Ojibway Canoe

This long-nose Ojibway style canoe clearly displays how the type of canoe got its name. It was built by members of a Chippewa band located near Bear Island, Leech Lake, Minnesota. This is an unusually wide and deep canoe.

Photographer: Michael Cullen

977.51
© 2000, The Canadian Canoe Museum.


Birchbark canoes are most commonly associated with the central and southeastern regions of Canada and the northeastern United States. The materials used to make such watercrafts were readily available from the surroundings of the First Nations builders. Birchbark covers the hull of the craft, while spruce root and spruce gum were used to stitch together and seal the canoe. The form of the birchbark canoe, like other canoes, is thoroughly influenced by its requirements of use, whether it be for lakewater, coastal, and river navigation or for travel through smooth, rough, or fast-running water. The birchbark canoes’ forms and functions are widely varied. The characteristic that may be used to identify craft from different regions is the shape of the bow and stern.
Birchbark canoes are most commonly associated with the central and southeastern regions of Canada and the northeastern United States. The materials used to make such watercrafts were readily available from the surroundings of the First Nations builders. Birchbark covers the hull of the craft, while spruce root and spruce gum were used to stitch together and seal the canoe. The form of the birchbark canoe, like other canoes, is thoroughly influenced by its requirements of use, whether it be for lakewater, coastal, and river navigation or for travel through smooth, rough, or fast-running water. The birchbark canoes’ forms and functions are widely varied. The characteristic that may be used to identify craft from different regions is the shape of the bow and stern.

© 2002, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Traditional birchbark canoes represent an incredible understanding of regional materials and a remarkable ingenuity of building techniques. These canoes are well suited to their uses as hunting, fishing and transportation vehicles, across the complex system of lakes and rivers. Birchbark was the perfect choice to build canoes with. It was lightweight, and when turned with the white side of the bark to the inside of the canoe, it was a smooth surface to glide through the water. Birchbark also proved to be waterproof and resilient. All the natural materials used in their construction were found in the vicinity of the waters on which they were paddled.
Traditional birchbark canoes represent an incredible understanding of regional materials and a remarkable ingenuity of building techniques. These canoes are well suited to their uses as hunting, fishing and transportation vehicles, across the complex system of lakes and rivers. Birchbark was the perfect choice to build canoes with. It was lightweight, and when turned with the white side of the bark to the inside of the canoe, it was a smooth surface to glide through the water. Birchbark also proved to be waterproof and resilient. All the natural materials used in their construction were found in the vicinity of the waters on which they were paddled.

© 2002, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Archival Photo

R.C. Brown in the "Pal" canoe. Winner of the 250 mile marathon from Rocky Mountain House to Edmonton. Also winner of the men's singles, doubles and fours, Alberta Championship meet at Gull Lake Alberta 1932. The "Pal" canoe has a bow and stern shaped strikingly similar to the lines of the traditional long nose Ojibway birchbark canoes.

Chestnut Canoe Photographs

P474-28
© The Provincial Archives of New Brunswick


The Payne Dugout is an innovative adaptation of traditional watercraft forms. Jacob Henry and William Alfred Payne of the Warsaw Ontario area built this canoe circa 1890. It is a hybrid canoe, built using traditional design and construction techniques. The builders followed the traditions of carving a dugout canoe from a single basswood tree and adopted the traditional shape of a birchbark canoe. The Algonquin style lines of the craft are related to the area in which the craft was built. The Warsaw Ontario area is known for its rich canoe racing traditions.
The Payne Dugout is an innovative adaptation of traditional watercraft forms. Jacob Henry and William Alfred Payne of the Warsaw Ontario area built this canoe circa 1890. It is a hybrid canoe, built using traditional design and construction techniques. The builders followed the traditions of carving a dugout canoe from a single basswood tree and adopted the traditional shape of a birchbark canoe. The Algonquin style lines of the craft are related to the area in which the craft was built. The Warsaw Ontario area is known for its rich canoe racing traditions.

© 2002, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Canoe

The Payne brothers of Warsaw, Ontario built this basswood dugout canoe, an innovative adaptation of traditional construction techniques.

Photographer: Michael Cullen
c. 1890
977.12
© 2000 The Canadian Canoe Museum


One style of Mi’kmaq canoe was distinctly raised at both the bow and the stern ends, resulting in canoe sides that curved upwards in the middle. The Mi’kmaq people made their canoes to allow themselves to paddle far out into the sea, as well as to paddle in shallow rivers and streams. Birchbark canoes were also occasionally even used in rapids.
One style of Mi’kmaq canoe was distinctly raised at both the bow and the stern ends, resulting in canoe sides that curved upwards in the middle. The Mi’kmaq people made their canoes to allow themselves to paddle far out into the sea, as well as to paddle in shallow rivers and streams. Birchbark canoes were also occasionally even used in rapids.

© 2002, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

birchbark canoe

The Mi' kmaq birchbark canoe from Nova Scotia is an excellent example of a canoe style and design that is specific to a particular region.

Photographer: Michael Cullen

977.42
© 2000, The Canadian Canoe Museum.


The form of many canvas covered cedar canoes
was, at times, derived from the shape of various traditional watercrafts
such as birchbark canoes. Traditional canoe designs are so innovative and sophisticated that the forms and shapes have since been adapted for modern canoes.
The form of many canvas covered cedar canoes
was, at times, derived from the shape of various traditional watercrafts
such as birchbark canoes. Traditional canoe designs are so innovative and sophisticated that the forms and shapes have since been adapted for modern canoes.

© 2002, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Gates Canoe

Displaying bow and stern lines reminiscent of the Mi'kmaq birchbark craft, this canoe built by Herald Gates of Nova Scotia is made of canvas covered cedar.

Photographer: Donald Rankin

980.25
© 2001 The Canadian Canoe


Learning Objectives

The learner will:

  • Describe a variety of traditional birchbark canoes from Northeastern North America, using examples of form and construction
  • Relate canoe form to canoe function, using examples
  • Explain the significance of the canoe to the life of First Nations
  • Recognize the relationship between the modern canoe and the traditional canoes of First Nations peoples

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