decorated cedar canvas canoe in the collection was also made by the same hands.

Thursday, June 30, 2022

National Canoe Day celebrations in Gravenhurst

On June 26th, I took part in the celebrations for National Canoe Day. The Northern Lakes Chapter of the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association had been collaborating with the Muskoka Discovery Center for National Canoe Day. Forecasted thunderstorms and rain which threatened our whole day never materialized, so a special thanks to local meteorologists for being so wrong! 

The theme of this year's Canoe Day at the Discovery Centre was the "courting canoe", a special class of wooden boat constructed for stylish leisure and affairs of the heart. These canoes were most often designed with seats facing each other and often were accessorised with pillows, picnicking supplies, lanterns, and record players. Volunteers at Heritage Boatworks workshop had been working on restoring a vintage courting canoe in the museum's collection.

The canoe is a  Peterborough no. 44, a longitudinal strip canoe (16' x 31" x 12") produced by the factory between 1909-1930. This varnished cedar model seems to have been built with added options including a torpedo style deck with storage compartment underneath as well as a hole for a mast sail. 

The canoe was, at one time, owned and utilized by guests of one of the largest resorts in the region, the famed Bigwin Inn on Lake of Bays.

The Bigwin Inn circa 1917

Later in the day, the canoe was paddled with Gravenhurst Ward 1 Councillor, Penny Varney, serving as the "wooed lady" while dressed in period clothing and protecting herself from the sun with a colourful parasol.

By the time our group was all setup we had a dozen canoes on display around the front courtyard. These included a century old birchbark, as well as new builds and restored cedar-canvas hulls.  Very eye-catching was a modern cedar-strip sailing canoe all rigged up. 

The Chapter had a few other static displays for the public to peruse. These included a 5 foot building form (courtesy of  Rob Stevens) from which the public could glean the basics of wood-canvas canoe construction. 

I also brought along a display of both full-sized and model historic paddle reproductions as well as a 3 foot bark canoe under construction.

During the day volunteers spent time demonstrating paddle carving and seat caning to those with interest...

Craig MacDonald brought his large 20 ft freight canoe covered in Dacron. At one point he had this 110 pound craft up on his shoulders!

Smaller hulls were represented by Roger Young who brought along a stellar display of various Factory Sample canoes, models, and tribal paddles.

Modern canoes were also represented as popular YouTuber, CamperChristina, brought along her brand new carbon-kevlar H20 canoe weighing in at just 28 lbs! Christina was kind enough to allow folks to try an lift this beautiful feather up for portaging and also permitted another paddler to test the canoe during an in-water demonstration.

Commodore Rick Mroz from the Muskoka Paddling Club also brought along their group's 26 foot North Canoe.

Additional demonstrations and some paddling tests were conducted in the protected bay behind the Museum building. 

All in all, a fun day was had with fellow canoe enthusiasts. Happy Canoe Day until next year!

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