In the Fall of 2009 we ventured up to Northern Ontario with the hopes of building a birch bark canoe. After one month of gathering our building materials from the forest and one month of construction we finished our Shishcan Chi-man or the Sprit Lake Birch Bark Canoe; Sprit Lake being the area where we gathered most of the materials for the Canoe. We were extremly honored to have the privilage and approval of the native peoples to harvest our materials from such a special forest.
For more information about the construction and building process read this article Birch Bark Canoe Building from the Camp Wabun Newsletter.
Algonquin Hunter's Canoe
For more information about the construction and building process read this article From Bark to Boat from the Camp Wabun Newsletter.
For the entire newsletter see: www.Wabun.com
The Evolution of Canoes: Comparing Design and Construction of Birch Bark Canoes from the Maliseet, Eastern Cree, Ojibway, and canoes used in the fur trade.
For thousands of years prior to contact with white men, Native American and Canadian life was influenced by water and travel by canoe. The North Country or the northern half of North America is dominated by extensive forests intersected by expansive lakes, thousands of rivers and countless small lakes. This abundance of water and forest facilitated the evolution of the birch bark canoe into the functional efficient craft that, at one time, was the only means of transportation in the Canadian wilderness. The birch bark canoe made life possible for native peoples of the North Country. Everything in this world, natural or fabricated, evolves from a primitive state to its current more complex yet sufficiently functional state. The birch bark canoe is no exception. From what started as a log floating down a river to several logs tied as a raft has evolved to the intricacies of birch bark canoes and even further to the fiberglass and Kevlar canoes of today. As there are a plethora of species of animals and plants there are also numerous types of canoes. As in nature, species are influenced by their environment, this also holds true for birch bark canoes and can be demonstrated by the variations in design and construction between Native American and Canadian tribes that were geographically separated.
The Maliseet tribal group originally lived in the coastal and inland regions north and south of the mouth of St. Lawrence River in present day Nova Scotia. Their livelihood was dependant on inland and coastal resources. The Maliseet built canoes for both the rough north eastern coastal waters as well as smaller more maneuverable canoes for rivers such as the John, Passamaquoddy and Kennebec rivers. Known and feared as warriors and hunters, the Maliseet were master birch bark canoe builders in a land abundant in white birch and cedar, the main resources needed for their canoes.
The Maliseet generally built three types of canoes. The old form, hunting and river canoes, and war canoes. The old form was built pre contact with white men when the Maliseet were almost exclusively a coastal tribe. These canoes were generally 20ft. with high ends which deflected waves from entering the canoe. The old form was characterized by over hanging fore and aft ends where the gunnels run flush with the stem. The sheer was fairly moderate until the ends where it rose up several inches. In the 19th century these canoes were replaced by canoes with rounded ends in the shape of a quarter circle. The ends were round compared to the overhanging chin of the old form. There was moderate sheer in the bow but in the stern, the sheer was almost nonexistent. The sheer of these canoes was minimal in comparison to the old form which suggests these canoes were constructed for small and large rivers opposed to the rough waters of the coast. Maliseet war canoes were of a similar size and appearance to their river canoes but generally narrower and built for speed. Each canoe held four warriors, two paddlers and two men with weapons ready to attack. Each warrior drew his personal mark or dupskodegun on the bark near the ends except when the canoe was of the leader, the canoe carried only his mark. Also known for their decorations on the canoes, the Maliseet would draw their personal mark as well as decorations of significance under the gunwales. These tended to be symbolic decorations of zigzags or other marks either etched into the winter bark or sewn in. Maliseet paddles were also highly decorated, most commonly incised line decoration of vines and leaves. As canoes were a way of life for the Maliseet, they put much time and effort to building beautiful yet practical birch bark canoes.
A typical Maliseet river canoe was 18’6’ft. long from end to end. The beam at the middle of the canoe was 30in. between the inside of the gunwales and 31 ¾ to the outside. The tumble home or curvature of the bark from the bottom to the thwarts made the extreme beam 35 ½ in. The bottom tended to be flat and was at a depth of 10 ¾ in below the gunwales. The ribs and the gunwales were made from split cedar. This canoe would have 46 ribs that where 3in. wide and 3/8in. thick. They gradually decreased in width from the middle to the ends to 1 ¾ in wide. The ribs were spaced 2in. apart. The end of the thwarts were tenoned into the gunwales and lashed through three lacing holes. The gunwales were lashed in groups of four turns through the bark spaced 3in apart. As Maliseet canoes tended to have minimal to moderate sheer, Maliseet builders used the building frame as the main gunwale. The Maliseet also built “canoe shoes” which protected the outside of the canoe through rapids or rocky water. They consisted of two sets of six thin cedar splints, one for each the bow and stern. They were 8ft. long, 3in. wide, tapering to 2 ½ in. at the end and 3/8 in. thick. The canoe shoes were then lashed together and then placed under the canoe and lashed to the thwarts, creating a protective cover for the birch bark. They could be quickly placed and removed when needed. The Maliseet craftwork and workmanship demonstrated through their canoes is perhaps of the highest quality amongst the birch bark canoe builders.
Maliseet St. Lawrence river canoe built by Henri Vaillancourt.
The Cree Indians who are closely related to the Ojibway people occupied an extremely large territory which included the land on and surrounding James and Hudson’s Bay. For purposes of this paper we will solely talk about the eastern Cree, who lived on the eastern coast of James and Hudson’s Bay. The eastern Cree built what is now called the crooked canoe. It is striking in that the rocker is extreme and the sheer of the gunwales is moderate. This makes the boat quite deep and full in the center but with the rocker beginning at the middle of the canoe it makes for a unique design. The reason behind the crooked canoe is uncertain. Increased depth and rounded blige permitted for high cargo capacity even when running rivers or paddling the rough coastal waters of James and Hudson’s Bay. While the extreme rocker aids in rivers and rough water, in high winds, the rocker results in high ends which can easily get pushed around by the wind.
When making a crooked canoe, the Cree would utilize a building frame separate than the main gunwale opposed to using the gunwale technique of the maritime people. The building frame is placed on top of the unrolled bark and then weighted with rocks which keeps the bark centered and permits the builder to fold and sew the bark up and around the building frame. The Cree couldn’t simply use the building frame sides for the gunwales because due to the extreme rocker, the gunwales were much longer than the small frame. In addition, moderate sheer was given to the frame due to the rocker. The gunwales in crooked canoes tended to be curved on the outside to allow for continuous lashing opposed to the grouped lashing in the Maliseet canoes. Due to lack of high-quality spruce root in the eastern Cree territory, caribou sinew was typically used for sewing and lashing. There was no inwale or gunwale cap and the thwarts were tenoned into the main gunwale. The ribs were 3in. wide and tapered to 2in at the ends. The last three ribs were bent to the point they formed a “V”. This gave the bottom of the canoe a “V” shape which improved tracking when carrying heavy loads. Although not meant for hunting or speed, the crooked canoe preformed exceptionally in large rivers going up or down stream while carrying a heavy burden.
Crooked canoes were larger than Cree straight canoes measuring from 16-20ft. An 18ft. crooked canoe of the Ungava-Cree had a beam of 41in. and a depth of 23in. The depth of this canoe is put into proportion when a 28ft. fur trade canoe typically had depths of 22in.
Eastern Cree Crooked canoe 1/5th scale model build by Edwin Tappan Adney
As French explorers pushed thousands of Native Canadians of the Sioux, Cree and Algonquin tribes, the Ojibway Nation, later called the Chipewyan Tribal Group was formed. The Ojibway nation was made up of myriad bands of people north of Lake Superior and west to Lake Winnipeg, reaching north into the Hudson Bay lowlands. The Ojibway canoe builders built several canoe models but the most distinctive was without a doubt the Ojibway long-nose canoe. The long-nose was striking in that the ends had great chin, and extended tumblehome of the end pieces. The end of the canoe protruded nearly two feet past the joining of the gunwales and stem piece in the shape of an oblong half moon. This design not only cut through waves in rough water but also allowed for the canoe to gracefully cut through the water with minimal drag yet sufficient tracking.
Construction of the Ojibway long-nose was quite similar to that of the Algonquin canoes due to their close proximity and interactions. They both had high ends with relatively straight sheered until the ends where they spur up at over 45 degrees. The Ojibway long-nose was continuously lashed with spruce root on a curved main gunwale. Generally a gunwale cap was placed on top of the lashings to protect the root. To increase speed, the long-nose had a narrow bottom with rounded blige. The topsides flared out from the bottom to the gunwales. The ends came up from the bottom with slight rocker and continued in very full and round headboard but before the top of the circle it fell almost horizontal to meet the upturned sheer of the gunwales. The bottom in the middle was “U” shaped but near the ends the ribs were bent much steeper to a “V” at the ends. Canoes with a prominent “U” shape could generally carry heavier loads but could not cut through water as sharply as “V” bottomed canoes. An Ojibway long-nose from Long Lake, Ontario had a length from end to end of 16ft. It had a beam of 34in. and a depth of 15 ½ in. These canoes are truly a work of art yet were very functional and performed exceptionally well in various water conditions.
Ojibway Long-nose canoe 1/5th scale model built by Edwin Tappan Adney
Exploration and exploitation of the North Country was made possible through travels by birch bark canoe. In the beginning of the seventeenth century as the French ventured west to the interior, the first of the “Fur-Trade” canoes were built. Although fur-trade canoes resemble Ojibway canoes, it is believed that fur-trade canoes evolved from the high ended Algonquin canoes as the French had contact with Algonquin people earlier than Ojibway. Before the French had established trading posts throughout Canada, native people built their canoes and each canoe varied by the builder’s building style. In 1643, the Trois Rivieres trading post became the canoe building center of North America. Situated on the north side of the St. Laurence at the mouth of the St. Maurice, River, the Trois Rivieres canoe factor built thousands of fur-trade canoes. After Canada came under a British control in 1763, the factory was maintained by the Montreal fur trade company, the North-West company and the Iroquois moved into Quebec and were employed as canoemen and builders. In the ensuing years building at Trois Rivieres slowed as canoe resources diminished in the surrounding areas. As a result canoe building spread northward and westward meaning canoes were built when needed at the outposts where resources were bountiful. This resulted in local modifications due to native influence and resources limitations. Production at Trois Rivieres came to a halt when the fur-trade giant, Hudson Bay Company absorbed the North-West Company.
With the establishment of a canoe factory, standards in size, design and construction came into existence. Form and design was determined by the usage. The factory primarily built three types of canoes, the 36ft. Montreal canoe, the 26ft. North canoe and the bâtard canoe which varied in size between the Montreal and North canoe. The Montreal canoe being the largest canoe produced by the factory generally traveled the Montreal-Great Lakes route and the smaller more maneuverable North Canoe was commissioned for travels further west where more rapids and portages were encountered. In a Montreal canoe built at the Trois Rivieres factory in the early 19th century had an overall length of 36’6”ft., a beam of 5’8”ft and was 30in. deep. This was truly a massive canoe and could carry cargo upwards of 2000lbs. A North canoe built at Trois Rivieres had a length of 29’11”ft., a beam of 4’10”ft. and was 26in. deep. All of the canoes built at the Trois Rivieres had narrow bottoms, flaring topsides and sharp ends. With flaring topsides, fur-trade canoes were able to carry over ten men, food and supplies for over a month, and thousands of furs. The sharp ends resulted in a fast and responsive canoe.
A 36ft. Montreal Fur-Trade Canoe built for reenactment.
When the voyagers encountered a portage the canoe and its cargo had to be carried either around a rapid or between lakes. Soft goods such as clothing, blankets and supplies where packed into 90-100lb bundles. Wines and Liquor were carried in 9 gallon kegs and were one of the most awkward loads to carry. Furs were packed into 80-100lb. bundles. In one 90lb. bundle, 500 mink skins would be pressed into a 24x21x15in. bundles. Buffalo or moose skins were obviously larger and heavier. The furs were then wrapped in oiled canvas. Hard goods and food were carried in wood boxes or wanigans weighing up to 150lbs and were locked shut. On portages, a load was called a “pacton” and consisted of two packages weighing at the very least 180lbs. A fur-trader wouldn’t consider carrying a load under 150lbs no matter what the distance; the record being 630lbs over 1000 yards. Pactons were carried using a tump line, a 10ft. leather strap that was tied around the loads. The tump line then rested on the head of the portage, which distributed the weight throughout the neck and back. The life of the fur-trader was not an easy one and rough environments, mal-nourishment, and daily stress resulted in relatively short fur-trader careers. Without birch bark canoes, the fur-trade and exploration of Canada would have proved impossible until novel inventions were made. Fur-trade canoes were the beginning of the end of birch bark canoe era. Towards the end of the fur-trade, the Hudson Bay Company began using Mackinaw boats that were much sturdier and could be rowed or sailed, these were soon replaced as steam boats and other mechanically powered boats came into existence.
Although each tribe built different birch bark canoes, one main value held true, functionality. Even today, if someone wanted to travel through the Canadian wilderness the canoe would prove to be the most efficient and practical craft available. Although the plastic canoes of today have since evolved from the simplicity of the birch bark canoe where one could extract all the necessary supplies from the woods, the idea of the canoe has not changed. There is still a bow and stern, gunwales and thwarts and enough depth to carry enough cargo for weeks into the bush.
Aft- Near the end of the boat
Beam The width of the canoe at the center.
Bilge Where the bottom turns into the sides of the canoe.
Chine The curvature of the line between the hull and gunwales
Flare The upward or outward curve a boats side
Gores Slits in the bark to facilitate folding the bark around the curved frame
Gunwale the two inch rail running along the sheer line or top of the sides. Keeps the canoe sturdy. The bark is lashed to the gunwales. There are generally two gunwales, the inwale and outwale. The inwale being stronger and on the inside of the bark the ouwale is thinner and is lashed on the outside of the bark to the inwale.
Hull The body of the canoe, the bark.
Rib Piece of wood used transversely in a boats hull. Makes the canoe strong
Rocker The curvature of a boats bottom as seen from the side.
Sheathing Thin strips of wood that line the inside of the canoe from end to end. Usually held in place by the ribs which sit on top of the sheathing
Sheer The upward curve of a boats gunwales from bow to stern
Thwart a structural piece of wood running across the canoe from gunwale to gunwale, there are typically three, mid thwart bow thwart and end thwart
Stem up right piece of wood in bow
Tumblehome As the hull rounds up to the gunwales, the inward slope of that curvature is referred to tumblehome as the bark tumbleshome to the gunwales.
Anderson, J. W. Eastern Cree Indians. 1954-55, MHS Transactions Series 3.
Jennings, John. The Canoe, A Living Tradition. Firefly Books, Buffalo, N.Y. 2002.
Jennings, John. Bark Canoes; The Art and Obsession of Tappan Adney. Firefly Books, Buffalo, N.Y. 2004.
Tappan Adney, Edwin & Chapelle, Howard. The Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C. 1983.
To build a birch bark canoe in the woods, in a remote wilderness setting is the ultimate way to experience the ways of the past. On August 12th, 2008 my best friend, John Zinzer and I paddled off into the north woods with the intentions of building a birch bark canoe. We left from Lake Temagami in Ontario, Canada with enough food for five weeks and all the tools we assumed we would need. My three month old labradoodle puppy also accompanied us. For weeks before the trip my head was filled with thoughts of doubt and failure. How could two city kids build a canoe by them selves? What if we couldn’t find all the materials? What if it just didn’t work out? Those thoughts instantly vanished the minute we pushed off the dock. I could feel the rush of the east wind and for the first time we actually thought it could be possible. If the Ojibwe people who inhabited and travelled throughout the area hundreds of years ago could build a birch bark canoe with primitive tools, why couldn’t we do it with steel hand tools?
Building a birch bark canoe in the woods differs greatly from doing so at home or in a shop. In the shop, one could order all the wood and bark necessary for building and promptly begin. In the bush it’s a little different. The process of constructing a canoe in the woods involves three fundamental steps. The first and quite possibly most important is gathering the materials. It took us a full week to simply find enough birch bark, a cedar tree free of knots, and enough spruce root to sew up the canoe. Once the materials are gathered one must then prepare the materials for construction. This also took us a full week. Two weeks into the trip and we hadn’t even started building. Finally once all the ribs and sheathing are prepared, the construction phase begins. This stage took us about a week and half and was with out a doubt the most stressful yet exhilarating week of our lives.
-2 axes -Hatchet -Hemp string
-2 crooked knives -6 spring clamps -Duct Tape
-Froe -2 Awls -Large water receptacle (Garbage Can)
-Japanese hand pull saw -Hand drill (bits) -Spud (bark peeler)
-2 bow saws -Machete/bowie knife
Birch trees are tested for their quality by cutting out a paper book size section of bark and then folding it parallel to its grain. If the bark cracks like a Ritz cracker, which most do, it’s no good. In four days, we tested hundreds of trees only to find 5 trees that passed the test. I am curious as to what other travelers will think of all the birch trees we tested.
Photo removing bark
. Birch bark is removed from a tree by making two horizontal cuts which are connected by a vertical cut of the length you want your sheet of bark. The bark is then carefully removed from the tree using your hands or a bark peeler spud From this first tree we removed two sheets of bark measuring four feet by thirty inches wide.
Birch bark canoes are essentially “put-together” by sewing panels of birch bark together with spruce root. Spruce roots are tenacious, they spread out just below the topsoil and can be easily pulled out of the ground in lengths up to fifteen feet. These lengths were coiled and heated in the garbage can filled with water. We spent hours upon hours peeling and splitting root. After the root is peeled, it is split down its center line and is then shaved down with a crooked knife so the entire length of root is equal in thickness and width. Our canoe took over 500 feet of root to stitch and lash the entire canoe.
Photo of tree and john cutting tree then downed tree with split
The final and most laborious aspect of gathering materials was harvesting the cedar. As we searched for birch we also examined all the cedar trees in the area. We looked for a tree at least two and half feet in diameter with straight grain and clear of branches for sixteen feet. We wanted to build a fifteen foot canoe but the length of the cedar dictates the final length of the canoe. On day two we spotted two cedar trees near our camp; on each side of the creek. One was smaller so we decided to fall it first and test out the froe we had made in North Bay. A froe is a foot long, half inch thick, steel blade which is used to split cedar logs. With out the froe I am fairly certain we would have had absolutely no chance of building the canoe.
Through pounding axes along the out side of the split and working the axes in combination to the froe we were able to split a thirteen foot section of the tree in just under an hour. Neither of us had ever done anything like it before. The tree that stood tall and strong just one hour ago had provided us with two thirteen foot halved logs. The tree was four feet around and at least forty feet tall. With all the cedar logs split into quarters we hauled them one kilometer back to camp. I am continuously amazed and thankful for what that cedar provided us with.
By day six we began splitting the cedar logs into smaller more manageable pieces, called blanks. As we worked we set aside the best full quarter log for the gunwales. Once we split the wood into approximately 2’’x 4’’ blanks we set the cedar in the water to soak. When make precision splits, you can control the crack as you work it down the log. This is done in two fashions. For larger pieces, two inches or thicker, we used the froe. By prying to one side or the other on the handle, the froe would act as the fulcrum and force the split a certain direction. Careful not to jump the grains of the wood, we generously applied near boiling water to the crack. In one day we were able to split out all of our cedar into ribs sheathing and gunwale blanks. Each time a piece is split, it is again soaked in water. The next day we split the blanks down to about quarter inch boards. Once they were all split down we designated boards by their quality as ribs or sheathing. Wood with straighter grain was used for ribs as they had to be bent and we wanted minimize our chances of breaking ribs. What was a standing tree, just two days before was now split into over 50 half to one quarter inch thick boards.
For weeks before we left for our trip I truly doubted we would even get this far. But Mother Nature did her job and supplied us with the materials we needed. The pressure was now on us. It was our time to perform.
On the morning of the tenth day we constructed a building frame out of our spare gunwale pieces. The building frame dictates the overall shape of the hull of the canoe. The steps of building a birch bark canoe and a wood-canvas canoe are nearly reversed. In wood-canvas, the ribs are bent and the canvas is then applied over the ribs and sheathing. In birch bark canoes, construction begins with the bark, and then ribs and sheathing are inserted.
We first unrolled the bark and then folded it up around the building frame which is then weighted with 200lbs. of rocks to hold everything in place. In our canoe since we had many small sheets of bark we employed a three piece hull where, three separate sheets of bark would be sewn together to form the bottom of the canoe. In a birch bark canoe, the inside of the bark is used on the outside of the canoe, and the white paper-like bark faces the inside, under the ribs and sheathing. Unrolling the bark and centering the frame on the three panels tested our wits to the max as when you adjusted one piece; everything else had to be adjusted. An error in calculation in this step would throw you off on every subsequent step of the canoe and possibly result in a crooked canoe.
With the building frame centered and weighted on the bark, we folded up the bark around the frame and drove stakes in around the frame to support the bark was folded upward. As our bark only extended a couple inches from the frame in some places, side panels of bark were inserted and held in place by the stakes. As a general rule, you want at least two inches of extension past the frame.
With all the bark in place it was time to sew the canoe together with spruce root. Sewing is done my making a line of holes made with an awl and then sewing with root in and out of the bark of the holes, going through each hole twice. With each stitch, the canoe began to show her lines and looked more and more like a canoe. Sewing with spruce root is an extremely tedious task that took us three full days to complete.
With the sewing complete, we spread our gunwales with temporary thwarts and tied the ends together. Now ready to insert and clamp in place our gunwales. We brought several spring clamps with us but primarily used two splints of wood tied together at one end for clamps. The trick to inserting the gunwales is to evenly sandwich the bark between the inwale and outwale while the temporary thwarts rest on height sticks which sit on the building frame. Our canoe has several inches of sheer. The middle of the gunwales are lower than the ends. This meant we had to develop a way to maintain the desired sheer.
On day 13 we began lashing the gunwales to the bark. By this time we had already ran out of root and had to get more root each day we worked. Lashing is essentially wrapping spruce root around the gunnels which sandwhich the bark. The root is threaded through holes made by an awl. The root goes through each hold twice.
On the end of each thwart is a tennon which inserts into mortises which were cut into the gunnels before they were spread onto the canoe. The thwarts were lashed to the gunwales and we fitted the stem piece into the canoe.
The stem piece is a 1 inch square piece of wood that we laminated 5 times along the grain. This lamination enabled us to maintain the bend we desired for the bow and stern of the canoe. The bent stem pieces are then sewed into the canoe. The most obvious difference in birch bark canoes made by different native tribes was the stem, or end profile. The shape of our canoe and end profile is most similar to the canoes the Algonquin tribes of the Midwest and Canada. Our canoe is modeled after an Algonquin solo hunter’s canoe. She is small enough to be paddled by one hunter, and is deep enough to hold a quartered deer.
By day 22, we had completed all the lashing, sewing, and preparation of ribs and sheathing. It took two full days for us to carve down all the ribs and sheathing pieces. Only using the crooked knife, John and I were able carve out forty ribs and 30 pieces of sheathing to near perfection. The ribs were brought down to 2 inches wide by 1/4th inches thick. The sheathing was a little wider at nearly 3 inches wide but split down to 1/8th of an inch thick.
The next day, after a huge breakfast of trapper’s bread, corned beef hash and chocolate pudding; we bent and fitted all of the ribs into the canoe. Bending ribs for a birch bark canoe differs greatly than in wood canvas. In a wood canvas canoe, the ribs are nailed down around a frame to ensure the tightest fit possible. In the bush, we bent all the ribs free form, by hand. First, a line is made with a marker which indicates where the bend will start.
In birch bark canoes, ribs are always bent in pairs; the outer rib protects the inner rib from breaking. In selecting rib pairs, a rib of poorer quality is chosen for the inner rib and a rib of supurb quality is the outer, protective rib. Each pair is soaked in near boiling water for several minutes before they are bent. This loosens the fibers in the wood and allows the wood to bend with out cracking. The pair of ribs is bent on your knee at the line which was already marked. This is done to each end of the rib until the ribs are bent to the shape of a U or V, depending on what hull shape you desire.
The bent ribs are then placed in the canoe to dry. Temporary sheathing is inserted under the ribs to prevent the bark from splitting as after this step, there is an enormous new found tension through out the bark. With all the ribs bent, and drying in the canoe John and I had preformed an amazing achievement; throughout the entire rib bending process, we didn’t break one rib.
Once the ribs were dry, we cut off all the excess wood which projected above the gunwales and then extracted the ribs and temporary sheathing from the canoe. With the ribs out of the canoe, we carved a point on each end which fit underneath a bevel which was carved on the outside of the inwale. Each rib is wedged between the bark and a bevel which was carved on the outside of the inwale. The first set of ribs hold the permanent sheathing in place. The ribs are put into the canoe in a similar fashion to tightening lug nuts on a car wheel. We first pushed each rib tight by hand from the ends to the center. After two cycles of pounding ribs with a hammer and adjusting the sheathing as we went, all the ribs found their final resting place. This step more than any other dictates the final shape of a birch bark canoe. The shape of the bend and how much the bark stretches as a result of the pressure from the ribs dictates the final shape of a birch bark canoe more than any other phase of construction.
The final step is to peg on the gunwale cap to the gunwales. The gunwale cap is split down to 1 ½ inch wide by 1/4th inch thick splint which extended the length of the gunwales. Holes were drilled into the gunwales and hardwood pegs were pounded in to firmly fasten the gunwale cap on the gunwales. This provides the lashings and gunwales projection from paddles and during transport.
Although we could only paddle in for about ten minutes each, (it would quickly take on water due to the lack of pitch) I have never felt a higher sense of joy or accomplishment.
After 25 days in the bush we returned in triumph.
The process of building a birch bark canoe in the bush was simply the unity of John and I working with and in, the perfection of what Mother Nature has to offer. If we showed her our respect through our actions in the bush, she wouldn’t let us fail. After three and a half weeks of working everyday from sunrise to sunset we finished our birch bark canoe with an unparalleled sense of achievement.
What we Value
Importance is given to that which is valued. Nature is valued differently by everyone but none the less is valued by everyone. In nature we value certain things. We care about the trees, we value the ability to go on a hike, and we value those natural resources which can be extracted from nature. A land ethic supports three principal tenets, the ecological value, the spiritual and recreational value and the ecological value the land supplies. As inhabitants to the land we must equally support all three tenets equally to maintain a homeostasis in nature.
First and foremost the environment is most valued for its ecological importance. All other environmental values depend on the ecological well being of nature. In a broad sense of nature, unhealthy forests and jungles only increase the effects of global warming. As we make more clear cuts for roads or economical purposes, the ecological value decreases significantly. With clear cuts, when the trees are removed, there is a tremendous amount of runoff which can result in landslides. Now obviously the removal of trees isn’t beneficial to nature and these landslides and clear cuts directly affect the spiritual and recreational value in nature but also decrease the economical value of nature. As Aldo Leopold argues in his Land Ethic essay, we must realize that land has much more than an ecological value. We must value the biodiversity, the soil, and the effect of the weather on nature. Nature will only survive if humans as a collective can value nature for its ecological importance as much as we do for its economical importance.
As human beings we find value in things that are useful to us. In nature, it is impossible to quantify how valuable the spiritual and recreational aspects are but we know they are important. Our spiritual and recreation values of nature are combined into one tenet because we discover and find qualitative spiritual value through our recreational activities. We then find the value of recreation the fact that nature gives us a higher spiritual understanding of life in general. Our spiritual and recreational values of nature are intertwined in such away that they are inseparable; one cannot find the importance of recreation without the connection of how it affects ones psyche. Spirituality and recreational values cannot be supported without a high ecological value. If we cannot find the importance of ecological well being of nature, we will not be able to enjoy nature in the same ways we have for centuries. With a high value of spirituality and recreation, the economical value of nature can also be sustainable, but only through respect of ecological importance.
Finally, and to some, most importantly, the environment is highly valued in an economical manner. Everything in our lives is either grown or mined and we have a lot of things. This is the foundation for the economical value in nature. Resources must be extracted from nature for us to survive. Nature must be exploited for our culture to endure. At times, the economical value of nature may trump our spiritual and recreational value of land but in the long run it must never exceed the ecological value of nature. If we value the resources that are extracted from nature more than the natural state of the environment, the ecological value of nature will plummet. When nature is not healthy or we have exploited it past a certain extent, we will have lost the importance of nature.
A common system of natural values can only be achieved through cross-cultural interactions. In our society there are many different cultures which value nature in different but understandable manners. Those who value one tenet over the other must come to realize that nature and our society can only be sustained when all the tenets are valued equally. It must also be known that time is running out, as human beings as a whole we value nature more for its economical importance and the imbalance is evident. Tree farms are becoming less productive; we are mining deeper than ever before, if this continues the outcome will be devastating for humans and earth.