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.

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How I Spent my Summer Holiday





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