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Title: The Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America
Author: Adney, Edwin Tappan, Chapelle, Howard Irving
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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      which includes the more than 200 original illustrations.
Transcriber's note:

      Text enclosed by underscores is in italics (_italics_).

      Text enclosed by tilde characters is in bold sans-serif
      face (=bold sans-serif=).



[Illustration: BULLETIN 230



Museum of History and Technology



Curator of Transportation


Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C.

Publications of the United States National Museum

The scholarly and scientific publications of the United States National
Museum include two series, _Proceedings of the United States National
Museum_ and _United States National Museum Bulletin_.

In these series the Museum publishes original articles and
monographs dealing with the collections and work of its constituent
museums--The Museum of Natural History and the Museum of History
and Technology--setting forth newly acquired facts in the fields of
Anthropology, Biology, History, Geology, and Technology. Copies of each
publication are distributed to libraries, to cultural and scientific
organizations, and to specialists and others interested in the
different subjects.

The _Proceedings_, begun in 1878, are intended for the publication, in
separate form, of shorter papers from the Museum of Natural History.
These are gathered in volumes, octavo in size, with the publication
date of each paper recorded in the table of contents of the volume.

In the _Bulletin_ series, the first of which was issued in 1875,
appear longer, separate publications consisting of monographs
(occasionally in several parts) and volumes in which are collected
works on related subjects. _Bulletins_ are either octavo or quarto
in size, depending on the needs of the presentation. Since 1902
papers relating to the botanical collections of the Museum of Natural
History have been published in the _Bulletin_ series under the heading
_Contributions from the United States National Herbarium_, and since
1959, in _Bulletins_ titled "Contributions from the Museum of History
and Technology," have been gathered shorter papers relating to the
collections and research of that Museum.

This work, the result of cooperation with the Mariners' Museum, the
Stefansson Library, the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation,
and the American Museum of Natural History, forms number 230 of the
_Bulletin_ series.

                                                         FRANK A. TAYLOR

                               _Director, United States National Museum_

                           WASHINGTON: 1964

                   *       *       *       *       *

             For sale by the Superintendent of Documents,
                    U.S. Government Printing Office
                  Washington, D.C. 20402--Price $6.75

_Special acknowledgment_

_Is here gratefully made to The Mariners' Museum, Newport News,
Virginia, under whose auspices was prepared and with whose cooperation
is here published the part of this work based on the Adney papers; also
to the late Vilhjalmur Stefansson, for whose_ ENCYCLOPEDIA ARCTICA _was
written the chapter on Arctic skin boats._



  Introduction                                                         1

  1. Early History                                                     7

  2. Materials and Tools                                              14

  3. Form and Construction                                            27
        Form                                                          27
        Construction                                                  36

  4. Eastern Maritime Region                                          58
        Micmac                                                        58
        Malecite                                                      70
        St. Francis                                                   88
        Beothuk                                                       94

  5. Central Canada                                                   99
        Eastern Cree                                                 101
        Têtes de Boule                                               107
        Algonkin                                                     113
        Ojibway                                                      122
        Western Cree                                                 132
        Fur-trade Canoes                                             135

  6. Northwestern Canada                                             154
        Narrow-Bottom Canoe                                          155
        Kayak-Form Canoe                                             158
        Sturgeon-Nose Canoe                                          168

  7. Arctic Skin Boats: by _Howard I. Chapelle_                      174
        The Umiak                                                    181
        The Kayak                                                    190

  8. Temporary Craft                                                 212
        Bark Canoes                                                  212
        Skin Boats                                                   219

  Retrospect                                                         221

  Appendix: The Kayak Roll, by _John D. Heath_                       223

  Bibliography                                                       231

  Index                                                              235


  _Figure_                                                        _Page_

  1 Fur-trade canoe on the Missinaibi River, 1901. (_Canadian
        Geological Survey photo._)                                     2

  2 Page from a manuscript of 1771, "Observations on Hudsons
        Bay," by Alexander Graham, Factor. (In archives of Hudson's
        Bay Company.)                                                  9

  3 Canoes from LaHontan's _Nouveaux Voyages ... dans l'Amerique
        septentrionale_, showing crude representations typical of
        early writers.                                                11

  4 Lines of an old birch-bark canoe, probably Micmac, brought to
        England in 1749 from New England. (_From Admiralty Collection
        of Draughts, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich._)           12

  5 Ojibway Indian carrying spruce roots, Lac Seul, Ont., 1919.
        (_Canadian Geological Survey photo._)                         15

  6 Roll of bark for a hunting canoe. Algonkin Reserve, at Golden
        Lake, Ont., 1927.                                             16

  7 Sketch: wood-splitting techniques, cedar and spruce.              17

  8-19 Sketches of tools: 8, stone axe; 9, stone hammer, wedge, and
        knife; 10, mauls and driving sticks; 11, stone scraper; 12,
        bow drill; 13, modern Hudson Bay axe; 14, steel fur-trade
        tomahawk; 15, steel canoe awls; 16, crooked knives; 17, froe;
        18, shaving horse; 19, bucksaw.                               17

  20 Peeling, rolling, and transporting bark. (_Sketches by
        Adney._)                                                      25

  21 Sketch: Building frame for a large canoe.                        26

  22, 23 Sketches: Effect on canoe bottom of crimping and goring
        bark.                                                         30

  24 Sketch: Canoe formed by use of gores and panels.                 31

  25 Gunwale ends nailed and wrapped with spruce roots. (_Sketch
        by Adney._)                                                   31

  26 Gunwales and stakes on building bed, plan view. (_Sketch by
        Adney._)                                                      32

  27 Photo: Gunwale lashings, examples made by Adney.                 33

  28 Photo: Gunwale-end lashings, examples made by Adney.             33

  29 Sketch: Splints arranged in various ways to sheath the bottom
        of a canoe.                                                   34

  30 End details, including construction of stem-pieces.
        (_Sketches by Adney._)                                        35

  31 Lines of 2½-fathom St. John River Malecite canoe.                36

  32 Malecite canoe building, 1910. (Canadian Geological Survey
        photos.)                                                      39

  33 First stage of canoe construction: assembled gunwale frame is
        used to locate stakes temporarily on building bed. (_Sketch
        by Adney._)                                                   40

  34 Second stage of canoe construction: bark cover is laid out on
        the building bed, and the gunwales are in place upon it.
        (_Sketch by Adney._)                                          41

  35 Photo: Malecite canoe builders near Fredericton, N.B., using
        wooden plank building bed.                                    42

  36 Sketch: Two common styles of root stitching used in bark
        canoes.                                                       43

  37 Comparison of canoe on the building bed and canoe when first
        removed from building bed during fifth stage of construction.
        (_Detail sketches by Adney._)                                 44

  38 Third stage of canoe construction: the bark cover is shaped
        on the building bed. (_Sketch by Adney._)                     45

  39 Cross section of canoe on building bed during third and
        fourth stages of construction. (_Sketch by Adney._)           46

  40 Sketch: Multiple cross section through one side of a canoe on
        the building bed, at the headboard, middle, first, and second
        thwarts.                                                      46

  41 Fourth stage of canoe construction: bark cover has been
        shaped and all stakes placed. (_Sketch by Adney._)            47

  42 Fifth stage of canoe construction: canoe is removed from
        building bed and set on horses to shape ends and complete
        sewing. (_Sketch by Adney._)                                  49

  43 Ribs being dried and shaped for Ojibway canoe. (_Canadian
        Geological Survey photo._)                                    50

  44 Sketch: Details of ribs and method of shaping them in pairs.     51

  45 Sixth stage of canoe construction: in this stage splints for
        sheathing (upper left) are fixed in place and held by
        temporary ribs (lower right) under the gunwales. (_Sketch by
        Adney._)                                                      53

  46 General details of birch-bark canoe construction, in a
        drawing by Adney. (From _Harper's Young People_, supplement,
        July 29, 1890.)                                               54

  47 Gunwale construction and thwart or crossbar fastenings, as
        shown in a sketch by Adney. (_Harper's Young People_,
        supplement, July 29, 1890.)                                   56

  48 "Peter Joe at Work." Drawing by Adney for his article "How an
        Indian Birch-Bark Canoe is Made." (_Harper's Young People_,
        supplement, July 29, 1890.)                                   57

  49 Lines of 2-fathom Micmac pack, or woods, canoe.                  59

  50 Lines of 2-fathom Micmac pack, or woods, canoe.                  60

  51 Lines of 2-fathom Micmac pack, or woods, canoe.                  61

  52 Lines of 2½-fathom Micmac big-river canoe.                       62

  53 Lines of 3-fathom Micmac ocean canoe fitted for sailing.         63

  54 Micmac rough-water canoe, Bathurst, N.B. (_Canadian
        Geological Survey photo._)                                    64

  55 Micmac Woods canoe, built by Malecite Jim Paul at St. Mary's
        Reserve in 1911. (_Canadian Geological Survey photo._)        64

  56 Micmac rough-water canoe fitted for sailing. (_Photo W. H.
        Mechling, 1913._)                                             65

  57 Micmac rough-water canoe, Bay Chaleur. (_Photo H. V.
        Henderson, West Bathurst, N.B._)                              66

  58 Micmac rough-water sailing canoe, Bay Chaleur. (_Canadian
        Geological Survey photo._)                                    66

  59 Drawing: Details of Micmac canoes, including mast and sail.      67

  60 Micmac canoe, Bathurst, N.B. (_Canadian Geological Survey
        photo._)                                                      68

  61 Micmac woman gumming seams of canoe, Bathurst, N.B., 1913.
        (_Canadian Geological Survey photo._)                         69

  62 Lines of 2½-fathom Malecite river canoe, 19th century. Old
        form with raking ends and much sheer.                         71

  63 Lines of old form of Malecite-Abnaki 2½-fathom ocean canoe of
        the Penobscots in the Peabody Museum, Salem, Mass.            72

  64 Lines of large 3-fathom ocean canoe of the Passamaquoddy
        porpoise hunters.                                             73

  65 Lines of old form of Passamaquoddy 2½-fathom ocean canoe.        74

  66 Lines of Malecite racing canoe of 1888, showing ~V~-shaped keel
        piece between sheathing and bark to form deadrise.            75

  67 Lines of sharp-ended 2½-fathom Passamaquoddy hunting canoe,
        for use on tidal river.                                       76

  68 Lines of Malecite 2½-fathom St. Lawrence River canoe,
        probably a hybrid model.                                      77

  69 Lines of Malecite 2½-fathom river canoe of 1890 from the
        Rivière du Loup region.                                       78

  70 Lines of Modern (1895) 2½-fathom Malecite St. John River
        canoe.                                                        79

  71 Drawing: Malecite canoe details, gear, and gunwale
        decorations.                                                  80

  72 Drawing: Malecite canoe details, stem profiles, paddles, sail
        rig, and salmon spear.                                        81

  73 Lines and decoration reconstructed from a very old model of a
        St. John River ancient woods, or pack, canoe.                 81

  74 Lines of last known Passamaquoddy decorated ocean canoe to be
        built (1898).                                                 82

  75 Drawing: Malecite canoe details and decorations.                 83

  76 Sketches: Wulegessis decorations.                             84-85

  77 Photo: End decorations, Passamaquoddy canoe.                     86

  78 Photo: End decorations, Passamaquoddy canoe.                     87

  79 Photo: Passamaquoddy decorated canoe.                            87

  80 Lines of 2-fathom St. Francis canoe of about 1865                89

  81 Lines of "14-foot" St. Francis canoe of about 191090

  82 Lines of 2½-fathom low-ended St. Francis canoe.                  91

  83 Lines of St. Francis-Abnaki canoe for open water, a type that
        became extinct before 1890. From Adney's drawings of a canoe
        formerly in the Museum of Natural History.                    92

  84 Photo: Model of a St. Francis-Abnaki canoe under construction.   93

  85 Photo: St. Francis-Abnaki canoe.                                 93

  86 A 15-foot Beothuk canoe of Newfoundland (_Sketch by Adney._)     95

  87 Lines based on Adney's reconstruction of 15-foot Beothuk
        canoe.                                                        97

  88 Montagnais crooked canoe. (_Canadian Geological Survey
        photo._)                                                     100

  89 Birch-bark crooked canoe, Ungava Cree. (_Smithsonian
        Institution photo._)                                         101

  90 Lines of 3-fathom Nascapee canoe, eastern Labrador.             102

  91 Lines of 2-fathom Montagnais canoe of southern Labrador and
        Quebec.                                                      102

  92 Lines of 2½-fathom crooked canoe of the Ungava Peninsula.       103

  93 Lines of hybrid-model 2-fathom Nascapee canoe.                  103

  94 Eastern Cree crooked canoe of rather moderate sheer and
        rocker. (_Canadian Pacific Railway Company photo._)          104

  95 Photo: Straight and crooked canoes, eastern Cree.               105

  96 Montagnais canvas-covered crooked canoe under construction.
        (_Canadian Geological Survey photo._)                        106

  97 Sketch: Fiddlehead of scraped bark on bow and stern of a
        Montagnais birch-bark canoe at Seven Islands, Que., 1915.    107

  98 Sketch: Disk of colored porcupine quills decorating canoe
        found at Namaquagon, Que., 1898.                             107

  99 Fleet of 51 birch-bark canoes of the Têtes de Boule Indians,
        assembled at the Hudson's Bay Company post, Grand Lake
        Victoria, Procession Sunday, August 1895. (_Photo,
        Post-Factor L. A. Christopherson._)                          108

  100 Photo: Têtes de Boule canoe.                                   109

  101 Photo: Têtes de Boule canoes.                                  110

  102 Lines of 1½-fathom Têtes de Boule hunting canoe.               111

  103 Lines of 2½-fathom Têtes de Boule canoe, with construction
        details.                                                     111

  104 Lines of 2-fathom Têtes de Boule hunting canoe.                112

  105 Photo: Old Algonkin canoe.                                     113

  106 Lines of 2½-fathom old model, Ottawa River, Algonkin canoe.    114

  107 Photo: Models made by Adney of Algonkin and Ojibway
        stem-pieces.                                                 115

  108 Lines of light, fast 2-fathom hunting canoe of the old
        Algonkin model.                                              116

  109 Lines of hybrid 2½- and 2-fathom Algonkin canoes.              117

  110 Lines of 2-fathom Algonkin hunter's canoe, without headboards. 118

  111 Photo: Algonkin canoe, old type.                               119

  112 Photo: Algonkin "Wabinaki Chiman"                              120

  113 Algonkin canoe decorations, Golden Lake, Ont.                  121

  114 Lines of 2-fathom Ojibway hunter's canoe, built in 1873        123

  115 Lines of 3-fathom Ojibway old model rice-harvesting canoe and
        2-fathom hunter's canoe.                                     124

  116 Lines of 3-fathom Ojibway freight canoe.                       124

  117 Lines of 2½-fathom Ojibway, old form, canoe and a 16-foot
        long-nose Cree-Ojibway canoe.                                125

  118 Eastern Ojibway canoe, old form. (_Canadian Pacific Railway
        photo._)                                                     126

  119 Photo: Ojibway Long-Nose canoe, Rainy Lake District.           126

  120 Lines of 2-fathom Ojibway hunter's canoe, 1849 and long-nose
        Minnesota Ojibway rice-harvesting canoe.                     127

  121 Photos: Canoe building, Lac Seul, Canada, 1918             128-129

  122 Long Lake Ojibway long-nose canoe. (_Canadian Geological
        Survey photo._)                                              130

  123 Photo: Ojibway 19-foot canoe with 13 Indians aboard (1913)     131

  124 Lines of 2½-fathom western Cree canoe, Winisk River district,
        northwest of James Bay.                                      133

  125 Lines of a 6-fathom fur-trade canoe of the early 19th century. 134

  126 Inboard profile of a 6-fathom fur-trade canoe, and details of
        construction, fitting, and decoration.                       135

  127 Lines of small 3-fathom north canoe of the Têtes de Boule
        model.                                                       136

  128 Photo: Models of fur-trade canoes.                             137

  129 "Fur-Trade Maître Canot With Passengers." From an oil
        painting by Hopkins (_Public Archives of Canada photo_).     138

  130 "Bivouac in Expedition in Hudson's Bay Canoe." From an oil
        painting by Hopkins (_Public Archives of Canada photo_).     139

  131 Ojibway 3-fathom fur-trade canoe, a cargo-carrying type,
        marked by cut-under end profiles, that was built as late as
        1894.                                                        139

  132 Lines of a 5-fathom fur-trade canoe, Grand Lake Victoria
        Post, Hudson's Bay Company.                                  140

  133 "Hudson's Bay Canoe Running the Rapids." From an oil painting
        by Hopkins (_Public Archives of Canada photo_).              141

  134 "Repairing the Canoe." From an oil painting by Hopkins
        (_Public Archives of Canada photo_).                         142

  135 Lines of a 4½-fathom Hudson's Bay Company "North Canoe,"
        built by Crees near James Bay, mid-19th century.             143

  136 Photo: 5-fathom fur-trade canoe from Brunswick House, a
        Hudson's Bay Company post.                                   144

  137 Fur-trade canoes on the Missinaibi River, 1901. (_Canadian
        Geological Survey photo._)                                   145

  138 Photo: Fur-trade canoe brigade from Christopherson's Hudson's
        Bay Company post, about 1885.                                146

  139 Forest rangers, Lake Timagami, Ontario. (_Canadian Pacific
        Railway Company photo._)                                     147

  140 Photo: Models made by Adney of fur-trade canoe stem-pieces.    149

  141 Photo: Models by Adney of fur-trade canoe stem-pieces.         151

  142 Portaging a 4½-fathom fur-trade canoe, about 1902, near the
        head of the Ottawa River. (_Canadian Pacific Railway Company
        photo._)                                                     152

  143 Decorations, fur-trade canoes (_Watercolor sketch by Adney._)  153

  144 Lines of 2-fathom Chipewyan hunter's canoe.                    155

  145 Lines of 2½-fathom Chipewyan and 3-fathom Dogrib cargo, or
        family, canoes.                                              156

  146 Lines of 3-fathom Slavey and 2½-fathom Algonkin-type
        Athabascan plank-stem canoes.                                157

  147 Lines of Eskimo kayak-form birch-bark canoe from Alaskan
        Coast.                                                       159

  148 Lines of Athabascan hunting canoes of the kayak form.          160

  149 Lines of extinct forms of Loucheux and bateau-form canoes,
        reconstructed from old models.                               161

  150 Lines of kayak-form canoes of the Alaskan Eskimos and
        Canadian Athabascan Indians.                                 163

  151 Lines of kayak-form canoe of British Columbia and upper Yukon
        valley.                                                      164

  152 Construction of kayak-form canoe of the lower Yukon, showing
        rigid bottom frame. (_Smithsonian Institution photo._)       165

  153 Photo: Model of an extinct form of Athabascan type birch-bark
        canoe, of British Columbia. In Peabody Museum, Harvard
        University.                                                  167

  154 Lines of sturgeon-nose bark canoe of the Kutenai and Shuswap.  169

  155 Ojibway canoe construction. (_Canadian Geological Survey
        photos._)                                                170-171

  156 Photo: Indians with canoe at Alert Bay, on Cormorant Island,
        B. C.                                                        173

  157 Eighteenth-century lines drawing of a kayak, from Labrador or
        southern Baffin Island.                                      175

  158 Western Alaskan umiak with eight women paddling, Cape Prince
        of Wales, Alaska, 1936. (_Photo by Henry B. Collins._)       177

  159 Western Alaskan umiak being beached, Cape Prince of Wales,
        Alaska, 1936. (_Photo by Henry B. Collins._)                 177

  160 Repairing umiak frame at St. Lawrence Island, Alaska, 1930.
        (_Photo by Henry B. Collins._)                               178

  161 Eskimo woman splitting walrus hide to make umiak cover, St.
        Lawrence Island, Alaska, 1930. (_Photo by Henry B. Collins._)

  162 Fitting split walrus-hide cover to umiak at St. Lawrence
        Island, Alaska, 1930. (_Photo by Henry B. Collins._)         179

  163 Outboard motor installed on umiak, Cape Prince of Wales,
        Alaska, 1936. (_Photo by Henry B. Collins._)                 179

  164 Launching umiak in light surf, Cape Prince of Wales, Alaska,
        1936. (_Photo by Henry B. Collins._)                         179

  165 Umiaks on racks, in front of village on Little Diomede
        Island, July 30, 1936. (_Photo by Henry B. Collins._)        181

  166 Umiak covered with split walrus hide, Cape Prince of Wales,
        Alaska. (_Photo by Henry B. Collins._)                       183

  167 Lines of small umiak for walrus hunting, west coast of
        Alaska. 1888-89                                              184

  168 Umiaks near Cape Prince of Wales, Alaska, showing walrus hide
        cover and lacing. (_Photo by Henry B. Collins._)             185

  169 Lines of umiak, west coast of Alaska, King Island, 1886        186

  170 Making the blind seam: two stages of method used by the
        Eskimo to join skins together.                               186

  171 Lines of north Alaskan whaling umiak of about 1890             187

  172 Lines of Baffin Island umiak, 1885. Drawn from model and
        detailed measurements of a single boat.                      188

  173 Lines of east Greenland umiak, drawn from measurements taken
        off by a U.S. Army officer in 1945.                          189

  174 Frame of kayak, Nunivak Island, Alaska. (_Photo by Henry B.
        Collins._)                                                   191

  175 Frame of kayak at Nunivak Island, Alaska, 1927. (_Photo by
        Henry B. Collins._)                                          193

  176 Lines of Koryak kayak, drawn from damaged kayak in the
        American Museum of Natural History, 1948.                    195

  177 Lines of Kodiak Island kayak, 1885, in U.S. National Museum.   196

  178 Lines of Aleutian kayak, Unalaska, 1894, in U.S. National
        Museum.                                                      196

  179 Lines of kayak from Russian Siberia, 2-hole Aleutian type, in
        Washington State Historical Society and Museum. Taken off by
        John Heath, 1962.                                            197

  180 Lines of Nunivak Island kayak, Alaska, 1889, in U.S. National
        Museum.                                                      198

  181 Lines of King Island kayak, Alaska, 1888, in U.S. National
        Museum.                                                      198

  182 Lines of Norton Sound kayak, Alaska, 1889, in U.S. National
        Museum.                                                      198

  183 Nunivak Island kayak with picture of mythological water
        monster Palriayuk painted along gunwale. (_Photo by Henry B.
        Collins._)                                                   199

  184 Photo: Nunivak Island kayak in U.S. National Museum.           199

  185 Western Alaskan kayak, Cape Prince of Wales, 1936. (_Photo by
        Henry B. Collins._)                                          200

  186 Lines of Kotzebue Sound kayak, in Mariners' Museum.            201

  187 Lines of Point Barrow kayak, Alaska, 1888, in U.S. National
        Museum.                                                      201

  188 Lines of Mackenzie Delta kayak, in Museum of the American
        Indian.                                                      201

  189 Photo: Kayak from Point Barrow, Alaska, in U.S. National
        Museum.                                                      202

  190 Photo: Cockpit of kayak from Point Barrow.                     202

  191 Lines of kayak in U.S. National Museum.                        203

  192 Lines of kayak from Coronation Gulf, Canada.                   203

  193 Lines of Caribou Eskimo kayak, Canada, in American Museum of
        Natural History.                                             203

  194 Lines of Netsilik Eskimo kayak, King William Island, Canada,
        in the American Museum of Natural History.                   203

  195 Lines of old kayak from vicinity of Southampton Island,
        Canada.                                                      205

  196 Lines of Baffin Island kayak, from Cape Dorset, Canada, in
        the Museum of the American Indian.                           205

  197 Lines of kayak from north Labrador, Canada, in the Museum of
        the American Indian.                                         207

  198 Lines of Labrador kayak, Canada, in the U.S. National Museum.  207

  199 Lines of north Greenland kayak, in the Museum of the American
        Indian.                                                      207

  200 Lines of north Greenland kayak, in the Peabody Museum, Salem,
        Mass.                                                        207

  201 Photo: Profile of Greenland kayak from Disko Bay, in the
        National Museum.                                             208

  202 Photo: Deck of Greenland kayak from Disko Bay.                 208

  203 Photo: Cockpit of Greenland kayak from Disko Bay.              209

  204 Photo: Bow view of Greenland kayak from Disko Bay.             209

  205 Lines of northwestern Greenland kayak, in the U.S. National
        Museum.                                                      210

  206 Lines of southwestern Greenland kayak, 1883, in the U.S.
        National Museum.                                             210

  207 Lines of southwestern Greenland kayak, in the Peabody Museum,
        Salem, Mass.                                                 210

  208 Lines of south Greenland kayak, in the American Museum of
        Natural History.                                             211

  209 Lines of Malecite and Iroquois temporary canoes.               214

  210 Photo: Model of hickory-bark canoe under construction, in the
        Mariner's Museum.                                            217

  211 Sketch: Detail of thwart used in Malecite temporary
        spruce-bark canoe.                                           217

  212 Iroquois temporary elm-bark canoe, after a drawing of 1849.    218

  213 Large moosehide canoe of upper Gravel River, Mackenzie
        valley. (_Photo, George M. Douglas._)                        221

  214 Sketch: Standard Greenland roll.                               224

  215 Sketch: Critical stage of a capsize recovery.                  225

  216 Sketch: Hand positions used with the standard Greenland roll.  226

  217 Sketch: Kayak rescue, bow-grab method.                         226

  218 Sketch: Kayak rescue, paddle-grab method.                      226

  219 Preparing for demonstration of Eskimo roll, Igdlorssuit, West
        Greenland. (_Photo by Kenneth Taylor._)                      227

  220 Getting aboard kayak. (_Photo by Kenneth Taylor._)             228

  221 Fully capsized kayak. (_Photo by Kenneth Taylor._)             228

  222 Emerging from roll. (_Photo by Kenneth Taylor._)               229

  223 Emerging from roll. (_Photo by Kenneth Taylor._)               229

  224 Righting the kayak. (_Photo by Kenneth Taylor._)               229

                      Bark Canoes and Skin Boats
                            North America_


[Illustration: Figure 1

Survey photo._)]

The bark canoes of the North American Indians, particularly those of
birch bark, were among the most highly developed of manually propelled
primitive watercraft. Built with Stone Age tools from materials
available in the areas of their use, their design, size, and appearance
were varied so as to create boats suitable to the many and different
requirements of their users. The great skill exhibited in their design
and construction shows that a long period of development must have
taken place before they became known to white men.

The Indian bark canoes were most efficient watercraft for use in
forest travel; they were capable of being propelled easily with a
single-bladed paddle. This allowed the paddler, unlike the oarsman,
to face the direction of travel, a necessity in obstructed or shoal
waters and in fast-moving streams. The canoes, being light, could be
carried overland for long distances, even where trails were rough or
nonexistent. Yet they could carry heavy loads in shallow water and
could be repaired in the forest without special tools.

Bark canoes were designed for various conditions: some for use in
rapid streams, some for quiet waters, some for the open waters of
lakes, some for use along the coast. Most were intended for portage in
overland transportation as well. They were built in a variety of sizes,
from small one-man hunting and fishing canoes to canoes large enough
to carry a ton of cargo and a crew, or a war-party, or one or more
families moving to new habitations. Some canoes were designed so that
they could be used, turned bottom up, for shelter ashore.

The superior qualities of the bark canoes of North America are
indicated by the white man's unqualified adoption of the craft. Almost
as soon as he arrived in North America, the white man learned to use
the canoe, without alteration, for wilderness travel. Much later,
when the original materials used in building were no longer readily
available, canvas was substituted for bark, and nails for the lashings
and sewing; but as long as manual propulsion was used, the basic
models of the bark canoes were retained. Indeed, the models and the
proportions used in many of these old bark canoes are retained in the
canoes used today in the wildernesses of northern Canada and Alaska,
and the same styles may be seen in the canoes used for pleasure in the
summer resorts of Europe and America. The bark canoe of North America
shares with the Eskimo kayak the distinction of being one of the few
primitive craft of which the basic models are retained in the boats of
civilized man.

It may seem strange, then, that the literature on American bark canoes
is so limited. Many possible explanations for this might be offered.
One is that the art of bark canoe building died early, as the Indians
came into contact with the whites, before there was any attempt fully
to record Indian culture. The bark canoe is fragile compared to the
dugout. The latter might last hundreds of years submerged in a bog, but
the bark canoe will not last more than a few decades. It is difficult,
in fact, to preserve bark canoes in museums, for as they age and the
bark becomes brittle, they are easily damaged in moving and handling.

Some small models made by Indians are preserved, but, like most models
made by primitive men, these are not to any scale and do not show
with equal accuracy all parts of the canoes they represent. They are,
therefore, of value only when full-sized canoes of the same type are
available for comparison, but this is too rarely the case with the
American Indian bark canoes. Today the builders who might have added to
our knowledge are long dead.

It might be said fairly that those who had the best opportunities to
observe, including many whose profession it was to record the culture
of primitive man, showed little interest in watercraft and have left
us only the most meager descriptions. Even when the watercraft of the
primitive man had obviously played a large part in his culture, we
rarely find a record complete enough to allow the same accuracy of
reproduction that obtains, say, for his art, his dress, or his pottery.
Once lost, the information on primitive watercraft cannot, as a rule,
be recovered.

However, as far as the bark canoes of North America are concerned,
there was another factor. The student who became sufficiently
interested to begin research soon discovered that one man was devoting
his lifetime to the study of these craft; that, in a field with few
documentary records and fewer artifacts, he had had opportunities for
detailed examination not open to younger men; and that it was widely
expected that this man would eventually publish his findings. Hence
many, who might otherwise have carried on some research and writing,
turned to other subjects. Practically, then, the whole field had been
left to Edwin Tappan Adney.

Born at Athens, Ohio, in 1868, Edwin Tappan Adney was the son of
Professor H. H. Adney, formerly a colonel in a volunteer regiment in
the Civil War but then on the faculty of Ohio University. His mother
was Ruth Shaw Adney. Edwin Tappan Adney did not receive a college
education, but he managed to pursue three years' study of art with
The Art Students' League of New York. Apparently he was interested in
ornithology as well as in art, and spent much time in New York museums,
where he met Ernest Thompson Seton and other naturalists. Being unable
to afford more study in art school, he went on what was intended to be
a short vacation, in 1887, to Woodstock, New Brunswick. There he became
interested in the woods-life of Peter Joe, a Malecite Indian who lived
in a temporary camp nearby. This life so interested the 19-year-old
Ohioan that he turned toward the career of an artist-craftsman,
recording outdoor scenes of the wilderness in pictures.

He undertook to learn the handicrafts of the Indian, in order to
picture him and his works correctly, and lengthened his stay. In 1889,
Adney and Peter Joe each built a birch-bark canoe, Adney following and
recording every step the Indian made during construction. The result
Adney published, with sketches, in _Harper's Young People_ magazine,
July 29, 1890, and, in a later version, in _Outing_, May 1900. These,
so far as is known, are the earliest detailed descriptions of a
birch-bark canoe, with instructions for building one. Daniel Beard
considered them the best, and with Adney's permission used the material
in his _Boating Book for Boys_.

In 1897, Adney went to the Klondike as an artist and special
correspondent for _Harper's Weekly_ and _The London Chronicle_, to
report on the gold-rush. He also wrote a book on his experience,
_Klondike Stampede_, published in 1900. In 1899 he married Minnie Bell
Sharp, of Woodstock, but by 1900 Adney was again in the Northwest,
this time as special correspondent for _Colliers_ magazine at Nome,
Alaska, during the gold-rush of that year. On his return to New
York, Adney engaged in illustrating outdoor scenes and also lectured
for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. In 1908
he contributed to a Harper's Outdoor Book for Boys. From New York
he removed to Montreal and became a citizen of Canada, entering the
Canadian Army as a Lieutenant of Engineers in 1916. He was assigned
to the construction of training models and was on the staff of the
Military College, mustering out in 1919. He then made his home in
Montreal, engaging in painting and illustrating. From his early years
in Woodstock he had made a hobby of the study of birch-bark canoes, and
while in Montreal he became honorary consultant to the Museum of McGill
University, dealing with Indian lore. By 1925 Adney had assembled a
great deal of material and, to clarify his ideas, he began construction
of scale models of each type of canoe, carrying on a very extensive
correspondence with Indians, factors and other employees (retired and
active) of the Hudson's Bay Company, and with government agents on the
Indian Reservations. He also made a number of expeditions to interview
Indians. Possessing linguistic ability in Malecite, he was much
interested in all the Indian languages; this helped him in his canoe

Owing to personal and financial misfortunes, he and his wife (then
blind) returned in the early 1930's to her family homestead in
Woodstock, where Mrs. Adney died in 1937. Adney continued his work
under the greatest difficulties, including ill-health, until his death,
October 10, 1950. He did not succeed in completing his research and had
not organized his collection of papers and notes for publication when
he died.

Through the farsightedness of Frederick Hill, then director of The
Mariners' Museum, Newport News, Virginia, Adney had, ten years before
his death, deposited in the museum over a hundred of his models and a
portion of his papers. After his death his son Glenn Adney cooperated
in placing in The Mariners' Museum the remaining papers dealing with
bark canoes, thus completing the "Adney Collection."

Frederick Hill's appreciation of the scope and value of the collection
prompted him to seek my assistance in organizing this material with a
view to publication. Though the Adney papers were apparently complete
and were found, upon careful examination, to contain an immense amount
of valuable information, they were in a highly chaotic state. At the
request of The Mariners' Museum, I have assembled the pertinent papers
and have compiled from Adney's research notes as complete a description
as I could of bark canoes, their history, construction, decoration and
use. I had long been interested in the primitive watercraft of the
Americas, but I was one of those who had discontinued research on bark
canoes upon learning of Adney's work. The little I had accomplished
dealt almost entirely with the canoes of Alaska and British Columbia;
from these I had turned to dugouts and to the skin boats of the Eskimo.
Therefore I have faced with much diffidence the task of assembling and
preparing the Adney papers for publication, particularly since it was
not always clear what Adney had finally decided about certain matters
pertaining to canoes. His notes were seldom arranged in a sequence that
would enable the reader to decide which, of a number of solutions or
opinions given, were Adney's final ones.

Adney's interest in canoes, as canoes, was very great, but his interest
in anthropology led him to form many opinions about pre-Columbian
migrations of Indian tribes and about the significance of the
decorations used in some canoes. His papers contain considerable
discussion of these matters, but they are in such state that only an
ethnologist could edit and evaluate them. In addition, my own studies
lead me to conclude that the mere examination of watercraft alone is
insufficient evidence upon which to base opinions as far-reaching as
those of Adney. Therefore I have not attempted to present in this
work any of Adney's theories regarding the origin or ethnological
significance of the canoes discussed. I have followed the same practice
with those Adney papers which concern Indian language, some of which
relate to individual tribal canoe types and are contained in the canoe
material. (Most of his papers on linguistics are now in The Peabody
Museum, Salem, Massachusetts.)

The strength and weaknesses of Adney's work, as shown in his papers,
drawings, and models, seem to me to be fully apparent. That part
dealing with the eastern Indians, with whom he had long personal
contact, is by far the most voluminous and, perhaps, the most accurate.
The canoes used by Indians west of the St. Lawrence as far as the
western end of the Great Lakes and northward to the west side of
Hudsons Bay are, with a few exceptions, covered in somewhat less
detail, but the material nonetheless appears ample for our purpose. The
canoes used in the Canadian Northwest, except those from the vicinity
of Great Slave Lake, and in Alaska were less well described. It appears
that Adney had relatively little opportunity to examine closely the
canoes used in Alaska, during his visit there in 1900, and that he
later was unable to visit those American museums having collections
that would have helped him with regard to these areas. As a result, I
have found it desirable to add my own material on these areas, drawn
largely from the collections of American museums and from my notes on
construction details.

An important part of Adney's work deals with the large canoes used in
the fur trade. Very little beyond the barest of descriptions has been
published and, with but few exceptions, contemporary paintings and
drawings of these canoes are obviously faulty. Adney was fortunate
enough to have been able to begin his research on these canoes while
there were men alive who had built and used them. As a result he
obtained information that would have been lost within, at most, the
span of a decade. His interest was doubly keen, fortunately, for Adney
not only was interested in the canoes as such, he also valued the
information for its aid in painting historical scenes. As a result,
there is hardly a question concerning fur trade canoes, whether of
model, construction, decoration, or use, that is not answered in his

I have made every effort to preserve the results of Adney's
investigations of the individual types in accurate drawings or in the
descriptions in the text. It was necessary to redraw and complete
most of Adney's scale drawings of canoes, for they were prepared for
model-building rather than for publication. Where his drawings were
incomplete, they could be filled in from his scale models and notes.
It must be kept in mind that in drawing plans of primitive craft the
draftsman must inevitably "idealize" the subject somewhat, since a
drawing shows fair curves and straight lines which the primitive
craft do not have in all cases. Also, the inboard profiles are
diagrammatic rather than precise, because, in the necessary reduction
of the full-size canoe to a drawing, this is the only way to show its
"form" in a manner that can be interpreted accurately and that can
be reproduced in a model or full size, as desired. It is necessary
to add that, though most of the Adney plans were measured from
full-size canoes, some were reconstructed from Indian models, builders'
information, or other sources. Thanks to Adney's thorough knowledge of
bark construction, the plans are highly accurate, but there are still
chances for error, and these are discussed where they occur.

Although reconstruction of extinct canoe types is difficult, for the
strange canoes of the Beothuk Indians of Newfoundland Adney appears to
have solved some of the riddles posed by contemporary descriptions and
the few grave models extant (the latter may have been children's toys).
Whether or not his reconstructed canoe is completely accurate cannot be
determined; at least it conforms reasonably well to the descriptions
and models, and Adney's thorough knowledge of Indian craftsmanship
gives weight to his opinions and conclusions. This much can be said:
the resulting canoe would be a practical one and it fulfills very
nearly all descriptions of the type known today.

Adney's papers and drawings dealing with the construction of bark
canoes are most complete and valuable. So complete as to be almost a
set of "how-to-do-it" instructions, they cover everything from the
selection of materials and use of tools to the art of shaping and
building the canoe. An understanding of these building instructions is
essential to any sound examination of the bark canoes of North America,
for they show the limitations of the medium and indicate what was and
what was not reasonable to expect from the finished product.

In working on Adney's papers, it became obvious that this publication
could not be limited to birch-bark canoes, since canoes built of other
barks and even some covered with skins appear in the birch bark areas.
Because of this, and to explain the technical differences between these
and the birch canoes, skin-covered canoes have been included. I have
also appended a chapter on Eskimo skin boats and kayaks. This material
I had originally prepared for inclusion in the _Encyclopedia Arctica_,
publication of which was cancelled after one volume had appeared. As
a result, the present work now covers the native craft, exclusive of
dugouts, of all North America north of Mexico.

In my opinion the value of the information gathered by Edwin Tappan
Adney is well worth the effort that has been expended to bring it to
its present form, and any merit that attaches to it belongs largely to
Adney himself, whose long and painstaking research, carried on under
severe personal difficulties, is the foundation of this study.

                                                 HOWARD IRVING CHAPELLE
                                            _Curator of Transportation,
                                      Museum of History and Technology_

_Chapter One_


The development of bark canoes in North America before the arrival of
the white men cannot satisfactorily be traced. Unlike the dugout, the
bark canoe is too perishable to survive in recognizable form buried in
a bog or submerged in water, so we have little or no visual evidence of
very great age upon which to base sound assumptions.

Records of bark canoes, contained in the reports of the early white
explorers of North America, are woefully lacking in detail, but they
at least give grounds for believing that the bark canoes even then
were highly developed, and were the product of a very long period of
existence and improvement prior to the first appearance of Europeans.

The Europeans were most impressed by the fact that the canoes were
built of bark reinforced by a light wooden frame. The speed with
which they could be propelled by the Indians also caused amazement,
as did their light weight and marked strength, combined with a great
load-carrying capacity in shallow water. It is remarkable, however,
that although bark canoes apparently aroused so much admiration among
Europeans, so little of accurate and complete information appears in
their writings.

With two notable exceptions, to be discussed later, early explorers,
churchmen, travellers, and writers were generally content merely to
mention the number of persons in a canoe. The first published account
of variations in existing forms of the American bark canoe does not
occur until 1724, and the first known illustration of a bark canoe
accurate enough to indicate its tribal designation appeared only two
years earlier. This fact makes any detailed examination of the early
books dealing with North America quite unprofitable as far as precise
information on bark canoes is concerned.

The first known reference by a Frenchman to the bark canoe is that of
Jacques Cartier, who reported that he saw two bark canoes in 1535; he
said the two carried a total of 17 men. Champlain was the first to
record any definite dimensions of the bark canoes; he wrote that in
1603 he saw, near what is now Quebec, bark canoes 8 to 9 paces long
and 1½ paces wide, and he added that they might transport as much as
a pipe of wine yet were light enough to be carried easily by one man.
If a pace is taken as about 30 inches, then the canoes would have
been between 20 and 23 feet long, between 40 and 50 inches beam and
capable of carrying about half a ton, English measurements. These were
apparently Algonkin canoes. Champlain was impressed by the speed of
the bark canoes; he reported that his fully manned longboat was passed
by two canoes, each with two paddlers. As will be seen, he was perhaps
primarily responsible for the rapid adoption of bark canoes by the
early French in Canada.

The first English reference that has been found is in the records of
Captain George Weymouth's voyage. He and his crew in 1603 saw bark
canoes to the westward of Penobscot Bay, on what is now the coast of
Maine. The English were impressed, just as Champlain had been, by
the speed with which canoes having but three or four paddlers could
pass his ship's boat manned with four oarsmen. Weymouth also speaks
admiringly of the fine workmanship shown in the structure of the canoes.

When Champlain attacked the Iroquois, on what is now Lake Champlain,
he found that these Indians had "oak" bark (more probably elm) canoes
capable of carrying 10, 15, and 18 men. This would indicate that the
maximum size of the Iroquois canoes was about 30 to 33 feet long. The
illustrations in his published account indicate canoes about 30 feet
long; but early illustrations of this kind were too often the product
of the artist's imagination, just as were the delineations of the
animals and plants of North America.

As an example of what may be deduced from other early French accounts,
Champlain in 1615, with a companion and 12 Indians, embarked at La
Chine in two bark canoes for a trip to the Great Lakes. He stated
that the two canoes, with men and baggage aboard, were over-crowded.
Taking one of these canoes as having 7 men and baggage aboard, it seems
apparent that it was not much larger than the largest of the canoes
Champlain had seen in 1603 on the St. Lawrence. But in 1672, Louis
Joliet and Father Jacques Marquette traveled in two canoes, carrying
a total of 5 French and 25 Indians--say 14 in one canoe and 16 in the
other. These canoes, then, must have been at least 28 feet long over
the gunwales, exclusive of the round of the ends, or about 30 feet
overall. The Chevalier Henri de Tonti, one of La Salle's officers,
mentions a canoe carrying 30 men--probably 14 paddlers on each side, a
steersman, and a passenger or officer. Such a capacity might indicate
a canoe about 40 feet over the gunwales, though this seems very long
indeed; it is more probable that the canoe would be about 36 feet long.

Another of La Salle's officers, Baron de LaHontan, gave the first
reasonably complete account that has been found of the size and
character of a birch-bark canoe. This was written at Montreal June 29,
1684. After stating that he had seen at least a hundred bark canoes in
his journeys, he said that birch-bark canoes ranged in length from 10
to 28 _pieds_ and were capable of carrying from 2 to 14 persons. The
largest, when carrying cargo, might be handled by three men and could
carry 2,000 pounds of freight (20 quintals). These large canoes were
safe and never upset. They were built of bark peeled in the winter; hot
water was thrown on the bark to make it pliable, so that it could be
rolled up after it was removed from the tree. The canoes were built of
more than one piece of bark as a rule.

The large canoes, he reports, were 28 _pieds_ long, 4½ _pieds_ wide and
20 _pouces_ deep, top of gunwale to top of frames on bottom. The last
indicates "inside" measurement; in this the length would be over the
gunwales, not overall, and the beam inside the gunwales, not extreme.
He also says the canoes had a lining or sheathing of cedar "splints"
or plank and, inside this, cedar ribs or frames. The bark was the
thickness of an _écu_ (this coin, a crown, was a little less than ⅛
inch thick), the sheathing the thickness of two _écus_, and the ribs of
three. The ends of the ribs were pointed and these were seated in holes
in the underside of the gunwales. There were 8 crosspieces (thwarts)
between the gunwales (note: such a canoe would commonly have 9 thwarts;
LaHontan may have erred here).

The canoes were convenient, he says, because of their great lightness
and shallow draft, but they were easily damaged. Hence they had to be
loaded and unloaded afloat and usually required repairs to the bark
covers at the end of each day. They had to be staked down at night,
so that a strong wind might not damage or blow them away; but this
light weight permitted them to be carried with ease by two men, one at
each end, and this suited them for use on the rivers of Canada, where
rapids and falls made carrying frequently necessary. These canoes were
of no value on the Lakes, LaHontan states, as they could not be used
in windy weather; though in good weather they might cross lakes and
might go four or five leagues on open water. The canoes carried small
sails, but these could be used only with fair winds of moderate force.
The paddlers might kneel, sit, or stand to paddle and pole the canoes.
The paddle blade was 20 _pouces_ long, 6 wide, and 4 _lignes_ thick;
the handle was of the diameter of a pigeon's egg and three _pieds_
long. The paddlers also had a "setting pole," to pole the canoes in
shoal water. The canoes were alike at both ends and cost 80 _écus_
(LaHontan's cost 90), and would last not more than five or six years.
The foregoing is but a condensed extract of LaHontan's lively account.

In translating LaHontan's measurements a _pied_ is taken as 12.79
inches, a _pouce_ as about 1⅛ inches. The French fathom, or _brasse_,
as used in colonial Canada, was the length from finger-tip to
finger-tip of the arms outstretched and so varied, but may be roughly
estimated as about 64 inches; this was the "fathom" used later in
classing fur-trade canoes for length. In English measurements his
large canoe would have been about 30 feet long over the gunwales and,
perhaps, almost 33 feet overall, 57½ inches beam inside the gunwales,
or about 60 inches extreme beam. The depth inside would be 21 or 21¾
inches bottom to top of gunwale amidships. LaHontan also described the
elm-bark canoes of the Iroquois as being large and wide enough to carry
30 paddlers, 15 on a side, sitting or standing. Here again a canoe
about 40 feet long is indicated. He said that these elm-bark canoes
were crude, heavy and slow, with low sides, so that once he and his men
reached an open lake, he no longer feared pursuit by the Iroquois in
these craft.

[Illustration: Figure 2

PAGE FROM A MANUSCRIPT OF 1771, "Observations on Hudsons Bay," by
Alexander Graham, Factor, now in the archives of the Hudson's Bay
Company in London. The birch-bark canoe at the top, the kayak below,
and the paddles are obviously drawn by one not trained to observe as an

From the slight evidence offered in such records as these, it appears
that the Indians may have had, when the Europeans first reached
Canada, canoes at least as long as the 5-fathom or 5½-fathom canoe
of later times. It appears also that these dimensions applied to the
canoes of the Great Lakes area and perhaps to the elm-bark canoes of
the Iroquois as well. Probably there were canoes as short as 10 feet,
used as one-man hunting and fishing boats, and it is plainly evident
that canoes between this length and about 24 feet were very common.
The evidence in La Salle's time, in the last half of the seventeenth
century, must be taken with some caution, as French influence on the
size of large canoes may have by then come into play. The comparison
between the maximum length of the Iroquois canoes, inferred from the
report of Champlain, and that suggested by LaHontan, might indicate
this growth.

Beginning as early as 1660, the colonial government of Canada issued
_congés_ or trading licenses. These were first granted to the military
officers or their families; later the _congés_ were issued to all
approved traders, and the fees were used for pensions of the military
personnel. Records of these licenses, preserved from about 1700, show
that three men commonly made up the crew of a trading canoe in the
earliest years, but that by 1725 five men were employed, by 1737 seven
men, and by 1747 seven or eight men. However, as LaHontan has stated
that in his time three men were sufficient to man a large canoe with
cargo, it is evident that the _congés_ offer unreliable data and do not
necessarily prove that the size of canoes had increased during this
period. The increase in the crews may have been brought about by the
greater distances travelled, with an increased number of portages or,
perhaps, by heavier items of cargo.

The war canoe does not appear in these early accounts as a special
type. According to the traditions of the eastern Micmac and Malecite
Indians, their war canoes were only large enough to carry three or
four warriors and so must not have exceeded 18 feet in length. These
were built for speed, narrow and with very sharp ends; the bottom
was made as smooth as was possible. Each canoe carried the insignia
of each of its warriors, that is, his personal mark or sign. A canoe
carrying a war leader had only his personal mark, none for the rest of
the crew. It is possible to regard the large canoes of the Iroquois
as "war canoes" since they were used in the pursuit of French raiders
in LaHontan's time. However, the Iroquois did not build the canoes
primarily for war; in early times these fierce tribesmen preferred
to take to the warpath in the dead of winter and to raid overland
on snowshoes. In open weather, they used the rough, short-lived and
quickly built elm-bark canoes to cross streams and lakes or to follow
waterways, discarding them when the immediate purpose was accomplished.
Probably it was the French who really produced the bark "war canoes,"
for they appear to have placed great emphasis on large canoes for use
of the military, as indicated by LaHontan's concern with the largest
canoes of his time. Perhaps large bark canoes were once used on the
Great Lakes for war parties, but, if so, no mention of a special type
has been found in the early French accounts. The sparse references
suggest that both large and small canoes were used by the war parties
but that no special type paralleling the characteristics of the Micmac
and Malecite war canoes existed in the West. The huge dugout war
canoe of the Indians of the Northwest Coast appears to have had no
counterpart in size among the birch or elm bark canoes.

Except for LaHontan, the early French writers who refer to the use
of sail agree that the canoes were quite unfitted for sailing. It is
extremely doubtful that the prehistoric Indians using bark canoes were
acquainted with sails, though it is possible that the coastal Indians
might have set up a bush in the bow to utilize a following wind and
thus lighten the labor of paddling. However, once the Indian saw the
usefulness of a sail demonstrated by white men, he was quick to adopt
it; judging from the LaHontan reference, and the use of sails in canoes
must have become well established in some areas by 1685.

One of the most important elements in the history of the canoe is its
early adoption by the French. Champlain was the first to recommend its
use by white men. He stated that the bark canoe would be very necessary
in trade and exploration, pointing out that in order to penetrate the
back country above the rapids at Montreal, during the short summer
season, and to come back in time to return to France for the winter
(unless the winter was to be spent in Canada) the canoe would have
to be used. With it the small and large streams could be navigated
safely and the numerous overland carries could be quickly made. Also,
of course, Indians could be employed as crews without the need of
training them to row. This general argument in favor of the bark canoe
remained sound after the desirability of going home to France for the
winter had ceased to influence French ideas. The quick expansion of the
French fur trade in the early seventeenth century opened up the western
country into the Great Lakes area and to the northward. It was soon
discovered that by using canoes on the ancient canoe route along the
Ottawa River goods could reach the western posts on the Lakes and be
transported north early enough to reach the northernmost posts before
the first freeze-up occurred. The use of sailing vessels on the Lakes
did not enable this to be accomplished, so that until the railroads
were built in western Canada, the canoe remained the mode of transport
for the fur trade in this area. Even after the railways were built,
canoe traffic remained important, until well into the first half of the
twentieth century as part of the local system of transportation in the
northwestern country of Canada.

[Illustration: Figure 3

CANOES FROM LAHONTAN'S _Nouveaux Voyages ... dans l'Amerique
Septentrionale_, showing crude representations typical of early

The unsatisfactory illustrations accompanying early published accounts
have been mentioned. The earliest recognizable canoe to be shown in
an illustration is the reasonably accurate drawing of a Micmac canoe
that appears in Bacqueville de la Poterie's book, published in 1722.
LaFiteau, another Frenchman, in 1724 published a book that not only
contains recognizable drawings but points out reasons for the variation
in the appearance of bark canoes:

  The Abenacquis, for example, are less high in the sides, less
  large, and more flat at the two ends; in a way they are almost
  level for their whole extent; because those who travel on their
  small rivers are sure to be troubled and struck by the branches of
  trees that border and extend over the water. On the other hand, the
  Outaouacs [Ottawas] and the nations of the upper country having to
  do their navigation on the St. Lawrence River where there are many
  falls and rapids, or especially on the Lakes where there is always
  a very considerable swell, must have high ends.

His illustrations show that his low-ended canoes were of Micmac type
but that his high-ended canoes were not of the Ottawa River or Great
Lakes types but rather of the eastern Malecite of the lower St.
Lawrence valley. This Jesuit missionary also noted that the canoes were
alike at the ends and that the paddles were of maple and about 5 feet
long, with blades 18 inches long and 6 wide. He observed that bark
canoes were unfitted for sailing.

[Illustration: Figure 4

LINES OF AN OLD BIRCH-BARK CANOE, probably Micmac, brought to England
in 1749 from New England. This canoe was not alike at both ends,
although apparently intended to be so by the builder. (_From Admiralty
Collection of Draughts, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich._)]

The early English settlers of New England and New York were acquainted
with the canoe forms of eastern Indians such as the Micmac, Malecite,
Abnaki, and the Iroquois. Surviving records, however, show no detailed
description of these canoes by an English writer and no illustration
until about 1750. At this time a bark canoe, apparently Micmac, was
brought from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to England and delivered to
Lord Anson who had it placed in the Boat House of the Chatham Dockyard.
There it was measured and a scale drawing was made by Admiralty
draftsmen; the drawing is now in the Admiralty Collection of Draughts,
in the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich. A redrawing of this plan
appears opposite. It probably represents a war canoe, since a narrow,
sharp-ended canoe is shown. The bottom, neither flat nor fully round,
is a rounded ~V~-shape; this may indicate a canoe intended for coastal
waters. Other drawings, of a later date, showing crude plans of canoes,
exist in Europe but none yet found appear as carefully drawn as the
Admiralty plan, a scale drawing, which seems to be both the earliest
and the most accurate 18th-century representation of a tribal type of
American Indian bark canoe.

Due to the rapid development of the French fur trade, and the attendant
exploration, a great variety of canoe types must have become known to
the French by 1750, yet little in the way of drawings and no early
scale plans have been found. This is rather surprising, not only
because the opportunity for observation existed but also because a
canoe factory was actually operated by the French. The memoirs of
Colonel Franquet, Military Engineer-in-Chief for New France, contain
extensive references to this factory as it existed in 1751.

The canoe factory was located at Trois Rivières, just below Montreal,
on the St. Lawrence. A standard large canoe was built, and the rate
of production was then 20 a year. Franquet gives as the dimensions of
the canoes the following (converted to English measurement): length
36 feet, beam about 5½ feet, and depth about 33 inches. Much of his
description is not clear, but it seems evident that the canoe described
was very much like the later _grand canot_, or large canoe, of the
fur trade. The date at which this factory was established is unknown;
it may have existed as early as 1700, as might have been required by
the rapid expansion of the French trade and other activities in the
last half of the previous century. It is apparent from early comments
that the French found the Indian canoe-builders unreliable, not to say
most uncertain, as a source of supply. The need for large canoes for
military and trade operations had forced the establishment of such a
factory as soon as Europeans could learn how to build the canoes. This
would, in fact, have been the only possible solution.

Of course, it must not be assumed that the bark canoes were the only
watercraft used by the early French traders. They used plank boats as
well, ranging from scows to flat-bottomed bateaux and ship's boats, and
they also had some early sailing craft built on the Great Lakes and on
the lower St. Lawrence. The bateau, shaped much like a modern dory but
with a sharp stern, was adopted by the English settlers as well as the
French. In early colonial times this form of boat was called by the
English a "battoe," or "Schenectady Boat," and later, an "Albany Boat."
It was sharp at both ends, it usually had straight flaring sides with a
flat bottom, and was commonly built of white pine plank. Some, however,
had rounded sides and lapstrake planking, as shown by a plan of a
bateau of 1776 in the Admiralty Collection of Draughts. Early bateaux
had about the same range of size as the bark canoes but later ones were

After the English gained control of Canada, the records of the Hudson's
Bay Company, and of individual traders and travellers such as Alexander
Henry, Jr., and Alexander MacKenzie, at the end of the eighteenth
century, give much material on the fur-trade canoes but little on the
small Indian canoes. In general, these records show that the fur-trade
canoe of the West was commonly 24 feet long inside the gunwales,
exclusive of the curves of bow and stern; 4 feet 9 inches beam; 26
inches deep; and light enough to be carried by two men, as MacKenzie
recorded, "three or four miles without resting on a good road." But the
development of the fur-trade canoes is best left for a later chapter.

The use of the name "canoe" for bark watercraft does not appear to
been taken from a North American Indian usage. The early French
explorers and travellers called these craft _canau_ (pl. _canaux_).
As this also meant "canal," the name _canot_ (pl. _canots_) was soon
substituted. But some early writers preferred to call the canoe _ecorse
de bouleau_, or birch-bark, and sometimes the name used was merely the
generic _petit embarcation_, or small boat. The early English term was
"canoa," later "canoe." The popular uses of canoe, canoa, _canau_, and
_canot_ are thought to have begun early in the sixteenth century as the
adaptation of a Carib Indian word for a dugout canoe.


It will be seen that the early descriptions of the North American
bark canoes are generally lacking in exact detail. Yet this scanty
information strongly supports the claim that bark canoes were highly
developed and that the only influence white men exercised upon their
design was related to an increase in size of the large canoes that
may have taken place in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth
centuries. The very early recognition of the speed, fine construction,
and general adaptability of the bark canoes to wilderness travel
sustain this view. The two known instances mentioned of early accurate
illustration emphasize that distinct variations in tribal forms of
canoes existed, and that these were little changed between early
colonial times and a relatively recent period, despite steadily
increasing influence of the European.

_Chapter Two_


Bark of the paper birch was the material preferred by the North
American Indians for the construction of their canoes, although other
barks were used where birch was not available. This tree (_Betula
papyrifera_ Marsh.), also known as the canoe birch, is found in good
soil, often near streams, and where growing conditions are favorable
it becomes large, reaching a height of a hundred feet, with a butt
diameter of thirty inches or more. Its range forms a wide belt
across the continent, with the northern limits in Canada along a
line extending westward from Newfoundland to the southern shores of
Hudson Bay and thence generally northwestward to Great Bear Lake,
the Yukon River, and the Alaskan coast. The southern limits extend
roughly westward from Long Island to the southern shores of Lake
Erie and through central Michigan to Lake Superior, thence through
Wisconsin, northern Nebraska, and northwesterly through the Dakotas,
northern Montana, and northern Washington to the Pacific Coast. The
trees are both abundant and large in the eastern portion of the belt,
particularly in Newfoundland, Quebec, the Maritime Provinces, Ontario,
Maine, and New Hampshire, in contrast to the western areas. Near the
limits of growth to the north and south the trees are usually small and

The leaves are rather small, deep green, and pointed-oval, and are
often heart-shaped at the base. The edges of the leaves are rather
coarsely toothed along the margin, which is slightly six-notched. The
small limbs are black, sometimes spotted with white, and the large are

The bark of the tree has an aromatic odor when freshly peeled, and is
chalky white marked with black splotches on either side of limbs or
where branches have grown at one time. Elsewhere on the bark, dark,
or black, horizontal lines of varying lengths also appear. The lower
part of the tree, to about the height of winter snows, has bark that
is usually rough, blemished and thin; above this level, to the height
of the lowest large limbs, the bark is often only slightly blemished
and is thick and well formed. The bark is made up of paper-like
layers, their color deepens with each layer from the chalky white of
the exterior through creamy buff to a light tan on the inner layer. A
gelatinous greenish to yellow rind, or cambium layer, lies between the
bark and the wood of the trunk; its characteristics are different from
those of the rest of the bark. The horizontal lines that appear on each
successive paper-like layer do not appear on the rind.

The thickness of the bark cannot be judged from the size of a tree
and may vary markedly among trees of the same approximate size in a
single grove. The thickness varies from a little less than one-eighth
to over three-sixteenths inch; bark with a thickness of one-quarter
inch or more is rarely found. For canoe construction, bark must be over
one-eighth inch thick, tough, and from a naturally straight trunk of
sufficient diameter and length to give reasonably large pieces. The
"eyes" must be small and not so closely spaced as to allow the bark to
split easily in their vicinity.

The bark can be peeled readily when the sap is flowing. In winter,
when the exterior of the tree is frozen, the bark can be removed only
when heat is applied. During a prolonged thaw, however, this may be
accomplished without the application of heat. Bark peeled from the tree
during a winter thaw, and early in the spring or late in the fall,
usually adheres strongly to the inner rind, which comes away from the
tree with the bark. The act of peeling, however, puts a strain on the
bark, so that only tough, well-made bark can be removed under these
conditions. This particular characteristic caused Indians in the east
to call bark with the rind adhering "winter bark," even though it might
have been peeled from a tree during the warm weather of early summer.
Since in large trees the flow of sap usually starts later than in small
ones, the period in which good bark is obtainable may extend into late
June in some localities. Upon exposure to air and moisture, the inner
rind first turns orange-red and gradually darkens with age until in a
few years it becomes dark brown, or sepia. If it is first moistened,
the rind can be scraped off, and this allowed it to be employed in
decoration, enough being left to form designs. Hence winter bark was

To the eastern Indians "summer bark" was a poor grade that readily
separated into its paper-like layers, a characteristic of bark peeled
in hot weather, or of poorly made bark in any season. In the west,
however, high-quality bark was often scarce and, therefore, the
distinction between winter and summer bark does not seem to have been
made. Newfoundland once had excellent canoe bark, as did the Maritime
Provinces, Maine, New Hampshire, and Quebec, but the best bark was
found back from the seacoast. Ontario and the country to the immediate
north of Lake Superior are also said to have produced bark of high
quality for canoe building.

The bark of the paper birch was preferred for canoe building because
it could be obtained in quite large sheets clear of serious blemishes;
because its grain ran around the tree rather than along the line of
vertical tree growth, so that sheets could be "sewn" together to obtain
length in a canoe; and because the bark was resinous and not only did
not stretch and shrink as did other barks, but also had some elasticity
when green, or when kept damp. This elasticity, of course, was lost
once the bark was allowed to become dry through exposure to air and
sunshine, a factor which controlled to some extent the technique of its

Many other barks were employed in bark canoe construction, but in
most instances the craft were for temporary or emergency use and were
discarded after a short time. Such barks as spruce (_Picea_), elm
(_Ulmus_), chestnut (_Castenea dentata L._), hickory (_Carya_ spp.),
basswood (_Tilia_ spp.), and cottonwood (_Populus_ spp.) are said
to have been used in bark canoe construction in some parts of North
America. Birches other than the paper birch could be used, but most of
them produced bark that was thin and otherwise poor, and was considered
unsuitable for the better types of canoes. Barks other than birch
usually had rough surfaces that had to be scraped away, in order to
make the material flexible enough for canoe construction. Spruce bark
had some of the good qualities of the paper birch bark, but to a far
less degree, and was considered at best a mere substitute. Non-resinous
barks, because of their structure could not be joined together to
gain length, and their characteristic shrinkage and swelling made it
virtually impossible to keep them attached to a solid framework for any
great length of time.

[Illustration: Figure 5

OJIBWAY INDIAN carrying spruce roots, Lac Seul, Ont., 1919. (_Canadian
Geological Survey photo._)]

The material used for "sewing" together pieces of birch bark was most
commonly the root of the black spruce (_Picea mariana_ (Mill.) B.S.P.),
which grows in much of the area where the paper birch exists. The root
of this particular spruce is long but of small diameter; it is tough,
durable, and flexible enough for the purpose. The tree usually grows
in soft, moist ground, so that the long roots are commonly very close
to the surface, where they could easily be dug up with a sharp stick
or with the hands. In some areas of favorable growing conditions, the
roots of the black spruce could be obtained in lengths up to 20 feet,
yet with a maximum diameter no larger than that of a lead pencil.

[Illustration: Figure 6

ROLL OF BARK FOR A HUNTING CANOE. Holding the bark is the intended
builder, Vincent Mikans, then (in 1927), at age 100, the oldest Indian
on the Algonkin Reserve at Golden Lake, Ont.]

Other roots could be used in an emergency, such as those of the other
spruces, as well as of the northern white-cedar (_Thuja occidentalis_
L.), tamarack (hackmatack or eastern larch) (_Laris laricina_ (Du Roi)
K. Koch) and jack pine (_pinus banksiana_ Lamb.), the last named being
used extensively by some of the western tribes. Although inferior to
the black spruce for sewing, these and other materials were used for
sewing bark; even rawhide was employed for some purposes in canoe
construction by certain tribes.

Canoes built of nonresinous barks were usually lashed, instead of sewn,
by thongs of such material as the inner bark of the northern white
cedar, basswood, elm, or hickory, for the reason stated earlier. Spruce
root was also used for lashings, if readily available. Since sheets of
birch bark were joined without employing a needle, the sewing actually
could more correctly be termed lacing, rather than stitching. But for
the nonresinous barks, which could stand little sewing or lacing,
perhaps lashing is the better term.

Before steel tools became available to the Indians, the woodwork
required in constructing a birch-bark canoe represented great labor,
since stone tools having poor cutting characteristics were used.
Selection of the proper wood was therefore a vital consideration. In
most sections of the bark canoe area, the northern white cedar was
the most sought-for wood for canoe construction. This timber had the
excellent characteristic of splitting cleanly and readily when dry and
well-seasoned. As a result, the Indian could either utilize fallen
timber of this species, windblown or torn up in spring floods; with the
crude means available he could fell a suitable tree well in advance of
his needs; or he could girdle the tree so that it would die and season
on the stump and then fell it at his convenience. If split properly,
ribs of white cedar could be bent and set in shape by the use of hot
water. In many areas the ribs, sheathing, and the gunwale members of
bark canoes were made of this wood, as were also the headboards and
stem pieces.

[Illustration: Figure 7

White cedar Black spruce

Wood-splitting techniques]

Black spruce was also employed, as it too would split well, although
only when green. This wood also required a different direction in
splitting than the white cedar. Ribs of black spruce could be bent and
set in shape when this was done while the wood was green. In some areas
black spruce was used in place of white cedar for all parts of a bark
canoe structure.

Hard maple (usually either _Acer saccharum_ Marsh. or _A. nigrum_
Michx.), can be split rather easily while green; this wood was used
for the crosspieces or thwarts that hold the gunwales apart and for
paddles. Larch, particularly western larch (_Larix occidentalis_
Nutt.), was used in some areas for canoe members. White and black ash
(_Fraxinus americana_ L. and _F. nigra_ Marsh.), were also used where
suitable wood of these species was available. In the northwest, spruce
and various pines were employed, as was also willow (_Salix_). It
should be noted that the use of many woods in bark canoe construction
can be identified only in the period after steel tools became
available; it must be assumed that the range of selection was much
narrower in prehistoric times.

To make a bark cover watertight, it is necessary to coat all seams
and to cover all "sewing" with a waterproof material, of which the
most favored by the Indians was "spruce gum," the resin obtained from
black or white spruce (_Picea mariana_ or _P. glauca_ (Moench) Voss).
The resin of the red spruce (_Picea rubens_ Sarg.) was not used, so
far as has been discovered. The soft resin was scraped from a fallen
tree or from one damaged in summer. Spruce gum could be accumulated by
stripping a narrow length of bark from trees early in the spring and
then, during warm weather, gathering the resin that appeared at the
bottoms of the scars thus made. It was melted or heated in various ways
to make it workable and certain materials were usually added to make it
durable in use.

[Illustration: Figure 8

Stone axe]

The most important aids to the Indian in canoe construction were his
patience, knowledge of the working qualities of materials, his manual
skill with the crude cutting, scraping, and boring instruments known
to him, and of course fire; time was, perforce, of less importance. The
canoe builder had to learn by experience and close observation how to
work the material available. The wood-working tools of the stone age
were relatively inefficient, but with care and skill could be used with
remarkable precision and neatness.

Felling of trees was accomplished by use of a stone axe, hatchet, or
adze, combined with the use of fire. The method almost universally
employed by primitive people was followed. The tree was first girdled
by striking it with the stone tool to loosen and raise the wood fibers
and remove the soft green bark. Above this girdle the trunk was daubed
all around with wet earth, or preferably clay. A large, hot fire was
then built around the base of the tree and, after the loose fibers were
burned away and the wood well charred, the char was removed by blows
from the stone tool. The process was repeated until the trunk was cut
through enough for the tree to fall. The fallen trunk could be cut into
sections by employing the same methods, mud being laid on each side
of the "cut" to prevent the fire from spreading along the trunk. Fire
could also be used to cut down poles and small trees, to cut them into
sections, and to sharpen the ends into points to form crude wedges or

Stone tools were formed by chipping flint, jasper, or other forms of
quartz, such as chalcedony, into flakes with sharp edges. This was done
by striking the nodule of stone a sharp blow with another stone held
in the hand or mounted in a handle of hide or wood to form a stone
hammer. The flakes were then shaped by pressing the edges with a horn
point--say, part of a deer antler--to force a chip from the flake. The
chipping tool was sometimes fitted with a hide or wood handle set at
right angles to the tool, so that its head could be hit with a stone or
horn hammer. The flake being worked upon, if small, was often held in
the hand, which was protected from the slipping of a chipping tool by
a pad of rawhide. Heat was not used in chipping, and some Indians took
care to keep the flake damp while working it, occasionally burying the
flake for a while in moist soil. The cutting edge of a stone tool could
be ground by abrasion on a hard piece of granite or on sandstone, but
the final degree of sharpness depended upon the qualities of the stone
being used as a tool. Slate could be used in tools in spite of its
brittleness. In general, stone tools were unsuitable for chopping or
whittling wood.

[Illustration: Figure 9

Stone hammer

Stone wedge

Stone knife with rawhide thong handle]

Splitting was done by starting the split at the upper, or small end, of
a balk of timber with a maul and a stone wedge or the blade of a stone
axe, hatchet, or knife. The stone knives used for this work were not
finished tools with wood handles, but rather, as the blade was often
damaged in use, selected flakes fitted with hide pads that served as
a handle. The tool was usually driven into the wood with blows from a
wooden club or maul, the brittle stone tool being protected from damage
by a pad of rawhide secured to the top, or head, of the tool. Once the
split was started, it could be continued by driving more wedges, or
pointed sticks, into the split; this process was continued until the
whole balk was divided. White cedar was split into quarters by this
method and then the heartwood was split away, the latter being used for
canoe structural members. From short balks of the length of the longest
rib or perhaps a little more, were split battens equal in thickness
to two ribs and in width also equal to two, so that by splitting one
batten two ways four finished ribs were produced. The broad faces
of the ribs were as nearly parallel to the bark side of the wood as
possible, as the ribs would bend satisfactorily toward or away from the
bark side only. Black spruce, however, was split in line with the wood
rays, from the heart outward toward the bark, so that one of the rib's
narrow edges faced the bark side; only in this direction would the wood
split readily and only when made this way would the ribs bend without
great breakage.

[Illustration: Figure 10

Wooden mauls

(2, 3 used to set ribs with 4, 5)

Driving sticks]

Long pieces for sheathing and for the gunwale members were split
from white cedar or black spruce. The splitting of such long pieces
as these required not only proper selection of clear wood, but also
careful manipulation of wood and tools in the operation. Splitting of
this kind--say, for ribs in the finish cut--was usually done by first
splitting out a batten large enough to form two members. To split it
again, a stone knife was tapped into the end grain to start the split
at the desired point, which, as has been noted, was always at the upper
end of the stick, not at the root end. Once the split was opened, it
was continued by use of a sharp-pointed stick and the stone knife;
if the split showed a tendency to run off the grain as it opened, it
could be controlled by bending the batten, or one of the halves, away
from the direction the split was taking. The first rough split usually
served to show the worker the splitting characteristics of a piece of
wood. This method of finishing frame members in bark canoes accounts
for the uneven surfaces that often mark some parts, a wavy grain
producing a wave in the surface of the wood when it was finished. If
it were desired to produce a partially split piece of wood, such as
some tribal groups used for the stems, or in order to allow greater
curvature at the ends of the gunwale, the splitting was stopped at the
desired point and a tight lashing of rawhide or bark was placed there
to form a stop.

The tapering of frames, gunwales, and thwarts and the shaping of
paddles were accomplished by splitting away surplus wood along the
thin edges and by abrasion and scraping on all edges. Stone scrapers
were widely employed; shell could be employed in some areas. Rubbing
with an abrasive such as soft sandstone was used when the wood became
thoroughly dry; hardwood could often be polished by rubbing it with a
large piece of wood, or by use of fine sand held in a rawhide pad. By
these means the sharp edges could be rounded off and the final shaping
accomplished. Some stone knives could be used to cut wood slowly, saw
fashion, and this process appears to to have been used to form the
thwart ends that in many canoes were tenoned into the gunwales. A stone
knife used saw fashion would also cut a bent sapling easily, though
slowly. To cut and trim bark a stone knife was employed; to peel bark
from a tree, a hatchet, axe, or chisel could be used.

[Illustration: Figure 11

Stone scraper]

Drilling was done by means of a bone awl made from a splinter of the
shank-bone of a deer; the blade of this awl had a roughly triangular
cross-section. The splinter was held in a wooden handle or in a rawhide
grip. The awl was used not only to make holes in wood, but also as the
punch to make holes for "sewing" in bark. Large holes were drilled by
means of the bow-drill, in which a stone drill-point was rotated back
and forth by the bow-string. Some Indians rotated the drill between the
palms of their hands, or by a string with handgrips at each end. The
top of the drill was steadied by a block held in the worker's mouth,
the top rotating in a hole in the underside of the block. With the
bow-drill, however, the block was held in one hand.

[Illustration: Figure 12

Bow Drill]

Peeling the bark from roots and splitting them was done by use of the
thumbnail, a stone knife, or a clamshell. Biting was also resorted
to. The end of a root could also be split by first pounding it with a
stone, using a log or another stone as an anvil, to open the fibers
at one end. Splitting a root was usually done by biting to start the
split. Once this was done, half was held in the mouth and the other
half between the thumb and forefinger of the right hand. Then the
two parts were gradually pulled apart with the right hand, while the
thumbnail of the left was used to guide the split. If the split showed
a tendency to "run off," bending the root away from the direction of
the run while continuing the splitting usually served to change the
course of the split. If a root was hard to split, the stone knife
came into play instead of the thumbnail. When the split reached arm's
length, the ends were shifted in hand and mouth and the operation

The use of hot water as an aid in bending wood was well known to
some tribal groups before the white man came. Water was placed in a
wooden trough, or in a bark basin, and heated to boiling by dropping
hot stones into it. Some Indians boiled water in bark utensils by
placing them over a fire of hot coals surrounded by stones and earth
so that the flame could not reach the highly inflammable bark above
the water-level in the dish. Stones were lifted from the fire with
wooden tongs made of green saplings bent into a ~U~-shape or made
into a spoon-like outline. A straight stick and a forked one, used
together, formed another type of tongs. The straight stick was placed
in and under the fork; then, by forcing the latter under the stone and
bringing the end of the straight stick hard against its top, the stone
was held firmly, pincer-fashion.

The wood to be bent was first soaked in the boiling water, or the water
was poured over it by means of a birch-bark or other dipper. When the
wood was thoroughly soaked with boiling water, bending began, and as
it progressed boiling water was almost continuously poured on the
wood. When the wood had been bent to a desired form, it was secured in
shape by thongs and allowed to cool and dry out, during which it would
take a permanent set. Hard bends, as in gunwale ends and stem-pieces,
were made by this means, usually after the wood had been split into a
number of laminations in the area of the greatest bend. When the piece
had been boiled and bent to its required form, the laminations were
secured by wrapping them spirally with a thong of inner bark (such as
basswood), of roots, or of rawhide.

Flat stones were used to weigh down bark in order to flatten it and
prevent curling. Picked up about the canoe-building site, they had
one smooth and fairly flat surface so that no harm came to the bark,
and were of such size and weight as could be handled easily by the
builder. Smooth stones from a stream appear to have been preferred. In
preparation for building a canoe, the pins, stakes, and poles which
were of only temporary use were cut or burned down in the manner
mentioned and stored ready for use. Bark containers were made and
filled with spruce gum, and the materials used in making it hard and
durable were gathered. The building site was selected in the shade,
to prevent the bark from becoming hard and brittle, and on ground
that was smooth, clear of outcroppings of stone, and roots, or other
obstructions, and firm enough to hold the stakes driven into it. The
location was, of course, usually near the water where the canoe was to
be launched.

[Illustration: Figure 13

Modern Hudson Bay axe]

When steel tools became available, the work of the Indian in cutting
and shaping wood became much easier but it is doubtful that better
workmanship resulted. The steel axe and hatchet made more rapid and
far easier than before the felling and cutting up of trees, poles, and
sticks; they could also be used in peeling bark. The favored style of
axe among Canadian Indians was what is known as the "Hudson Bay axe";
it is made as a fairly large or "full-axe," as a lighter "half-axe,"
and as a large hatchet, or hand-axe. The head of the blade is very
narrow, the front of the blade vertical, while the back widens toward
the cutting edge and the latter stands at a slightly acute angle to the
front of the blade. This style of axe seems to follow the traditional
form of the tomahawk and is popular because it cuts well, yet is
lighter to carry than the other forms of axe. It is also called a
"cedar axe" in some localities. In modern times, Indian hatchets are of
the commercial variety, the "lathing" form being preferred because it
holds somewhat to the old trade tomahawk in form of blade and weight.
The traditional steel tomahawk, incidentally was an adaptation of one
of the European forms of hatchet, sold in the early days of the fur

[Illustration: Figure 14

Steel tomahawk (fur trade)]

[Illustration: Figure 15

Steel canoe awls]

The "canoe awl" of the fur trade was a steel awl with a blade
triangular or square in cross-section, and was sometimes made of an old
triangular file of small size. Its blade was locked into a hardwood
handle, and it was a modern version of the old bone awl of the bark
canoe builders, hence its name.

The plane was also used by modern Indians, but not in white man's
fashion, in which the wood is held in a vise and smoothed by sliding
the tool forward over the work. The Indian usually fixed the plane
upside down on a bench or timber and slid the work over the sole, much
as would be done with a power-driven joiner. However, the plane was not
very popular among any of the canoe-building Indians.

[Illustration: Figure 16

Crooked knives]

The boring tool most favored by the Indians was the common steel
gimlet; if a larger boring tool was desired, an auger of the required
diameter was bought and fitted with a removable cross-handle rather
than a brace.

One steel tool having much popularity among canoe-building Indians was
the pioneer's splitting tool known as the "froe." This was a heavy
steel blade, fifteen to twenty inches long, about two inches wide, and
nearly a quarter inch thick along its back. One end of the blade ended
in a tight loop into which a heavy hardwood handle, about a foot long,
was set at right angles to the back edge of the blade, so that, when
held in the hand, the blade was cutting edge down, with the handle
upright. The froe was driven into the end of a balk of timber to be
split by blows from a wooden maul on the back of its blade. Once the
split was started, the maul was dropped and the hand that had held it
was placed at the end of the blade away from the handle. By twisting
the blade with the two hands the split could be forced open. The froe
was a most powerful and efficient splitting tool when narrow, short
plank, or battens, were required. The balk to be split was usually
placed more or less end-up, as its length permitted, in the crotch of a
felled tree, so as to hold it steady during the splitting. The pioneer
used this tool to make clapboards and riven shingles; the Indian canoe
builder found it handy for all splitting.

[Illustration: Figure 17


Another pioneer tool that became useful to the Indian canoe builder was
the "shaving horse." A sort of bench and vise, it was used by Indians
in a variety of forms, all based on the same principle of construction.
Usually a seven-foot-long bench made of a large log flattened on top
was supported by two or four legs, one pair being high enough to
raise that end of the bench several feet off the ground to provide a
seat for the operator. To the top of the bench was secured a shorter,
wedge-shaped piece flattened top and bottom, with one end beveled and
fastened to the bench and the other held about 12 inches above it by a
support tenoned into the bench about thirty inches from the high end.
Through the bench and the shorter piece were cut slots, about four feet
from the high end of the bench and aligned to receive an arm pivoted on
the bench and extending from the ground to above the upper slot. The
arm was shaped to overhang the slot on the front, toward the operator's
end of the bench, and on each side. The lower portion of the arm was
squared to fit the slot, and a crosspiece was secured to, or through,
its lower end.

[Illustration: Figure 18


The worker sat astraddle the high end of the bench, facing the low end,
with his feet on the crosspiece of the pivoted arm. Placing a piece of
wood on top of the wedge-shaped piece, close to the head of the pivoted
arm, he pushed forward on the crosspiece with his feet, thus forcing
the head down hard upon the wood, so that it was held as in a vise. The
wood could then be shaved down to a required shape with a drawknife or
crooked knife without the necessity of holding the work. A long piece
was canted on top of the bench so that the finished part would pass by
the body of the worker, and, if it were necessary to shape the full
length, it could be reversed.

Nails and tacks eventually came into use, though they were never used
in all phases of the construction of a particular canoe. In the last
days of bark canoe construction, the bark was tacked to the gunwales
and, in areas where a gunwale cap was customarily employed, the cap was
often nailed to the top of the gunwales.

The "bucksaw" also came into the hands of the Indians, but the frame of
this saw was too awkward to carry, so the Indian usually bought only
the blade. With a couple of nails and a bent sapling he could make a
very good frame in the woods, when the saw was required. The ends of
the sapling were slotted to take the ends of the blade and then drilled
crosswise to the slot, so a nail could be inserted to hold the ends of
blade and sapling together. With the end of the nail bent over, the
frame was locked together and the tension was given to the blade by the
bent sapling handle.

[Illustration: Figure 19


The "crooked knife" was the most important and popular steel tool found
among the Indians building bark canoes. It was made from a flat steel
file with one side worked down to a cutting-edge. The back of the
blade thus formed was usually a little less than an eighth of an inch
thick. The cutting edge was bevel-form, like that of a drawknife or
chisel, with the back face quite flat. The tang of the file was fitted
into a handle made of a crotched stick, to one arm of which the tang
was attached, while the other projected at a slightly obtuse angle
away from the back of the blade. The tang was usually held in place
by being bent at its end into a slight hook and let into the handle,
where it was secured with sinew lashing; wire later came into use for
this lashing. The knife, held with the cutting edge toward the user,
was grasped fingers-up with the thumb of the holding hand laid along
the part of the handle projecting away from the user. This steadied the
knife in cutting. Unlike a jackknife, the crooked knife was not used
to whittle but to cut toward the user, and was, in effect, a one-hand
drawknife. This form of knife is so satisfactory that it is to this day
employed instead of a drawknife by many boat-builders in New Brunswick
and Quebec. A variation in the crooked knife has the tip of the blade
turned upward, on the flat, so that it can be used in hollowing out
a wooden bowl or dish. The blades of crooked knives seen are usually
about five-eighths inch wide and perhaps five or six inches long. Some
are only slightly beveled along the cutting edge; others show this
feature very markedly.

Awls, as well as chisels and other stone or bone blades, often had
handles on their sides to allow them to be held safely when hit with
a hammer. Some of the stone blades and chisels thus took the form of
adzes and could be used like them, but only, of course, to cut charred
or very soft wood. The sharpening of stone tools followed the same
methods used in their original manufacture and was a slow undertaking.

To some Indians an efficient wood-cutting chisel was available in the
teeth of the beaver. Each tooth was nearly a quarter inch wide, so
two teeth would give a cut of nearly half an inch. The usual practice
appears to have been to employ the skull as a handle, though some
beaver tooth chisels had wooden handles. As used in making tenons in
the gunwales, two holes, of a diameter equal to the desired width, were
first drilled close enough together to make the length of the desired
tenon, after which the intervening wood, especially if it was white
cedar or black spruce, could be readily split out by means of either a
beaver tooth or narrow stone chisel.

The maul was merely some form of wooden club; the most common type
was made by cutting away part of the length of a small balk to form a
handle, the remainder being left to form the head. The swelling of the
trunk of a small tree at the ground, where the roots form, was also
utilized to give weight and bulk to the head of a maul. It could be
hardened by scorching the head in a fire. Another method of pounding
and driving was to employ a stone held in one hand or both. Stone
hammers were rarely employed, since the maul or a stone held in the
hand would serve the purpose.

The birch tree that was to supply the bark was usually selected far in
advance of the time of construction. By exploring the birch groves,
the builder located a number of trees from which a suitable quantity
of bark of the desired quality could be obtained. Samples of the bark
of each tree were stripped from the trunk and carefully inspected and
tested. If they separated into layers when bent back and forth, the
bark was poor. If the "eyes" inside the bark were lumpy, the bark in
their vicinity would split too easily; this was also true if they were
too close together, but if the eyes on the inside of the bark appeared
hollow there was no objection. Bark that was dead white, or the outer
surface of which was marked by small strips partly peeled away from the
layer below, would be rejected as poor in quality.

Preferably, bark was stripped from the selected trees during a
prolonged thaw in winter, particularly one accompanied by rain, or as
soon as the sap in the trees had begun to flow in early spring. If this
was not possible, "winter" bark, as described on page 14, was used as
long as it was obtainable. Only dire necessity forced the Indian to use
bark of a poor quality. Fall peeling, after the first frosts, was also
practiced in some areas. The work on the tree was done from stages made
of small trees whose branches could be used in climbing, or from rough
ladders constructed of short rungs lashed to two poles. When steel axes
and hatchets were available the tree could be felled, provided care was
taken to have it fall on poles laid on the ground to prevent damage
to the bark in the fall and to keep the trunk high enough to allow it
to be peeled. Felling permitted use of hot water to heat the bark,
and thus made peeling possible in colder weather than would permit
stripping a standing tree. Felling by burning, however, sometimes
resulted in an uncontrolled fall in which the bark could be damaged.

Whether stone or steel knives were used, the bark was cut in the same
manner, with the blade held at an angle to make a slashing cut; holding
a sharp knife upright, so as to cut square to the surface of the bark,
makes the tool stick and jump, and a ragged cut results. A stone or
steel axe blade could also very readily be used in cutting bark; with
such tools, it was customary to tap the head with a maul to make the
cut. It was necessary to make only the longitudinal cut on the trunk of
the birch tree, as the bark would split around the tree with the grain
at the ends of this cut. Spruce and other barks, however, required both
vertical and horizontal cuts.

Once the vertical cut was made to the desired length, one edge of the
bark was carefully pried away from the wood with the blade of a knife.
Then the removal of the bark could proceed more rapidly. Instead of
starting the bark with a knife blade, some Indians used a small stick,
one end of which was slightly bent and made into a chisel shape about
three-quarters of an inch wide. This was used to pry the bark away, not
only along the edge of the vertical cut, but throughout the operation
of peeling. Another tool, useful in obtaining "winter" bark, which was
difficult to strip from the tree, was a piece of dry, thick birch bark,
about a foot square, with one edge cut in a slight round and beveled to
a sharp edge. The beveled side was inserted beneath the bark and rocked
on its curved cutting edge, thus separating the bark from the wood with
less danger of splitting the bark. Spruce and other barks were removed
from the tree with the same tools.

After the bark had been removed from the tree, it was handled with
great care to avoid splitting it along the grain. Even in quite warm
weather, the bark was usually heated slightly with a bark torch to make
it flexible; sometimes hot water was applied if the inner rind was not
to be used for decoration. Then the sheets were rolled up tightly in
the direction of growth of the tree. This made a roll convenient for
transporting and also helped to prevent the bark from curling. If the
bark was not to be used immediately, it was carefully submerged in
water so that it would not dry out before it was fitted to the canoe.
Spruce and other resinous barks, which could not be stored, were used
as soon as possible after they were stripped from the tree, the rough
exterior surface being removed by scraping.

Roots for "sewing" were also gathered, split, and rolled up, then
placed in water so they would remain flexible. Sometimes they were
boiled as well, just before being used.

The spruce gum was gathered and tempered. Before metal kettles and
frying pans became available to the Indians, it was heated in a number
of ways. One method was to heat it in a wooden trough with hot stones.
As the spruce gum melted easily, great temperature was not required.
Stone and pottery containers were also used. Another method was to boil
water in a bark container and drop in the spruce gum, which melted and
floated on top of the water in such a consistency that it could be
skimmed off with a bark spoon or dipper. Chips and dirt were skimmed
off the hot gum with a strip of bark or a flat stick.

[Illustration: Figure 20

PEELING, ROLLING, AND TRANSPORTING bark for use in canoe construction.
(_Sketches by Adney._)]

Tempering, done after the gum was melted, consisted of adding animal
fat and a little finely powdered charcoal. The mixture was then tested
by dipping a strip of bark into it and then into cold water. The strip
was bent to see if it cracked the spruce gum; if it did, too much
tempering material had been added and more gum was required. If no
cracking occurred, the gum on the strip was held in the hand for a few
moments to see if it became tacky or could be rubbed off the strip; if
either occurred, more tempering was needed. The method of tempering
had many variations. One was to remelt the gum a number of times; this
darkened it and made it harder. Red ochre or vermillion were sometimes
added, often together with charcoal made from the willow. Instead of
spruce gum, in some areas, pine resin was used, tempered with tallow
and sometimes charcoal. The Indians in the East sometimes used remelted
spruce gum to which a little tallow had been added, making a light
brown or almost transparent mixture. Most tribal groups used gum that
was black, or nearly so.

For repair work, when melted spruce gum could not be procured in the
usual manner, hard globules and flakes of gum scraped from a fallen
spruce tree were used. These could not be easily melted, so they were
first chewed thoroughly until soft; then the gum was spread over a
seam. This type of gum would not stick well unless it were smoothed
with a glowing stick, and hence was used only in emergencies.

It is believed that before steel tools were available birch-bark canoes
were commonly built of a number of sheets of bark rather than, as quite
often occurred in later times, of only one or two sheets. The greater
number of sheets in the early canoes resulted from the difficulty in
obtaining large sheets from a standing tree. Comparison of surviving
birch-bark canoes suggests that those built of a number of sheets
would have contained the better bark, as large sheets often included
bark taken from low on the trunk, and this, as has been mentioned, is
usually of poorer quality than that higher on the trunk.

It is known that the early Indians carried on some trade in bark canoe
building materials, as they did in stone for weapons and tools. Areas
in which some materials were scarce or of poor quality might thus
obtain replacements from more fortunate areas. Fine quality bark,
"sewing" roots, and good spruce gum had trade value, and these items
were sold by some of the early fur traders. Paint does not appear to
have been used on early canoes, except, in some instances, on the
woodwork. This use occurred mostly in the East, particularly among the
Beothuks in Newfoundland. Paint was apparently not used on birch bark
until it was introduced by white men in the fur trade.


It will be seen that the Indian gathered all materials and prepared
them for use with only a few simple tools, most of which could be
manufactured at the building site and discarded after the work was
completed. The only other tools he usually brought to the scene were
those he normally required in his everyday existence in the forest.
Some instruments used in canoe building, however, might be preserved;
these were the measuring sticks on which were marked, by notches,
certain measurements to be used in shaping a canoe. Also, some Indians
used a building frame that shaped the bottom in plan view. These are
best described when the actual building methods are examined.

[Illustration: Figure 21

BUILDING FRAME FOR A LARGE CANOE. Dotted lines show change in shape
is caused by omitting crossbars or by using short bars in ends. Note
lashing at ends and method of fastening thwart with a thong.]

_Chapter Three_


Classification of the types of bark canoes built by the Indians is not
a simple matter. Perhaps the most practical way is to employ the tribal
designation, such as Cree canoe, Micmac canoe, accepting as a criterion
the distinctive general appearance of the canoes used by each tribe. It
must be emphasized, however, that this method of classification does
not indicate the model, or "lines," employed. Both the model and the
size of bark canoes were extensively affected by the requirements of
use: lake, coastal, or river navigation; smooth, rough, or fast-running
water; transportation of a hunter, a family, or cargo; the conditions
and length of portages; and the permanence of construction desired.
Canoes of various models, sizes, methods of construction, or decoration
might be found within the limits of a single tribal classification.
Also, within a given area, there might be apparent similarity in
model among the canoes of two or three tribal groups. However, a
classification based on geographical areas has been found to be
impractical, because the movements of tribal groups in search of new
hunting grounds tend to make tribal boundaries difficult to define.


The canoes of some tribal groups appear to be hybrids, representing an
intermingling of types as a result of some past contact between tribes.
Those of other groups are of like model, form, and even appearance,
possibly owing to like conditions of employment. The effects of a
similarity in use requirements upon inventiveness is seen in the
applications for modern patent rights, where two or more applications
can cover almost exactly the same device without the slightest evidence
of contact between the applicants; there is no logical reason to
suppose the same condition cannot apply to primitive peoples, even
though their processes of invention might be very slow or relatively
rare in occurrence.

The effects of migration of tribes upon their canoe forms can only be
studied with respect to those comparatively recent times for which
records and observations are available. From the limited information
at hand it appears that the Indian, when he moved to an area where use
requirements and materials available for building differed from those
to which he had been accustomed, was often forced to modify the model,
form, size, and construction of his canoe. In some instances this seems
to have resulted in the adoption of another tribal form.

The distinctive feature that usually identifies the tribal
classification of a bark canoe is the profile of the ends, although
sometimes the profile of the gunwale, or sheer, and even of the
bottom, is also involved. The bow and stern of many bark canoes were
as near alike in profile as the method of construction would permit;
nevertheless some types had distinct bow and and stern forms. Among
tribes the form of the ends of the canoes varied considerably; some
were low and unimpressive, others were high and often graceful.

Obviously practical reasons can be found for certain tribal variations.
In some areas, the low ends appear to ensue from the use of the canoe
in open water, where the wind resistance of a high end would make
paddling laborious. In others the low ends appear to result from the
canoe being commonly employed in small streams where overhanging
branches would obstruct passage. Portage conditions may likewise have
been a factor; low ends would pass through brush more easily than high.
Types used where rapids were to be run often had ends higher than the
gunwales to prevent the canoe from shipping water over the bow. The
high, distinctive ends of the canoes most used in the fur trade,
on the other hand, were said to have resulted from the necessity of
employing the canoe as a shelter. When the canoe was turned upside
down on the ground, with one gunwale and the tops of the high ends
supporting it, there was enough headroom under the canoe to permit
its use as a shelter without the addition of any temporary structure.
The desirability of this characteristic in the fur-trade canoe can be
explained by the fact that the crew travelled as many hours as possible
each day, and rested for only a very short period, so that rapid
erection of shelter lengthened both the periods of travel and of rest.

Yet these practical considerations do not always explain the end-forms
found in bark canoes. Canoes with relatively high ends were used in
open waters, and similar canoes were portaged extensively. Possibly
the Indian's consciousness of tribal distinctions led him to retain
some feature, such as height of the end-forms, as a means of tribal
recognition, even though practical considerations required its
suppression to some degree.

The profile of the gunwales also varied a good deal among tribal types.
Most bark canoes, because of the raised end-forms, showed a short,
sharp upsweep of the sheer close to the bow and stern. Some showed a
marked hump, or upward sweep, amidships which made the sheer profile
follow somewhat the form of a cupid's bow. Many types had a straight,
or nearly straight, sheer; others had an orthodox sheer, with the
lowest part nearly amidships.

The bottom profiles of bark canoes showed varying degrees of curvature.
In some the bottom was straight for most of its length, with a slight
rise toward the ends. In others the bottom showed a marked curvature
over its full length, and in a few the bottom was practically straight
between the points at which the stems were formed. Some northwestern
types had a slightly hogged bottom, but in these the wooden framework
was unusually flexible, so that the bottom became straight, or even a
little rockered when the canoe was afloat and manned.

The practical reasons for these bottom forms are not clear. For canoes
used in rapid streams or in exposed waters where high winds were to
be met many Indians preferred bottoms that were straight. Others in
these same conditions preferred them rockered to varying degrees. It
is possible that rocker may be desirable in canoes that must be run
ashore end-on in surf. Of course, a strongly rockered bottom permits
quick turning; this may have been appreciated by some tribal groups.
Still other Indians appear to have believed that a canoe with a
slightly rockered bottom could be paddled more easily than one having a
perfectly straight bottom.

The midsections of bark canoes varied somewhat in form within a single
tribal type, because the method of construction did not give absolute
control of the sectional shape during the building, but, on the whole,
the shape followed tribal custom, being modified only to meet use
requirements. Perhaps the two most common midsection shapes were the
~U~-form, with the bottom somewhat flattened, and the dish-shape,
having rather straight, flaring sides combined with a narrow, flat,
or nearly flat bottom. Some eastern canoes showed marked tumble-home
in the topside above the bilge; often they had a wide and rather flat
rounded bottom, with a short, hard turn in the bilge. A few eastern
canoes, used mainly in open waters along the coast, had bottoms with
deadrise--that is, a shallow ~V~-form, the apex of the ~V~ being much
rounded; the ~V~-bottom, of course, would have aided in steering the
canoe in strong winds. One type of canoe with this rising bottom had
tumble-home topsides, but another, used under severe conditions, had a
midsection that was an almost perfect ~V~, the apex being rounded but
with so little curvature in the arms that no bilge could be seen.

Generally speaking, the eastern canoes had a rather well rounded bottom
with a high turn of the bilge and some tumble-home above, though they
might have a flatter form when built for shallow-water use or for
increased carrying capacity. A canoe built for speed, however, might
be very round on the bottom, and it might or might not have some
tumble-home in the topside. In the West, a flat bottom with flaring
topsides predominated; fast canoes there had a very narrow, flat bottom
with some flare, the width of the bottom and the amount of flare being
increased to give greater capacity on a shallow draft. Some canoes in
the Northwest had a skiff-form flat bottom and flaring sides, with the
chine rounded off sharply.

The form of the sections near the ends of a canoe are controlled to a
great extent by the form of midsection. In canoes having flat bottoms
combined with flaring sides this form was usually carried to the ends,
where it became a rather sharp ~V~, giving fine lines for speed when
the canoe was light, and only moderately increased resistance when
it was loaded. Among eastern canoes having tumble-home topsides, the
midsection form could be carried to the ends, gradually becoming
sharper in canoes having "chin" in the profiles of the ends; in canoes
having no chin, the sections necessarily took a pointed oval form close
to the ends. A few canoes having flaring sides and chin ends showed a
similar change in form. In all, however, the bow and stern showed a
tendency toward fullness near the waterline.

Canoes with a strongly ~U~-shaped midsection commonly carried this form
to the ends, with increasing sharpness in the round of the ~U~. The
~U~-form predominated in the end-sections of eastern canoes, of course,
though a few showed a ~V~-form, as must be expected. The fairing of
the end sections into the end profiles appears to have controlled this
matter. The outline of the gunwales, in plan view, also influenced the
form of the end-sections and of the level lines there. Some canoes,
when viewed from above, showed a pinched-in form at the ends, this was
caused by the construction of the gunwales or by the projection of
the end-profile forms beyond the ends of the true structural gunwale
members. Such canoes would have a very strong hollow in the level lines
projected through their hull-form below the gunwales, and this could
have been accentuated by any strong chin in the bow and stern shapes.
On the other hand, many canoes showed no hollow, and the level lines
were straight for some distance inboard of the ends, or were slightly
convex. Full, convex level lines will appear below the waterline in
canoes having a strongly rockered bottom.

It should be noted that the Indians were aware that very sharp-ended
canoes usually were fast under paddle; hence they employed this
characteristic in any canoe where high speed was desired. However,
the degree of sharpness in the gunwales and at the level lines is not
always the same at both ends, though the variation is sometimes too
slight to be detected without careful measurement; it may at times have
been accidental, but in many cases it appears to have been intentional.

Some eastern canoes having their greatest width, or beam, on the
gunwales at midlength had finer level lines aft than forward,
apparently to produce trim by the stern when afloat and manned. This
made them steer well in rough water. Some northwestern canoes had their
greatest beam abaft the midlength, giving them a long, sharp bow; the
run was sometimes formed by sweeping up the bottom aft to a shallow
stern, as well as by the double-ended form of the canoe. Despite a
general similarity in the form of the ends, in some canoes the bow
was marked by its greater height, in others, by the manner in which
the bark was lapped at the seams, or by the manner of decoration. In
a few with ends exactly alike the bow was indicated by the fitting
of the thwarts such as, for example, by placing at the forward end a
particular style of thwart, intended to hold the torch used in spearing
fish at night, or to support a mast and sail.

In examining the lines, or model, of a bark canoe, the limitations
imposed upon the builder by the characteristics of bark must be
considered. The degree of flexibility, the run of the grain, and the
toughness and elasticity of the bark used all influenced the form
of canoes. The marked chin in the ends of some canoes, for example,
resulted from an effort to offset the tendency of birch bark to split
when a row of stitches lay in the same line of grain. The curved chin
profile allowed the stitching to cross a number of lines of grain.
Sometimes this tendency was avoided by incorporating battens into the
coarse stitching; this style of sewing was particularly useful in
piecing out birch bark for width in a canoe, where the sewing had to be
in line with the grain. The Indians also employed alternating short and
long stitching in some form for the same purpose. Spruce bark, as used
in canoes in the extreme North and Northwest, could be sewn in much the
same manner as birch bark, but with due regard for the longitudinal
grain of the spruce bark.

The joining of two pieces of bark by root sewing or lacing, combined
with the use of spruce gum to obtain watertightness, formed a seam that
could be readily damaged by abrasion from launching the canoe, from
pulling it ashore, or from grounding it accidentally. For this reason,
seams below the waterline were kept at a minimum and were never placed
along the longitudinal centerline of the bottom, where they would
have formed a sharp apex to both the ~V~-shaped midsection and to the
deadrise bottom form. Likewise, a seam was not used in forming the
rocker of the bottom. Though seams had to be used to join the bark at
bow and stern, the form of the canoe allowed the seams to be greatly
strengthened and protected there.

The restrictions on form imposed by barks such as elm, chestnut, and
hickory were very great. These barks, which are not as elastic as birch
bark, were sometimes employed in a single large sheet. The sheets were
not joined for length; canoes of this material were often formed by
crimping, or lap folding, rather than by cutting out gores and then
sewing the edges together. The characteristics of these barks can
readily be demonstrated with a sheet of paper: such a sheet can be
made into a crude canoe-form by bending it lengthwise and joining the
ends, but it will be obvious that the midsection takes a very unstable
~U~-form. By forcing the ends inward to give a ram, or chin, effect
to bow and stern, a somewhat flatter bottom can be obtained in the
midsection. By crimping or folding the paper gore-fashion near each
end of the canoe-form at the gunwale edge, some rocker is created in
the bottom and the width of the gunwales is increased near the ends,
giving more capacity. But without the crimping along the gunwale, when
the midsection form is flattened on the bottom, the latter tends to
hog. Many of these bark canoes utilized both the rams ends and crimping
to obtain a more useful form. However, while a sheet of birch bark
could be crimped or gored into a scow-form canoe such as the Asiatic
birch-bark canoe, no example of this form from North America is known.
On this continent all bark canoes were sharp at both ends, i.e.,
double-ended, although a number of North American dugouts were scow-(or
punt-) shaped.

[Illustration: Figure 22

CANOE formed (a) without crimping or goring sides, showing hogged
bottom; and (b) with ram ends to reduce hogging of bottom.]

[Illustration: Figure 23

CANOE formed (a) by crimping sides, showing rockered bottom line, and
(b) by simple gores in sides. The same effects are obtained by making
bark cover of three pieces: sides and bottom.]

Birch bark gave much more freedom in the selection of form simply
because it could be joined together in small odd-sized sheets to shape
a hull, and because it was elastic enough to allow some "moulding"
by pressure of the framework employed. Birch bark could be gored, or
slashed, and rejoined without resort to folding or crimping; thus it
permitted a smooth exterior surface to be achieved. The toughness of
the bark was sufficient to allow some sewing in line with the grain,
to add to the width of a sheet, if the proper technique were employed
(this was also true to a lesser extent of spruce bark).

[Illustration: Figure 24

CANOE FORMED by use of gores and panels.]

The framework of most bark canoes depended upon the gunwale structure
to give longitudinal strength to the hull; for this reason the
structure was made sufficiently large in cross-section to be rather
stiff, or was formed of more than one member. An inner and outer
gunwale construction was employed in many bark canoes. The inner
member was the strength member and was sometimes square, or nearly so,
in cross-section. In some canoes bark was brought up on the outside
of this gunwale member, lapped over the top, and lashed over it; in
others the bark was lashed to both inner and outer gunwales. The outer
gunwale, a rectangular-sectioned batten bent narrow-edge up, was
applied like a guard, outside the bark, and was secured by pegs, by the
lashings of the bark cover, or by widely spaced lashings. On top of
the large inner gunwale and usually extending outward over the outer
gunwale, a thin cap, pegged or lashed in the same manner as the outer
gunwale, was sometimes added; this was intended to protect the lashing
of the bark to the gunwale rather than to add longitudinal strength.

The corners of the inner gunwale, or of the single gunwale, were all
rounded off to prevent them from cutting the sewing and lashings. The
bottom outboard corner was sometimes rounded off more than the other,
or beveled, in order to form between the outboard face of the gunwale
and the bark a slot into which the heads of the ribs could be forced.
An alternate method of accomplishing this was to notch or drill holes
in the gunwales for the heads of the ribs.

The ends of the gunwales were fashioned in various ways. In some canoes
the gunwales were sheered upward at the ends only slightly, the gunwale
ends being secured to wide end boards in the stems or extended past
them and secured to the stem-pieces. The apparent sheer in the latter
might be formed by bending the outer gunwale, or outwale, and the cap
(if one existed) to the required curve and then securing the ends
to the stem-piece, or to the end boards, as the form of end profile
dictated. If either the single gunwale or the outwale or both were
sharply sheered, they were split, to a point near the end thwart, into
two or four or even more laminations; even the rail cap, which was
perhaps half an inch thick, might be split in the same manner to allow
a sharp upward sweep at the stems. After being bent, the split members
were temporarily wrapped to hold the laminations together. In no bark
canoes did the ends of the gunwales curve back on themselves to form a
hook just inboard of the bow and stern, despite the numerous pictures
that show this feature. The gunwale ends sometimes projected almost
perpendicularly upward, slightly above the top of the bow and stern,
so that when the canoe was upside down its weight came on these rather
than on the sewing of the ends of the craft.

[Illustration: Figure 25

GUNWALE ENDS nailed and wrapped with spruce roots. (_Sketch by Adney._)]

The gunwale ends in some canoes were fastened together by means of one
or more lashings, often widely spaced. After being lashed together,
a narrow wedge was sometimes driven between the two gunwales from
inboard to tighten the lashings. The ends were sometimes beveled on
their bearing surfaces so as to make a neat appearance when joined. The
various ways in which the gunwale ends at stem and stern were finished
can best be described when individual types are under examination. Some
canoes had a small piece of bark over the ends of the gunwales but
under the outwales that held it in place. Whether these pieces were
employed to protect the lashing of the gunwales and adjoining work from
the weather, or whether they were the vestigial remains of a decking
once used, cannot be determined. In the Canadian Northwest the ends
of bark canoes were sometimes decked with bark for a short distance

[Illustration: Figure 26

GUNWALES AND STAKES ON BUILDING BED, plan view. (_Sketch by Adney._)]

The bark was secured to the gunwales by a continuous spiral lashing
all along the main gunwale or by separated lashing in series. In the
first, the continuous lashing, where it passed through the bark, might
show regularly spaced separations to avoid the tops of the ribs. In the
second, the lashings were placed clear of the ribs. There were some
slight variations in the lashings, but these were of minor importance
so far as structural strength is concerned. In all cases, the bark was
brought up to or over the top of the gunwale before being secured, so
that the holes for the lashing were pierced at some distance from the
edge of the bark to prevent it from splitting.

The ends of the thwarts were mortised into the gunwales and also
secured by lashings. The number of thwarts varied with the tribal type,
the size, and the purpose of the canoe. Usually an odd number, from
three to nine, were used, though occasional canoes had two or four
thwarts. Very small canoes for hunting might have only two or three
thwarts, but most canoes 14 to 20 feet long had five. Canoes intended
for portaging usually had one thwart at midlength to aid in lifting the
canoe for the carry position. The distance between the thwarts might be
determined by structural design, or might be fixed so as to divide the
cargo space to allow proper trim. The thwarts might serve as backrests
for passengers, but were never used as seats. There was no standard
form for the shape of the thwarts, which varied not only to some degree
by tribal classification, but even among builders in single tribe. They
were usually thickest and widest over the centerline of the canoe,
tapering outboard and then spreading again at the gunwales to form a
marked shoulder at the mortise. The lashings to the gunwales often
passed through two or more holes in this shoulder.

The ribs, or frames, of most canoes were very closely spaced and
were wide, flat, and thin. They ran in a single length from gunwale
to gunwale. In canoes having ~V~-sections near the ends, the ribs
were often so sharply bent as to be fractured slightly. Across the
bottom they were wide but above the bilge they tapered in width toward
the end, which was either a rounded point or a beveled or rounded
chisel-edge. The ribs were forced under the gunwales so that the heads
fitted into the bevel, or into notches or holes at the underside and
outboard edge of the gunwale, between it and the bark cover. By canting
the rib to bring its ends into the proper position and then forcing it
nearly perpendicular, the builder brought enough pressure on the bark
cover to mold it to the required form. Bulging of the bark at each
frame was prevented by a thin plank sheathing. The ribs in many Eastern
canoes were spaced so that on the bottom they were separated only by a
space equal to the width of a rib.

Each piece of sheathing, better described as a "splint" than as
"planking," was commonly of irregular form. The edges were often
beveled to a marked thinness. While some builders laid the sheathing
edge-to-edge in the bark cover, others overlapped the edges. Nearly
all builders feathered the butts and overlapped them slightly. The
sheathing was held in position by a number of light temporary ribs
while the permanent frames, or ribs, were being installed. It is to be
noted that the sheathing was neither lashed nor pegged; it remained
fixed in place only through the pressure of the bent ribs and the
restraint of the bark skin.

The exact method of fitting the sheathing varied somewhat from area
to area, but not in every instance from tribe to tribe. The bottom
sheathing used by some eastern Indians was in two lengths. The
individual pieces were tapered toward the stems and the edges butted
closely together. The sides were in three lengths, but otherwise
similarly fitted. The butts lapped very slightly. In a second method,
used to the westward, the sheathing was laid edge-to-edge in two
lengths, with the butts slightly lapped. The center members of the
bottom, usually five, were parallel-sided, but the outboard ends of
those at the turn of the bilges were beveled, or snied, off. The
members further outboard were in one length, with both ends snied off.
The bottom thus appeared as an elongated diamond-form. The topside
sheathing was fitted as in the first instance.

[Illustration: Figure 27

GUNWALE LASHINGS, examples made by Adney: 1, Elm-bark, Malecite; 2, St.
Francis; 3, Algonkin; 4, Malecite.]

[Illustration: Figure 28

GUNWALE-END LASHINGS, examples made by Adney: Athabascan (large),
Ojibway (small).]

A variation in the second style used three lengths in the centerline
sheathing. In still another variation a centerline piece was laid in
two lengths without taper, the next outboard piece was then cut in the
shape of a broad-based triangle, and the rest were laid in two lengths,
with the sides parallel to the sides of the triangular strake and with
their ends snied off against the centerline pieces. In a fourth style
short pieces, roughly elongate-oval in shape, were overlapped on all
sides and laid irregularly so that when in place they appeared "thrown
in." With this style, the midship section was laid first and secured by
a temporary rib, then the next toward the ends, with the butts shoved
under the ends of the middle section. The next series was similarly
laid so that the top member of each butt-lap faced toward the ends of
the hull and was under a rib. The ends were not cut square across,
but were either blunt-pointed or rounded. Five lengths of sheathing
were often used, and the widths of the individual pieces of sheathing
were rarely the same, so the seams were not lined up and presented an
irregular appearance in the finished canoe. The sheathing was thin
enough to allow it to take the curve of the bilge easily.

[Illustration: Figure 29

SPLINTS ARRANGED in various ways to sheath the bottom of a canoe: 1,
Micmac, Malecite; 2, Central Cree, Têtes de Boule, etc.; 3, Montagnais;
4, Algonkin, Ojibway, etc.]

If the sheathing was lapped, the overlap was always slight. In some
old canoes a small space was left between the edges of the sheathing,
particularly in the topsides. In some northwestern bark canoes there
was no sheathing; these used a batten system somewhat like that in
the Eskimo kayak, except that in the bark canoes the battens were
not lashed to the ribs, being held in place only by pressure. These
kayak-like bark canoes had a bottom framework formed with chine
members; some had a rigid bottom frame of this type, while others
had bottom frames secured only by rib pressure. The purpose of the
sheathing, it should be noted, was to protect the bark cover from
abrasion from the inside, to prevent the ribs from bulging the bark,
and to back up the bark so as to resist impacts; but in no case, even
when battens were employed, as in the Northwest, did the sheathing
add to the longitudinal strength of the bark canoe. The principle
of the stressed rib and clamped sheathing, which is the most marked
characteristic in the construction of the North American Indian bark
canoe, is fundamentally different from that used in the construction of
the Eskimos' skin craft.

A wide variety of framing methods are exhibited in the construction of
the ends, or stems, of bark canoes. In the temporary types of the East,
the bark was trimmed to a straight, slightly "ram" form and secured by
sewing over two battens, one outboard on each side. Birch-bark canoes
of the East usually had an inside stem-piece bent by the lamination
method to the desired profile, the heel being left unsplit; as usual,
the laminations were spirally wrapped, often with basswood-bark thongs.
The stem-piece was then placed between the bark of the sides, and
the bark and wood were lashed together with an over-and-over stitch.
Sometimes variations of the short-and-long form of stitch were used
here, and some builders also placed a halved-root batten over the
ends of the bark before lashing to form a stem-band as protection to
the seam. In some canoes the end lashing passed through holes drilled
in the stem-pieces, often with the turns alternating in some regular
manner through and around the stem-piece.

The stem-pieces were generally very light, and in some canoes the head
was notched and sharply bent down and inboard, so that it could be
secured to the ends of the gunwales. Some tribal types had no inner
stem-piece, and the stem profiles were strengthened merely by the use
of two split-root or halved-sapling battens, one on each side, outside
the bark and under the sewing.

[Illustration: Figure 30

over them, ending of gunwale caps at stem heads, and the headboard,
with its location. Lamination of the stem pieces shows fewer laminae
than is common. (_Sketches by Adney._)]

Birch-bark canoes to the westward used battens under the end lashing
as well as rather complicated inside stem-pieces. In some parts of
the West and Northwest, the ends were formed of boards set up on edge
fore-and-aft, the bark being lashed through all, with the boards
projecting slightly outboard of the ends of the bark cover to form a

To support the inside stem-piece, some form of headboard was usually
fitted near each end after the sheathing was in place. These were
shaped to the cross-section of the canoe so as to form bulkheads.
In some canoes, these miniature bulkheads stood vertical, but in
others they were curved somewhat to follow the general curve of the
end-profile, and this caused them to be shaped more like a batten
than a bulkhead. Bent headboards were sometimes stepped so as to rake
outboard. Sometimes the form of the headboard permitted the gunwale
members to be lashed to it, and often there was a notch for the main
gunwale on each side.

The headboards were sometimes stepped on the unsplit heel of the
stem-piece; a notch was made in the bottom of the headboard to allow
this. In two types of canoe in which there was no inner stem-piece, the
headboards were stepped on short keel pieces, or "frogs," fore-and-aft
on the bottom and extending slightly forward of the end of the
sheathing to reinforce the forefoot. The purpose of the headboard was
to strengthen the stem-piece, and in many cases it was an integral
member of the end structure itself and helped to maintain its form. The
headboard usually served to support the gunwale ends in some manner, it
stretched the bark smooth near the stems, and it secured the ends of
the sheathing where support from a rib would have been most difficult
to obtain. Many canoes had the space between the headboard and the
stem-piece stuffed with shavings, moss, or other dry material to help
mold the bark to form beyond the sheathing in the ends. Some tribal
groups decorated the headboards.

In a few canoes, the stem-piece was additionally supported by a short,
horizontal member stepped in the forward face of the headboard and
projecting forward to bear on the after side of the stem-piece. The
latter was sometimes bent back onto itself above this member to form a
loop around the top of the end-profile, and the gunwale ends or a part
of the gunwale structure were secured to it. This complicated bending
of the stem-piece, in conjunction with use of a headboard and a brace
member, served to stiffen the end structure sufficiently to meet the
requirements of service.

[Illustration: Figure 31

St. John River canoe represents the last Malecite birch-bark model,
and usually was fastened with tacks and nails, rather than with root
lashings and pegs as described here.]

The use of a bark cover over the gunwale ends has already been
mentioned. In some eastern canoes, this was placed under the cap and
outwale pieces and extended below the latter in a shallow flap on which
the owner's mark or other decoration might appear; the flap was in fact
a kind of name board. Such flaps do not appear on the partly decked
bark canoes of the Northwest.

This general description of the structure of the bark canoes is
sufficient to permit the explanation of the actual construction of
a bark canoe to be more readily understood, and it also serves to
illustrate the close connection between the method of construction
and the formation of the lines, or model, of bark canoes. From the
description, too, it can be seen that while the shape of a bark canoe
was partially planned during the construction the control of every part
of the model could not be maintained with the same degree of precision
as in the building of an Eskimo skin boat or an Indian dugout.


One aspect of canoe construction, the Indian method of making
measurements, was briefly mentioned (p. 8) under a discussion of the
origin of the measurement known in French Canada as the _brasse_.
This was the distance from finger-tip to finger-tip of the arms
outstretched; in the fur trade in English times it was known as the
fathom and it appears to have been about 64 inches, or less than the
nautical fathom of 6 feet. Other measurements used were the greatest
width of the ball of the thumb, which is very close to an English inch,
and the width of the four fingers, each finger-breadth being close to
three-fourths of an English inch. The length of the forearm, usually
from the knuckles of the clenched hand to the elbow, was also employed
by some Indians, as a convenient measurement.

Measurements in these units might be memorized and used in building,
but many Indians used measuring sticks, and these served as
"foot-rules." They were sometimes squared and were painted as well as

A Malecite Indian, interviewed in 1925, had three such sticks for canoe
building. One, for the length of the gunwale frame, was half the total
length required; it was notched to show the distance at which the ends
of the gunwales were lashed and also the position of the thwarts. Such
a stick would be about 7 feet long for a 16-foot canoe, 8 feet for an
18-foot canoe. The second stick was notched to show half the length of
each of the thwarts. The third stick had notches showing the height of
the gunwale at each thwart and at the end, four notches in all for the
half-length of the canoe. This stick measured from the surface of the
building bed, not from a regular base line.

The method of measuring canoes appears to have been fairly well
standardized, at least in historical times. As stated earlier, length
was commonly taken over the gunwales only, and did not include the
end profiles, which might extend up to a foot or slightly more beyond
the gunwale ends, bow and stern. However, in certain old records
the overall length is given, and in various areas other methods of
measurement existed. Where a building frame was used, the given length
of the canoe was the length of this frame; usually this approximated
the length of the gunwales. The width of a canoe was measured by the
Indian from inside to inside of the main gunwale members. The extreme
beam might be only 2 or 3 inches greater than the inside measurement
of the gunwales, but if the sides bulged out, the beam might actually
be 6 or more inches greater. The depth was usually measured from the
inside of the ribs to the top of the gunwale but in building it was
measured from the surface of the building bed to the bottom of the main
gunwales, as noted above in the description of the measuring sticks.

Thus it will be seen that the Indian measurements constituted a
statement of dimensions primarily useful to the builder, for their main
purpose was to fix the proportions rather than establish the actual
length, width, and depth. Today we state the length of a canoe in terms
of extreme overall measurement; the Indian was inclined to state the
length in building terms, giving dimensions applicable to the woodwork
only, just as the old-time shipbuilder gave the keel length of a vessel
instead of the overall length on deck.

The building site was carefully selected. The space in which the canoe
was to be set up had to be smooth, free of stones and roots or anything
that might damage the bark, and the soil had to be such that stakes
driven into it would stand firmly. A shady place was preferred, as the
bark would not dry there as fast as in sunlight. Since the construction
of a canoe required both time and the aid of the whole Indian family,
the site had to be close to a suitable place for camping, where food
and water could be obtained. It is not surprising, therefore, to find
canoe building sites that apparently had been used by generations of

The preparation of the building bed was controlled by the intended
form of the canoe to be built. If the bottom of the canoe was to be
rockered, the cleared ground was brought to a flat surface for the
length required for setting up the canoe. If the rocker was to be
great, the middle of the bed would be slightly depressed. If the bottom
was to be straight fore-and-aft, or very nearly so, the bed was crowned
from 1½ to 2 inches higher in the middle than at the ends, so that the
canoe was first set up with a hogged bottom. Very large canoes such as
were used in the fur trade required as much as 4 inches crown in the
building bed. Other dimensions being equal, the amount of crown was
usually somewhat greater in canoes having bulging sides than in ones
having more upright or flaring sides. Canoe factories such as were
operated in certain fur-trading posts sometimes had a plank building
bed suitably crowned and drilled for setting the stakes.

Two methods of setting up the canoe were used. In most of the eastern
area, the gunwales were put together and used to establish the plan
outline of the canoe on the building bed. But a building frame was used
for constructing the various narrow-bottom canoes having flaring sides,
and for some other tribal forms. The frame, made in the same general
form as the gunwales when assembled, but less wide and sometimes much
shorter, could be taken apart easily, allowing it to be removed after
the canoe was built; hence it could be used to build as many canoes as
desired to the same dimensions as the first, and was retained by the
builder as a tool, or pattern, for future use.

The method of construction in which gunwales only were used in setting
up the canoe will be explained first in order to show the general
technique of construction. Use of the building frame will then be
described. Important deviations from these methods will be described in
later chapters under the individual tribal types in which they occur.

The Malecite canoe, a straight-bottomed craft about 19 feet long and 36
inches beam, is used as the example, hence the method of building to be
described is that generally employed in the East, where variations in
construction mainly involve the use or omission of structural elements.

The gunwales are the first members to be formed. In the Malecite canoe
these are the inner gunwales, as the canoe will have outwales and
caps. The gunwales are split from white cedar to produce battens that
will square 1½ inches when shaped. The gunwales are tapered each way
from midlength, where they are 1½ inches square, to a point 3 inches
short of the ends, where they are ¾ by 1 to 1¼ inches. The edges of
the gunwales are all rounded, and the outboard bottom edge is beveled
almost ½ inch, at 45° to the bottom of the member. The last 3 inches at
each end is formed like half a blunt arrowhead, as shown in the sketch
of the member on page 31. The gunwales will be bent, side to side, on
the flat as far as the ends are concerned, so the blunt arrowhead is
formed on one of the wide faces of the ends as shown. The arrowhead
form allows a neat joint when the gunwale ends are brought together,
pegged athwartships, and then wrapped with a root lashing. In forming
and finishing the gunwales, a good deal of care is required to get them
to bend alike, so that the centerline of the finished frame will be
straight and true.

To take the ends of the middle thwart, a mortise ¼ by 2 inches is cut
in each gunwale member athwartships at exactly midlength, the length
of the mortise being with the run of the gunwale. In it, the middle
thwart, 33 inches long, is fitted. Made of a ⅞-inch by 3-inch piece of
hard maple, the thwart tapers slightly in thickness each way from its
center to within 5 inches of the shoulders, which are 30 inches apart.
The thickness at a point 5 inches from the shoulder is ¾ inch; from
there the taper is quick to the shoulder, which is ⁵⁄₁₆ inch thick,
with a drop to ¼ inch in the tenon. The width, 3 inches at the center,
decreases in a graceful curve to within 5 inches of the shoulder, where
it is 2 inches, then increases to about 3 inches at the shoulder. The
width of the tenon is, of course, 2 inches, to fit the mortise hole in
the gunwale. The edges of the outer 5 inches of the thwart are rounded
off or beveled a good deal; inboard they are only slightly rounded.

The thwart is carefully fitted to the gunwale members and the ends are
pegged. Some builders wedged the ends of this thwart from outside the
gunwales, the wedge standing vertical in the thwart so that the gunwale
would not split; however, it is not certain that wedging was used in
prehistoric times, although it is seen in some existing old canoes. The
pegs used in this canoe are driven from above, into holes bored through
the gunwale and the tenon of the thwart to lock all firmly together.
Three holes are then bored in the broad shoulders of the thwart about
1½ inches inboard of gunwale for the root lashing that is also used.

The ends of the gunwale members are now brought together, and to avoid
an unfair curve appearing at the thwart in place, short pieces of
split plank or of sapling, notched to hold them in place, are inserted
between the gunwale members as temporary thwarts at points about 5 feet
on each side of the middle thwart. After the ends are brought together
and the final fitting is carried out, a peg is driven athwartships the
ends and a single-part root lashing is carefully wrapped around the

Some canoe builders omitted the blunted half-arrowhead form at the
gunwale end. Instead, the inside faces were tapered to allow the two
parts to bear on one another for some distance. The gunwales were then
pinched together and lashed with one or more wrappings. Finally, a thin
wedge was sometimes driven from inboard between the two gunwale ends to
tighten the wrappings. The wedges were usually so carefully fitted as
to be difficult to identify. It is probable that this wedged gunwale
ending represents the prehistoric form, and the blunted half-arrowhead
ending is a result of the use of steel tools.

After the ends of the gunwales have been securely fastened together,
the first pair of permanent thwarts is fitted. These are located 36
inches, center to center, on each side of the middle thwart, a distance
that determines the centers of the mortises in each gunwale member.
Each thwart, made from a ¾-inch by 3-inch piece, tapers smoothly in
thickness from the ¾-inch center to the ⁵⁄₁₆-inch shoulder. The tenon
is of the same dimensions as that of the middle thwart, the width
takes the same form as that of the middle thwart, and the edges are
similarly beveled and rounded. The distance between the shoulders,
taken along the centerline, is 22½ inches, and the centerline length of
the thwart 25½ inches. However, the shoulders and ends of the tenons
must be bevelled to follow the curve of the gunwales hence the extreme
length of the thwart is actually very close to 26 inches. The worker
determines the bevel of the shoulders by fitting the thwart to the
run of the gunwales, the temporary thwarts being shifted so that the
distance between the gunwales equals that set by the measuring stick.
These two thwarts having been fitted, the tenons are pegged as before,
but in the shoulders only one lashing hole is bored instead of the
three employed in the middle thwart.

[Illustration: Figure 32

MALECITE CANOE BUILDING, 1910. (_Canadian Geological Survey photos._)

Weighting gunwales on bark cover on building bed.

Resetting stakes.

Shaping bark cover and securing it to stakes.]

[Illustration: Figure 33

FIRST STAGE OF CANOE CONSTRUCTION: assembled gunwale frame is used to
locate stakes temporarily on building bed. Instead of the gunwales, a
building frame was used in some areas. (_Sketch by Adney_.)]

The second pair of thwarts is placed 30 inches, center to center, from
the first pair, one at each end, and on the basis of this measurement
the tenons are cut as for the others. These two thwarts are made of
⅝-by 4-inch pieces tapering in thickness each way from the center to
the shoulder, where they are a scant ⁵⁄₁₆ inch thick, the tenons having
the same dimensions as in the other thwarts. In width the thwarts are
worked to an even 3 inches from shoulder to shoulder, but in the form
of a curve so that when each thwart is in place its center will be
bowed toward the ends of the canoe, viewed from above. As in the first
pair, the shoulders and ends are cut to a bevel to fit the gunwale;
at the centerline they each measure 12 inches shoulder-to-shoulder in
a straight line athwartships and 15 inches end-to-end. Allowing for
bevel, the maximum length is just over 15-⁵⁄₁₆ inches. These thwarts
are drilled for single gunwale lashings and the corner edges are well
rounded from shoulder to shoulder. The distance from the centerlines
of these last thwarts at the bow and stern to the extreme ends of the
joined gunwales is 33 inches, so the finished gunwale length is 16 feet.

After the endmost thwarts are pegged into place, the temporary stays
are removed. At each step of construction the alignment of the gunwales
is checked by measuring with the measuring sticks and by sighting,
since the shape of the assembled gunwales, in this case of the inner
gunwales, is very important in determining the sharpness of the
completed canoe and the fairness of its general form.

The assembled gunwales are now ready to be laid on the building bed
which, for the Malecite canoe, is 20 feet long, about 3½ feet wide and
is raised about 1½ inches at midlength so that the canoe bottom will be
straight when the craft is in the water. The gunwale frame having been
carefully centered on this bed, with the middle thwart exactly over the
highest point in the surface of the bed, some scrap split-planking is
laid across the gunwales and the whole weighted down with a few flat
stones. Next, 34 stakes from 30 to 50 inches long are prepared, each
made of a halved length of sapling. Around the outside of the gunwale
frame 26 of these are driven in pairs opposite one another across the
frame, about 24 inches apart and placed so that none is opposite a
thwart, except for the stakes at the extreme ends of the gunwale frame,
which are spaced about a foot from their nearest neighbors and are
face-to-face, about 1½ inches apart. All the stakes are driven with
the flat face about an inch from the gunwale frame and parallel to its
outside edge. Finally two more pairs of stakes are driven at each end,
the first pair about a foot beyond the end of the gunwale frame and
1½ inches apart, the second about 6 inches beyond these and similarly
spaced. The length between the outermost stakes, measured over the
gunwale frame, is about 18½ feet. Great care is taken to line up the
last pairs of stakes with the centerline of the gunwale frame.

[Illustration: Figure 34

SECOND STAGE OF CANOE CONSTRUCTION: stakes have been removed and laid
aside, and the gunwales shown in first stage have been removed from the
building bed. The bark cover is laid out on the building bed, and the
gunwales are in place upon it, weighted down with stones. (_Sketch by

If the canoe is to have a slight rocker near the ends and is to be
straight over the rest of the bottom, the ends of the gunwale frame
will be blocked above the building bed so that the frame is not hogged
on the bed.

After the builder is satisfied with the staking, each stake is
carefully pulled up and laid to one side, off the bed but near its
hole. The weights are then removed from the gunwale frame, which is
lifted from the bed and laid aside, and the bed, if disturbed is
repaired and re-leveled.

The roll of birch bark is now removed from storage, perhaps in a nearby
pool where it has been placed to keep it flexible, and unrolled white
side up on the building bed. As the bark dries, it will become more and
more stiff, so it will be necessary to moisten it frequently during
construction to maintain its flexibility.

The bark is usually long enough, but often it is not wide enough. If
the bark is too short, it may be pieced out at this time, or later. If
it is not wide enough it is centered on the bed; the piecing out will
be done later. The gunwale frame is now laid on the bark, care being
taken to place it as nearly as possible in its former position on the

The bark outside the frame is then slashed from the edge to a point
close to the end of each thwart, and also to points along the frame
halfway between the thwarts, so that the edges can be turned up. While
it is being slashed, the bark cover is bent slightly, so that it is
cut under tension. Later, when the required shape can be determined,
these slashes will be made into gores, the Malecite canoes having
flush seams, not overlaps, in the topsides and bottom. If a fault is
noted along the outer edge of the bark, a slash may be placed so as to
allow the fault to be cut out in the later goring; irregularity in the
position of the cuts does no great harm to the progress of building
these canoes. The slashes are usually carried to within an inch of the
gunwales on the bed. It is not customary to slash the bark close to the
end, there the bark can usually be brought up unbroken, depending upon
the form of the end.

When the bark has been cut as described, it can be turned up smoothly
all around the frame so that the stake holes can be seen and a few
of the stakes can be replaced. The frame and the bark are then
realigned so that all stakes may be replaced in their holes without
difficulty. When the frame and bark are aligned, the frame is weighted
as before and the bark is turned up all around it, the stakes being
firmly driven, as this is done, in their original holes. The longest
stakes are at the ends of the frame, as the depth of the hull is to be
greatest there. The tops of each pair of opposite stakes are now tied
together with a thong of basswood or cedar bark, to hold them rigid and

[Illustration: Figure 35

building bed with stakes set in holes in the platform. This was a late
method of construction, which probably originated in the early French
canoe factory at Trois Rivières, Que.]

After the bark is turned up around the frame, its lack of width becomes
fully apparent. At this stage, some builders fitted the additional
pieces to gain the necessary width; others did it later. The method of
piecing the bark cover and the sewing technique, however, is explained

The bark is pieced out with regard to the danger of abrasion that would
occur when the canoe is moving through obstructions in the water, or
when it is rolled or hauled ashore and unloaded. If the bark is to be
lapped below the waterline, the thickness of the bark of both pieces
in the lap is scraped thin so a ridge will not be formed athwart the
bottom; here, however, most tribes used edge-to-edge joining. If
there are laps in the topsides, the exposed edge is toward the stern;
if in the midlength, upward toward the gunwale; and if it is in the
end the lap may be toward the bottom, because this makes it easier
to sew, and because in the ends of the canoe there is less danger of
serious abrasion. Many tribes used edge-to-edge joining everywhere
in the topsides so that the direction of lapping was not a matter of
consideration. The type of goring, whether by slash and lap or by
cutting out a ~V~-shaped gore, will, of course, have much to do with
the selection of the method of sewing to be used.

It is to be recalled that in canoe building no needle was used in
sewing the bark; the ends of the root strands were sharpened and used
to thread the strand through the awl holes. Much of the topside sewing
in a bark canoe was done with small strands made by splitting small
roots in half and then flattening the halves by scraping. Large root
strands quartered and prepared in the same manner, or the cores of
these, were sometimes used in heavy sewing or lashing at the gunwale or
in the ends of a canoe.

As noted previously, root thongs were used well water-soaked or quite
green, for they became very stiff and rather brittle as they dried
out. Once in place, however, the drying did not seem to destroy their
strength. Rawhide was also used for such sewing by some tribes.

The sewing was done by Indian women, if their help was available, and
the forms of stitching used in canoe building varied greatly. The root
sewing at the ends of the canoes ranged from a simple over-and-over
spiral form to elaborate and decorative styles. Long-and-short
stitching in a sequence that usually followed some formal pattern was
widely used. Among the patterns were such arrangements as one long,
four short, and one long; or two longs, two or three shorts, and two
longs; or one short, five of progressively increasing length, and then
one short; or six progressively longer followed by six progressively
shorter. Cross-stitching, employing the two ends of the sewing root as
in the lacing of a shoe was also common. Sometimes this was combined
with a straight-across double-strand pass to join the ends of the ~X~.
The harness stitch, in which both ends of the sewing root were passed
in opposite directions through the same holes, was often used, as was
the 2-thong in-and-out lacing from each side used in northwestern
canoes having plank stem-pieces.

If the root strand was too short to complete a seam, instead of being
spliced or knotted the end was tucked back under the last turns or
stitches, on the inside of the bark cover. In starting, the tail was
placed under the first turn of the stitch, so that it could not be
pulled through. To finish sewing with double-ended strands, as in the
harness stitch, both ends were tucked under the last turn or two.

Commonly two or more turns were taken through a single hole in the
bark; this might be done to clear some obstruction such as a frame head
at the gunwale, or to provide a stronger stitch, or turn, as in the
harness stitch and others, or to allow for greater spacing between awl
holes in the bark. (Since the awl blade was tapered, the size of the
hole it made in the bark could be regulated by the depth of penetration
of the blade as it was turned in the hole.)

The length of stitches varied with the need for strength and
watertightness. Long stitches were about I inch, short stitches from
about ⅜ to ½ inch in length. The run of the grain, of course, was a
consideration in the length of stitch used.

[Illustration: Figure 36

SEWING: two common styles of root stitching used in bark canoes.]

The piecing of the side panels was done with a great variety of sewing
styles, according to strength requirements. The strain put upon the
bark in molding it by rib pressure was greater in the midlength than
in the ends; and the sewing differed accordingly. The over-and-over
spiral, with a batten under the sewing, was used for sewing in the
midlength, as was back-stitching, a variety of basting stitch in which
a new pass is started about half way between stitches, thus forming
overlapped passes or turns. Back-stitching was usually done in a
direction slightly diagonal to the line of sewing, so as to cross
the grain of the bark at an angle with each pass. The double-thong
in-and-out stitch, in which each thong goes through the same hole from
opposite sides, was frequently used. The simple, spiral over-and-over
stitch was used in sewing panels in the ends of canoes, as was the
simple, in-and-out basting stitch using either a single or double

When the sides were pieced out edge-to-edge, the sewing was usually
done spirally, over and over a narrow, thin batten placed outside the
bark cover. This batten might be either a thin split sapling or, more
commonly, a split and thinned piece of root. If the pieced-out sides
were lapped, then the harness stitch was commonly used. The lap might
be some inches wide to decrease the danger of splitting while the bark
was being punched with the awl, afterward the surplus was cut away
leaving about a half inch of overlap. On rare occasions the strength
of a lapped-edge seam was increased by the use of a parallel row of

[Illustration: Figure 37

building frame weighted down by stones inside bark cover, and (below)
canoe when first removed from building bed during fifth stage of
construction. (_Sketches by Adney._)]

In making the canoe watertight, it is to be remembered that some forms
of stitch make the bark lie up tight all along its edges while others
bind only where the stitch crosses the seam. The in-and-out stitch,
which was used only above the waterline, cannot be pulled up hard
without causing the bark to pucker and split and cannot be made very
watertight with gum. The over-and-over stitch, in either a spiral
form or square across the seam on the outside and diagonally on the
inside, is very strong; when a batten is used under the stitches it
can be pulled up hard and allows a very watertight gumming. When this
style of sewing is used without a batten across the run of the grain,
as in the gore seams, it cannot be pulled up as hard, but will serve.
Back-stitching, which was much used in the topsides, can be pulled up
quite hard and makes a tight seam when gummed, as do the harness stitch
and cross-stitch. The ends, regardless of the style of sewing used,
were more readily made tight by gumming than the other seams in a bark

Two basic methods, with some slight and unimportant variations, were
used to fasten the bark to the gunwales. One employed a continuous
over-and-over stitch, the other employed groups of lashings. On a canoe
with the lashing continuous along the gunwales, the turns were made
two or more times through the same hole on each side of each rib head
to allow space for them. This might also be done where the lashing was
in groups, as described above. Usually, a measuring stick was used to
space the groups between thwart ends so that each group came between
the rib heads. The groupings could be independent lashings, or the
strand could be carried from one group to another. If the latter, it
was passed along under the gunwale in a number of in-and-out stitches
or in a single lone stitch either inside or out, or else it was brought
around over the gunwale from the last full turn. Some tribes use both
ends of the lashing, passing them through the same hole in the bark
from opposite directions below the gunwales; the ends might be carried
in the same manner in a long stitch to the next group. In some elm and
other bark canoes employing basswood or cedar-bark lashings the bark
was tied with a single turn at wide intervals; when roots were used
in these, however, small groupings of stitches were customary. When
group lashings were used with birch bark, the intervals between groups
was usually relatively short, though in a few canoes the groups and
intervals were of nearly equal length.

[Illustration: Figure 38

THIRD STAGE OF CANOE CONSTRUCTION: the bark cover is shaped on the
building bed. The gores have been cut; part of the cover is shaped and
secured by stakes and battens. "A" shows battens secured by sticks
lashed to stakes. (_Sketch by Adney_.)]

In an independent group, the ends of the strand were treated as in
whipping, the tail being under the first turns made and the end tucked
back under the last--usually on the inside of the gunwales. Where there
were inner and outer gunwales the lashing was always around both,
and the tail might be jammed between them. If a cap was used on the
gunwales, the lashings were always under it. The use of a knotted turn
to start a lashing occurred only in the old Têtes de Boule canoes.

On the Malecite canoe, the sides are pieced out in one to three panels
rather than in one long, narrow panel on each side. The panel for the
midlength requires the greatest strength and is usually lapped inside
the bottom bark. The latter is first trimmed straight along its edge,
and the panel inserted behind it with a couple of inches of lap. Then
the two pieces of bark are sewn together over a halved-root batten with
an over-and-over stitch. (Other tribes used some form of the harness
stitch, or a similar style, allowing great strength.) The middle panel
does not extend much beyond the ends of the first pair of thwarts on
each side of the middle. The next panels toward the ends are lapped
outside the bottom bark and are sewn with the back-stitch. Then,
if still another panel is required at each end, this too is lapped
outside and is sewn in the lap with an in-and-out stitch. The ends of
the panels are usually sewn with an over-and-over stitch that runs
square with the seam outside and diagonally to it inside the bark. (The
harness stitch was used here by some tribes, as were many forms of the
cross-stitch.) The ends of the canoe and the gores have already been
sewn during an earlier stage of the building process.

Once the sides are pieced out, the bark is ready to be turned up and
around the gunwale frame and clamped perpendicularly. To effect this,
small stakes are made by halving saplings, so that each half is about a
half inch thick. The butt of each half is cut chisel-shaped, with the
bevel on the flat side; the rounded face is smoothed off, and it may
be tapered toward the head of the stake. Between two of the slashes
a length of bark is now brought up against the outer stakes; against
the bark the small, inside stake is placed with the round face of the
chisel-pointed butt wedged against the outer face of the gunwale. The
top is then levered against the outside stake, so that the flat face of
each clamps the bark in place. The top of the inner stake is then bound
to the outer.

[Illustration: Figure 39

CROSS SECTION of canoe on building bed during third stage of
construction (above) and fourth stage. (_Sketch by Adney._)]

In setting the inside stakes, care is taken that their points do not
pierce the bark. No inside stakes are required at the ends, as here the
outside stakes are so close together in opposing pairs as to hold the
bark in a sharp fold along the centerline of the cover. This of course
is also true of the stakes beyond the ends of the gunwales.

After a few lengths of bark have been thus secured, they are faired
between the stakes by inserting thin strips of split sapling, or
battens of wood or root, along each side of the bark, under the inside
and outside stakes. These battens are placed about halfway up the
upturned bark. Some builders used long wooden battens, as this gave a
very fair side when enough lengths were secured upright; others got
the same results with short battens, the ends of which were overlapped
between a pair of stakes on each side.

[Illustration: Figure 40

MULTIPLE CROSS SECTION through one side of a canoe on the building
bed: at the headboard, middle, first, and second thwarts. Gunwale is
raised and supported on sheering posts set under thwarts. Crown of
the building bed is shown by varying heights of bottoms of the four

When the bark has been turned up and clamped, the gores may be trimmed
to allow it to be sewn with edge-to-edge seams at each slash. This
is usually done after the sides are faired, by moving the battens up
and down as the cuts are made, then replacing them in their original
position. The gores or slashes, if overlapped, are not usually sewn at
this stage of construction.

With the inside stakes in place, the longitudinal battens secured,
and the gores cut or the overlaps properly arranged, all is ready for
sheering the gunwales. First the weights are removed from the gunwale
frame so that it can be lifted. If the inside stakes have been properly
made and fitted this can be done without disturbing the sides, though
the ties across each pair of outside stakes may have to be slacked
off somewhat. Before lifting the frame, some short posts, usually of
sapling or of waste from splitting out the gunwales and thwarts, are
cut in lengths determined by the measuring stick or from memory, one
for each end of each thwart, and one for each end of the gunwale frame.
Those under the middle thwart ends in this canoe are 7½ inches long,
those under the next thwarts out from the middle will be 9 inches,
those under the end thwarts will be 12 inches, and those at the gunwale
ends will be 17 inches long. These posts, cut with squared butts, are
laid alongside the bed. The gunwale frame is now lifted and the pair of
posts to go under the middle thwart are stepped on the bark cover, the
gunwale is lowered onto them, and while the frame and posts are held
steady, stones are laid on a plank over the middle thwart. Next, the
ends of the gunwales are held and lifted so that a pair of posts can be
placed at the thwarts next out from the middle. More weights are placed
over these, the operation is repeated for the end thwarts and, finally
at the gunwale ends, so that the gunwales now stand on posts on the
bark cover, sprung to the correct fore-and-aft sheer and steadied by
the bearing of the outside of the gunwale frame on the rounded faces of
the inside stakes. Now the sheer has been established and the depth of
the canoe is approximated.

[Illustration: Figure 41

FOURTH STAGE OF CANOE CONSTRUCTION: bark cover has been shaped and
all stakes placed. The gunwales have been raised to sheer height; "A"
indicates the sticks which fix the sheer of the gunwales; "B" indicates
blocks placed under ends to form rocker. Side panels are shown in
place, and cover is being sewn to gunwales. (_Sketch by Adney._)]

To protect the bark cover from the thrust of the weights used to
ballast the frame, some builders inserted small bark or wood shields
for padding under the heels of the posts. By some tribes the posts were
notched on one face, to fit inside the gunwales near the thwarts, and
there were also other ways of assembling the gunwales themselves.

It should be apparent that the operations just described would serve
only for canoes in which the sheer had a gentle, fair sweep. For canoes
in which the sheer turned up sharply at the ends, the gunwale members
might have to be split into laminations and prebent to the required
sheer before being assembled into the gunwale frame. To accomplish
this, the laminations were scalded with boiling water until saturated
and then the gunwale members were staked out on the ground or tied
with cords to set the wood in the desired curves as it dried out. The
laminations were then wrapped with cord and the gunwale was ready to
assemble. To produce a hogged sheer, the gunwales were made of green
spruce and then staked out to season in the form desired; a hogged
sheer was also formed by steaming or boiling the gunwale members at

The canoe, as now erected on the building bed, has a double-ended,
flat-bottomed, wall-sided form. The gunwales are sprung to the proper
breadth and sheer, and the bark is standing irregularly above them. At
this point, on canoes not having outwales, the bark cover was laced or
lashed to the gunwales. Since the Malecite canoe has outwales, these
are now made and fitted. They consist of two white cedar battens
about 19½ feet long, perhaps 1 inch wide, and ½ inch thick. The face
that will be the outboard side is usually somewhat rounded, as are all
the corners, and the corner that will be on the inside and bottom of
each batten when it is in place is somewhat beveled. The outwales are
placed between the bark and the outside stakes, the inside stakes being
removed one by one as this is done. The removal of the inside stakes
allows room for the outwale to be inserted in their place, between
the outside stakes and the inner gunwale face, and it allows the bark
to be brought against the outside face of the inner gunwales. In the
process of fitting the outwales, the battens along the sides may have
to be removed and replaced, or shifted, and the cross-ties of each
pair of outside stakes may require adjustment. Beginning at midlength,
the outwale is pegged through the bark cover to the inner gunwales at
intervals of 6 to 9 inches. The pegging is not carried much beyond the
end thwarts in any canoe and could not be in canoes having laminated
gunwales near the ends.

The Malecite canoe has bark covers over the ends of the inner gunwales,
and these are now fitted so that they can be passed under the outwales
and clamped in place. The ends of the outwales are forced inside the
stakes at and beyond the ends of the gunwales, assuming a pinched-in
appearance there, and they may reach a few inches beyond the ends
of the bark cover; they will be cut and shaped to the length of the
finished canoe later.

The outwale pegs are made by splitting from a balk of birch, larch, or
fir roughly squared dowels about ¼ inch square and 6 to 9 inches long.
Each dowel is then tapered and rounded each way from the middle to
form two shanks that are between ⅛ and ³⁄₁₆ inch in diameter over 2 to
3 inches of length. The ends may be sharpened by fire. The dowels are
then cut in two, providing a pair of pegs with large heads. These are
driven in holes drilled through the outwales, bark cover, and gunwales,
and when well home, the protruding ends are cut off flush. Toward the
ends of the gunwales, the spaces between the pegs increase, and at
the extreme ends, the outwale will be lashed to the gunwale by widely
spaced groupings of root strand. These are usually temporary, as the
final lashing of the bark to the gunwales will secure the outwales.

After the outwales are secured in place, the bark is fastened to the
assembled gunwales with group lashings. In the Malecite canoe being
built, these are independent, each grouping consisting of eight to ten
complete turns of the root strand. The intervals between, roughly 2
inches, are usually spaced by means of a special measuring-stick to
insure evenness. Before the lashing is actually begun, however, the
excess bark standing above the gunwales is cut away. The bark either
is trimmed flush with the top of the gunwale, or enough is left for a
flap that will fully cover the top of the inner gunwale, to be turned
down under the lashing. The latter method, the stronger, was used by
many builders. In making the turns in the group lashings, two or three
turns may be taken through a single hole in the bark; the Malecites did
this to avoid having the holes too close together. The result is that
the group when seen from outboard appears as a ~W~-form, with only two
or three holes in the bark for an entire group. Care is taken to lay
up the turns over the gunwales neatly, turn against turn without open
spacing or overlaps and crossings.

When this is completed, the ends of the thwarts can be lashed, the
strand passing through the holes in the shoulders, around the two
gunwale members, and through one or two holes in the bark cover. The
groupings for the bark cover are spaced so that these lashings do not
overlap them, and thus the lashings serve a dual purpose.

Next, the gores are usually sewn and the ends of the side panels
closed. To do this, the temporary side battens outside the bark
are removed. Since this is a Malecite canoe, the gores are sewn
edge-to-edge with an over-and-over stitch, the strand crossing the
seam square outside and diagonally inside. When these seams and those
remaining in the upper panels are sewn, the rather stiff bark holds the
shape formed on the building bed to a remarkable degree.

The canoe can now be raised from the building bed. To set it up at a
most convenient working height, the weights are first removed from the
gunwales and the remaining stakes are pulled up. The canoe is then
lifted from its bed and turned upside down over a couple of logs, or
crude horses. Traditionally, logs or sapling were rested across two
pairs of boulders or the logs were tied between two pairs of trees at
convenient distances apart. More recently, horses, formed by sticking
four legs into auger holes drilled in the bottom of a 4-foot length
of timber, were used. After the canoe is on its supports the ends are
ready to be closed in.

The stem-pieces customarily used by the Malecite builder are formed
from two clear white cedar billets a full 36 inches long and in the
rough nearly 1½ inches square. The billets are first shaped so that
the outboard face of each stem-piece is about ¾ inch wide, making it
a truncated triangle in cross-section. Then, along lines parallel to
the base of the truncated triangle, it is split into six laminations
which are carried to within 6 or 7 inches of the end selected to be the
heel of the stem-piece. Just clear of the laminations a notch is cut
into the top side of the heel, to hold the headboard, as will be seen.
The piece is then treated with boiling water until the laminations are
flexible, and the curve of the stem-piece can be formed and either
pegged out or tied with cords until it dries in the desired shape.
When dry the laminations are tightly wrapped with basswood bark cord,
leaving the form of the stem-piece a quarter arc of a circle, with
short tangents at each end, as shown in the illustration (p. 35).

[Illustration: Figure 42

FIFTH STAGE OF CANOE CONSTRUCTION: canoe is removed from building bed
and set on horse in order to shape ends and complete sewing. Bark cover
has dried out in a flat-bottomed and wall-sided form. (_Sketch by

Next, the ends of the outwales are cut to a length determined by the
quality of the bark already in place; if the bark in one end is not
very good, it may be cut away somewhat and the canoe made shorter by
this amount at both ends in finishing. After the ends of the outwales
have been cut, both are notched on the inside at the extreme ends to
take the head of the stem-piece. The outwales may or may not project
¼ or ½ inch beyond the stem and the stem head may project ½ or 1 inch
above the top of the outwales of the canoe; these matters, at the
builder's option, decide the length of the notch and the fitting of the

The stem-piece is now placed between the folded bark end of the canoe
with the heel resting for a small distance along its length on the bark
bottom; the head must come to the right height above the outwales, as
noted. While one worker holds the stem-piece in place, another trims
away the excess bark at the end to the profile of the outboard face of
the stem-piece. Thus the profile of each end is cut and the rake of
the ends is established. The bark is next lashed to the stem-piece.
In this canoe it is done with a spiral over-and-over stitch, a batten
made of a large split root being placed over the edges of the bark, as
the lashing proceeds, to form a stem band. The turns pass alternately
from outboard around the inboard face of the stem-piece and through it;
the awl inserted in the laminations from one side opens them enough to
allow the strand to be forced through. Care is taken to pull up the
strand very hard each time. As the outwale is approached, the bark is
cut away at the notching in each so that the outwales can be brought
snugly against the sides of the stem-piece. Here the strand is brought
up one or two times over the outwales, abaft the stem head, before the
bitter end is tucked, thus locking the outwales to the stem-piece and
the bark. Then a lashing is placed around the outwales just inboard
of the stem-piece, passing through a hole in the flap of the end
deck-piece of bark and through the side bark. This lashing holds the
outboard end of the deck piece flap. At the inboard end of the flap,
another lashing is required, but the pinched-in outwales require
additional securing outboard of this point; hence a lashing is passed
just inboard of the middle of the flap, a little outboard of the ends
of the inwales, and about six inches inboard from this lashing another
is passed through the side bark and around the gunwale and outwale on
each side. These three lashings hold the outwales snug to the ends of
the gunwales and against the projecting bark ends in the pinched-in
form of projecting outwales.

[Illustration: Figure 43

Survey photo._)]

The heels of the stem-pieces rest on the bottom bark and the sewing is
carried down to where the cutting of the profile makes an end to the
seam, the solid part of the heels extending about 6 to 8 inches inboard
of this. Next, any sewing required on the bottom is done. When the bark
cover has been given a final inspection on the outside and all sewing
has been completed, the canoe is lifted from its supports, righted, and
set on the bed or on a smooth grassy place.

All seams are now payed with gum on the inside of the bark while this
can still be done without interference from the sheathing or those
parts of the structure remaining to be installed. The Malecites used
only spruce gum tempered with animal fat. The gum, heated until it is
sufficiently soft to pour like heavy syrup, is spread with a small
wooden paddle or spoon, and is then worked into the seam and smoothed
by rubbing with the thumb dipped in water to prevent the gum from
sticking and burning. It is first worked into the ends, between the
bark and each side of the stem-pieces, particularly near the heel below
the waterline. When the crevices are filled, a piece of bark (in later
times a piece of cloth was used) wide enough to cover the gum alongside
is well smeared with warm gum and pressed down along the inside of the
stem-pieces. On each seam, at gores, and on side panels a thin narrow
strip of bark is smeared with gum and pressed over the seam after the
latter had been well payed. The bark is now carefully scrutinized for
small splits, holes, or thin spots since these can be easily patched
from the inside at this stage of construction. In fitting bark strips
and in gumming, great care is taken to obtain a flat surface; the edges
of the strips inside are faired to the inside face of the bark by
smearing gum along the edges. The canoe is now ready to be sheathed and
ribbed out.

The sheathing for this canoe has been split in advance out of clear
white cedar in splints about 5 to 9 feet long, 3 to 4¼ inches wide, and
⅛ inch thick. The butts of each piece have been whittled to a feather
edge, the bevel extending back about 2 inches. Also, some pieces of
basket ash have been split out of saplings for temporary ribs to hold
the sheathing in place.

A total of 50 or more ribs in five lengths, the longest about 5 feet,
have been made up from white cedar heartwood and bent to the desired

In deciding the rough lengths of the ribs, the builder can resort
to various methods. He can prebend ribs in pairs to a number of
arbitrarily chosen shapes: the first set of six pairs to the desired
midsection form; a second set of five pairs to the form of the section
between the middle and first pair of thwarts; a third, of five pairs,
to the section at the first thwarts each way from the middle; a fourth,
of four pairs, to the section between the end and the first pair of
thwarts each way from the middle; a fifth, of three pairs, to the
section at the end thwarts; and a sixth, of two or three pairs, for the
section at or near the headboards. This makes from 50 to 52 frames in a
canoe measuring 18 or 19 feet overall.

Each frame piece is treated with boiling water and then bent, over the
knee or around a tree, to a slightly greater degree than is needed.
While thus bent, each pair is wrapped lengthwise over the end with a
strip of basswood or cedar bark to hold the ribs in shape. Sometimes
a strut is placed under the bark strips to maintain the desired form,
or a cross-tie of bark may be employed. The ribs are then allowed to
season in this position.

Another method, which will be illustrated later (p. 53), involves
placing ribs of green spruce in their approximate position and forcing
them against the bark. In this method, a number of long battens are
placed over the roughly bent ribs laid loosely inside the bark cover,
and are spread by forcing a series of short crosspieces, or stays,
between them athwartships. The bark is given a good wetting with
boiling water to make it flexible and elastic, so that the pressure
applied to the battens by the temporary crosspieces brings the bark
to the shape desired for the canoe. The rough lengths of the ribs are
determined by use of a measuring stick or by measurements made around
the bark with a piece of flexible root or a batten of basket ash. The
ribs, in any case, are made somewhat longer than required to allow a
final fitting when being placed over the sheathing.

It can be seen that the exact form the canoe takes is largely a matter
of judgment and of the flexibility and elasticity of the bark, rather
than of precise molding on a predetermined model, or lines.

[Illustration: Figure 44

DETAILS OF RIBS and method of shaping them in pairs in a bark strap or
thong so that they take a "set" while drying out.]

In the Malecite canoe the ribs are wide amidships, 3 or 4 inches, and
narrow to 2½ or 2 inches toward the ends. The thickness is an even ⅜
inch. Most birch-bark canoes have ribs of even thickness their full
length, but in a few the thickness is tapered slightly above the turn
of the bilge, usually when the tumble-home is high on the sides and
rather great. The width, as previously explained, is usually carried
all across the bottom; above the bilges there is a moderate taper.

The sheathing of the canoe is now first to be put in place. In the
Malecite canoe the center pieces are the longest; they are tapered
each way from their butts, which overlap about 2 inches amidships. The
ends are made narrow enough to fit readily into the sharp transverse
curve of the bottom and are long enough to pass under the heels of the
stem pieces for an inch or two. The pieces of sheathing on each side
of the center pieces are fitted in the same manner, and by the time
two or three courses are in place they must be held in some manner at
the ends. This is accomplished by means of the rough temporary ribs
mentioned earlier. The sheathing is laid edge-to-edge, with the butts
overlapping, and, if there are not enough long pieces to complete the
bottom amidships, three or four lengths, with overlapped butts, will be
used. As the sheathing progresses, more temporary ribs will have to be
added. At the turn of the bilge, the sheathing will bend transversely
as pressure is applied by the temporary ribs; the bark must be again
wetted so that the angular bilge can be forced into a roughly rounded
form. Particular care is required in finishing the sheathing below the
gunwale to be certain that the top strake will be close up against the
sewing of the bark at gunwales, but no particular attempt is made to
make the edges of the sheathing in the topsides maintain edge-to-edge

The pressure of the temporary ribs, the heads of which are forced under
the gunwales, and the elasticity of the bark due to treating it with
boiling water are enough to rough-shape the canoe.

Before the permanent ribs are placed the sheer is checked. If it
appears to have straightened, the ends of the gunwales are supported
by means of short posts placed under them, with the heels standing on
the heels of the stem pieces or on the sheathing. Then some stakes,
each having a projecting limb or root, are cut and are driven into the
ground with the limb hooked over the gunwale to force it down.

After measurements have been made for the first rib with a strand of
root or an ash batten, it is now cut to a length slightly more than
would permit the rib to be forced upright when in place. The ends of
the rib are set in place in the bevel, or notch, on the underside of
the gunwales, against the bark cover, and with the bottom part of the
rib standing inboard of the head. Then, with one end of a short batten
placed against its inboard side, the rib is driven toward the end of
the canoe with blows from a club on the head of the batten. If the rib
drives too easily it is removed and laid aside; if too hard, it is
shortened. It must go home tightly enough to stretch slightly the bark
cover by bringing pressure to bear on the whole width of the sheathing.
Care is taken, in this operation, to keep moist not only the bark but
also the sewing, particularly along the gunwales, so that all possible
elasticity is obtained. The ribs are set, one by one, working to within
two or three frames of the midship thwart; then the other end of the
canoe is begun. The last three or four ribs to be placed are thus
amidships. In every rib driven, the tension is great, but no rib is
driven so that it stands perpendicular to the base. Those first driven
stand with their bottoms nearer the midship thwart than the ends, and
this angle, or slant, continues to amidships; the ribs in the other end
of the canoe slant in the opposite direction.

It will be evident that skill is required to estimate how much pressure
the bark will stand before bursting under the strain of the driven
ribs. It is also apparent that the shape of the canoe is controlled
by the shaping given the ribs in the prebending, for this fixes the
amount of tumble-home and the amount of round, or rounded-~V~, given to
the bottom athwartships. No fixed rules appear to exist; the eye and
judgment of the builder are his only guides. To show how much strain is
placed on the bark, however, it may be noted that inspection of two old
canoes showed that the gunwale pegs had been noticeably bent between
the inner and outer gunwales.

It appears to have been a rather common practice, after all the ribs
had been driven into place, to allow the canoe to stand a few days and
then again to set the frames (where unevenness appears in the topsides)
with driving batten and maul, the bark cover and the root sewing or
lashings having been again thoroughly wetted.

The headboards are now to be made. These are shaped in the form of an
elongate-oval from a wide splint of white cedar about 4 inches wide
at midlength and ¼ inch thick. The narrow end is first cut off square
or nearly so; the bottom end is notched to fit in the notch in the
heel of the stem-piece and the top has a small tenon at the centerline
that will be fitted into a hole drilled or gouged in the underside
of the inner gunwales where they join at the ends. The length of the
headboards in the canoe being built is 15¾ inches over all, and when
they have been made for each end, they are checked as to width and
height to see that they can be fitted. Next, the extreme ends of the
canoe between the stem and the headboards are stuffed with dry cedar
shavings or dry moss so that the sides stand firm on each side of the
bow outboard of the ends of the sheathing, which ends rather unevenly,
just outboard of where the headboards will stand. This completed, the
headboards are forced into position by first stepping the heel notch
in the stem-piece notch and then bending the board by placing one
hand against its middle and pulling the top toward the worker. This
shortens the height of the board enough so the tenon projecting on its
head can be sprung into the small hole under the inner gunwales, where
it becomes rigidly fixed. Its sprung shape pushes up the gunwales and
makes the side bark of the ends very taut and smooth, while supporting
the gunwale ends.

Two thin strips about 19 feet long are next split out of white cedar
to form the gunwale caps; these are ¼ to ⅜ inch thick, and taper each
way from about 2 inches wide in the middle to 1 inch wide at the ends.
These are laid along the top of the inner gunwales and fastened down
with pegs placed clear of the gunwale lashings. The ends of the strips
are usually secured by two or three small lashings; the caps thus
formed often stop short of the ends of the inner gunwale members. If
the caps are carried right out to the stems, as was the practice of
some Malecite builders, the lashings of the outwale are not turned in
until after the caps are in place, in which case the bark deck pieces,
or flaps, are put in just before the final lashing is made.

[Illustration: Figure 45

SIXTH STAGE OF CANOE CONSTRUCTION: canoe has been righted and placed
on a grassy or sandy spot. In this stage splints for sheathing (upper
left) are fixed in place and held by temporary ribs (lower right) under
the gunwales. The bark cover has been completely sewn and the shape of
the canoe is set by the temporary ribs. (_Sketch by Adney._)]

Next, the canoe is turned upside-down and all seams are gummed smoothly
on the outside. The ends, from the beginning of the seam to above the
waterline, may be heavily gummed and then covered with a narrow strip
of thin bark, heavily enough smeared with gum to cause it to adhere
over the seam. In more recent times a piece of gummed cloth was used
here. Above this protective strip, the end seams are filled with gum so
that the outside can be smoothed off flush on the face of the cutwater
between the stitches. All seams in the side and bottom are gummed
smooth and any holes or patches remaining to be gummed are taken care
of in this final inspection.

If the canoe is to be decorated (not many types were) the outside
of the bark is moistened and the rough, reddish winter bark, or
inner rind, is scraped away, leaving only enough to form the desired
decorations. When paints of various colors could be obtained, these
were also employed, but the use of the inner rind was apparently the
older and more common method of decorating.

The paddles are made from splints of spruce or maple, ash, white cedar,
or larch. Two forms of blade were used by the Malecite. The older form
is long and narrow, with the blade wide near the top and the taper
straight along each edge to a narrow, rounded point. Above the greatest
width, the blade tapers almost straight along the edge, coming into
an oval handle very quickly. At the head, the handle is widened and
it ends squared off, but the taper toward the handle is straight, not
flared as in modern canoe paddles; there is no swelling. Paddles of a
shape similar to this, some without a wide handle, were used by other
eastern Indians. The more recent form of Malecite paddle has a long
leaf-shaped, or beaver-tail, blade, much like that of the modern canoe
paddle, except that it ends in a dull point; the handle is as in the
old form but the head is swelled to form the upper grip. The face of
the blade, in both old and new form, has a noticeable ridge down the

[Illustration: Figure 46

Adney. (From _Harper's Young People_, supplement, July 29, 1890.)]

The eastern style of construction described here produced what might
be called a wide-bottom canoe with some tumble-home above the turn of
the bilge, but a different method of construction was used to produce
canoes having a narrow bottom and flaring sides. These canoes were not
set up on the building bed, in the first steps of shaping the hull,
with the gunwale frame on the cover bark. Instead, a special building
frame, mentioned earlier, was used. Each tribe using the building frame
had its own style, but the variations were confined to minor matters or
to proportion of width to length.

In general, the building frame is made of two squared battens, about
1¼ inch square for an 18-foot canoe. These, sometimes tapered slightly
toward each end, are fitted with crosspieces with halved notches in
each end to fit over the top of the battens. There may be as many as
nine or as few as three of these crosspieces, with seven apparently a
common number. Where ends of the long battens join they are beveled
slightly on the inside face and notches are cut on the outside face
to take the end lashings. Each crosspiece end is lashed around the
long battens, a hole being made in each end of the crosspiece for
this purpose. The lashings, commonly bark or rawhide thongs, are all
temporary, as the building frame has to be dismantled to remove it from
the canoe. Sometimes holes are drilled in the ends of the crosspieces,
or in the long battens, and in them are stepped the posts used to fix
the sheer of the gunwales.

The methods of construction, using the building frame, varied somewhat
among the tribes. Since the gunwale was both longer and wider across
than the building frame, the posts for sheering were set with outboard
flare. However, some builders made the gunwales hogged by staking
them out when green, and then set them above the building frame with
vertical posts. These gunwales would not be fitted with thwarts nor
would the thwart tenons always be cut at this stage. The bark was
lashed to the gunwales while they were in the hogged position with the
ends secured; the gunwales were then spread by inserting spreaders,
or stays, between them, after which the thwarts were fitted. This
method required knowledge of just how much hog should be given to the
gunwales, and it must be stated that not all builders guessed right
enough to produce a good-looking sheer. Judging the hogging required
in the gunwales was complicated by the fact that most of these canoes
had laminated ends in the gunwales at bow and stern, and a quick upturn
there as well. This method of construction persisted, however, because
the straight sides made easy the sewing of gores and side panels. In
some Alaskan birch-bark canoes the building frame was, in fact, part of
the hull structure and remained in the canoe. In these, the building
frame was hogged and then flattened by the ribs in construction so as
to smooth the bottom bark by placing it under tension. In some canoes
the posts for sheering the canoe rested under the thwarts rather than
under the gunwales. In most canoes the building frame was taken apart
and removed from the canoe when the gunwale structure was complete and
in place, sheered.

Where large sheets of bark were available, the setting up with the
building frame or gunwale was made easier than where the bark had to be
pieced out for both length and width. If large pieces of bark could be
obtained there was little or no sewing on the bottom; only the gores
or laps, and the panels, in the side required attention after the bark
had been lashed to the gunwales. In such instances, the set-up did not
require perpendicular sides, as the sides could be completed after the
canoe was removed from the building bed and the building frame had been
removed from the hull. There were many minor variations in the set-up
and in the sequence of the sewing. In view of the slight opportunities
that now exist for examining the old building methods and construction
sequences, it is impossible to be certain that the one used by a
tribe in recent times was that employed in prehistoric times by their

Instead of a laminated stem-piece, a large root whittled to the desired
cross section was sometimes used by builders among the Malecites and
other eastern tribes. This was bent into the ends while green and to
it was lashed the bark, so that the stem dried in place to the desired
profile curve. No inner stem-piece was used by the Micmacs, who formed
the end structure by placing a split-root batten on each outside face
of the bark and passing the lashing around both. When a plank-on-edge
was used to form the stem-piece, as mentioned earlier, no headboard was
required, as the gunwales ends could be brought to the plank structure.
In canoes having the complicated stem structure seen in the large
fur-trade canoes and some others, the headboard became an integral part
of the stem structure, rather than an independent unit, and was placed
in the canoe during building with the stem-pieces.

There was much variation in the form of gunwale structure employed in
bark canoes. A strip of bark was added all along the outwale by some
tribes, so that between the gunwale members and for a short distance
below the sewing the bark was doubled; the bottom of this strip was,
in fact, a flap not secured and thus was much like the flaps at the
ends of the Malecite canoe, but without covering the top of the main
gunwales. The outwale and inwale cross sections of some canoes were
almost round. The use of a single gunwale member is commonly followed
by continuous lashing of the bark along it. On some northwestern canoes
having continuous lashing, the ends of the ribs were made in sharp
points that could penetrate between the turns of root sewing, under
the gunwales. The ends of the ribs in some of these were secured more
firmly by tying them to long battens placed between the ribs and the
bark cover just below the gunwales. The northwestern canoes built in
this manner had double gunwales, an outwale and an inwale, but no bevel
or notch for the rib heads. The ends of the gunwales, inner and outer,
were secured in many ways. Some, instead of being pegged and lashed,
were simply tied together; others were fastened by a rather elaborate
lashing through the bark and around the gunwales. Caps were sometimes
allowed to overlap at the ends and were pinned together with pegs or
lashed. In some canoes the outwales were lashed, rather than pegged, to
the inwales, and for this and for the caps rawhide appears to have once
been widely used. In some canoes the head of the stem-piece was bent
inboard sharply and lashed to the ends of the inwales or outwales. In
many canoes the gunwales, instead of stopping short of the stem-piece,
ran to it and were lashed there.

[Illustration: Figure 47

GUNWALE CONSTRUCTION and thwart or crossbar fastenings, as shown in a
sketch by Adney. (From _Harper's Young People_, supplement, July 29,

At the start of ribbing out a canoe, the first two or three ribs might
not be put at each end until after the headboards had been fitted,
and sometimes a rib was placed on each side of the middle thwart,
apparently to hold securely the sheathing butted amidships while the
ribbing progressed toward them from the ends. When a canoe was short
and rather wide, the ribs usually were bent by placing them inside
the faired bark cover before the sheathing was installed, there to
dry and set or to season, depending on whether they were steamed or
green. Prebending the ribs, as described in the building of a Malecite
canoe, worked well only when the canoe was long, narrow, and sharp. The
spacing of the ribs was done by eye, not by precise measurement, and
was never exactly the same over the length of the canoe. Ribs near the
ends were usually spaced at greater intervals than those in the middle
third of the length.

The extension of the bark beyond the ends of the inner gunwale in an
eastern canoe was often about one foot on each end, but this distance
was actually determined by the length of the bark available and by the
usual reluctance of the builder to add a panel at the end.

For the height of the end posts, in sheering the gunwales, a common
Malecite measurement was the length of the forearm from knuckles of
clenched fist to back of elbow. These posts were often left in place
until the stems were fitted.

The use of a building frame is known to have been common in areas
where, normally, the gunwale frame would be employed in the initial
steps in building. In a few instances this occurred when a builder
had a number of canoes of the same size to construct. It seems
probable that the use of the building frame spread into Eastern areas
comparatively recently as a result of the influence of the fur-trade
canoes on construction methods. The employment of the plank building
bed in the East is known to have occurred among individual canoe
builders late in the nineteenth century as a result of this influence.

The use of nails and tacks instead of pegs and root lashing or sewing
in bark canoe construction became quite widespread early in the
nineteenth century; it is to be seen in many old canoes preserved in
museums. The bark in these is often secured to the gunwales with carpet
or flat-headed tacks, and both the outwale and the cap are nailed
to the inner gunwales with cut or wire nails. Various combinations
of lashings and nailing can be seen in these canoes, although such
combinations are sometimes the result of comparatively recent repairs
or restorations rather than evidence of the original construction.
No date can be placed on the introduction of nails into Indian canoe
building, although it may be said that nailing was used in many eastern
areas before 1850.

Among the many published descriptions of the method of building bark
canoes the earliest give very incomplete information on the building
sequence and usually contain obvious errors as to proportions and
materials. (An example is that of Nicolas Denys, who, sometime between
1632 and 1650, saw bark canoes being built in what is now New Brunswick
and Cape Breton.) The best descriptions are relatively recent and, as a
result, may describe methods of construction that are not aboriginal.

The description given here is based upon notes made by Adney in 1889-90
and upon inspection of old canoes from the various tribal areas. It
was noted that, although among canoes of the same approximate length
there was some variation in dimensions and some variety in end form,
the construction appeared to vary remarkably little, and it is apparent
that the Malecites held very closely to a fixed sequence in the
building process. There was, however, great variation in detail. The
number of gore slashes in canoes 18 to 19 feet long varied from 10 to
23 on a side. The number was not always the same on both sides of a
canoe nor were the gores always opposite one another. Canoes with long,
sharp ends often had a large number of closely spaced gores in the
middle third of the length, with widely spaced gores toward the ends.
Full-ended canoes, on the other hand, had rather equally spaced gores
their full length. The amount and form of rocker was also a factor in
spacing the gores, and when the rocker was confined to short distances
close to the ends there would naturally be rather closely spaced gores
in these portions of the sides.

A number of the building practices remain to be described, but these
will be best understood when the individual tribal canoe forms are
examined. No written description of building canoes can be understood
without reference to drawings, and to promote this understanding
construction details have been shown on many of those of individual
canoes of each tribal type.

[Illustration: Figure 48

"PETER JOE AT WORK." Drawing by Adney for his article "How an Indian
Birch-Bark Canoe is Made" (_Harper's Young People_, supplement, July
29, 1890).]

_Chapter Four_


Study of the tribal forms of bark canoes might well be started with
the canoes of the eastern coastal Indians, whose craft were the first
seen by white men. These were the canoes of the Indians inhabiting
what are now the Maritime Provinces and part of Quebec, on the shores
of the St. Lawrence River and in Newfoundland, in Canada, and of the
Indians of Maine and New Hampshire, in New England. Within this area
were the Micmac, the Malecite, and the mixture of tribal groups known
as the Abnaki in modern times, as well as the Beothuk of Newfoundland.
All these groups were expert canoe builders and it was their work that
first impressed the white men with the virtues of the birch-bark canoe
in forest travel.


The Micmac Indians appear to have occupied the Gaspé Peninsula, most of
the north shore of New Brunswick and nearly all the shores of the Bay
of Fundy as well as all of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Cape
Breton. They may have also occupied much of southern and central New
Brunswick as well, but if so they had been driven from these sections
by the Malecites before the white men came. The Micmacs were known
to the early French invaders under a variety of names; "Gaspesians,"
"Canadiens," "Sourikois," or "Souriquois," while the English colonists
of New England called them merely "Eastern Indians." The name Micmac is
said to mean "allies" and not known, but this name was in use early in
the 18th century, if not before 1700.

The Micmac were a hunting people with warlike characteristics; they
aided the Malecite and other New England Indians in warfare against the
early New England colonists and in later times aided the French against
the English in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. These Indians lived in an
area where water transport represented the easiest method of travel and
so they became expert builders and users of birch-bark canoes, which
they employed in hunting, fishing, general travel, and warfare.

The area in which they lived produced fine birch bark and suitable wood
for the framework. Through experience, they had become able to design
canoes for specific purposes and had produced a variety of models and
sizes. The hunting canoe was the smallest, being usually somewhere
between 9 and 14 feet long, with an occasional canoe as long as 15
feet. This light craft, known as a "woods canoe" and sometimes as a
"portage canoe," was intended for navigating very small streams and
for portaging. Another model, the "big-river canoe," somewhat longer
than the woods canoe, was usually between 15 and 20 feet long. A third
model, the "open water canoe," was for hunting seal and porpoise in
salt water and ranged from about 18 feet to a little over 24 feet in
length. The fourth model, the "war canoe," about which little is known,
appears to have been built in either the "big-river" or "open-water"
form, and to the same length, but sharper and with less beam so as to
be faster.

The tribal characteristics of the Micmac birch-bark canoes were to be
seen in the form of the midsection, in certain structural details, and
in their generally sharp, torpedo-shaped lines. The construction was
very light and marked by good workmanship. The distinctive profiles of
bow and stern, which do not appear in the canoes of other tribes in so
radical a form, were almost circular, fairing from the bottom around
into the sheer in a series of curves. The break in the profile of the
ends at the sheer, a break that marks in more or less degree, the end
profile of other tribal forms, never occurs in the Micmac canoe. At
most, a slight break in the "streamlined" curve might occur at the
point where the profile was started in the bottom, at which point there
might be a short, hard curve.

[Illustration: Figure 49

MICMAC 2-FATHOM PACK, OR WOODS, CANOE for woods travel with light
loads, used by the Nova Scotia Micmacs.]

The form of the sheer line of the Micmac canoes apparently varied with
the model: the woods canoe had the usual curved sheer with the point
of lowest freeboard about amidships, the big river canoe had either a
nearly straight sheer or one very slightly hogged, while the open-water
canoe had a strongly hogged sheer in which the midship portion was
often as much as 3 or 4 inches above that just inboard of the ends.
However, there is a possibility that, at one time, the sheer of all
Micmac canoes was more or less hogged. The little that is known of the
war canoes of colonial times indicate that they had the strongly hogged
sheer that now marks the open-water model, through it is also known
that some of these were really of the big-river model, which in later
times had usually no more than a vestige of the hogged sheer.

The hull-forms of the Micmac canoes were marked in the topsides by a
strong tumble-home, carried the full length of the hull, that gave
these canoes more beam below than at the gunwale. The form of the
midsection varied with the model; the woods canoe usually had a rather
flat bottom athwartships, the big river canoe a slightly rounded
bottom, and the open water canoe either a well-rounded bottom or one
in the form of a slightly rounded ~V~. The fore-and-aft rocker in the
bottom was always moderate, usually occurring in the last few feet near
the ends; however, many of the canoes were straight along the bottom.
This condition will be again referred to in discussing the building
beds used in this type. The ends were usually fine-lined; in plan view
the gunwales came into the ends in straight or slightly hollow lines.
The level lines below the gunwales might also be straight as they came
into the ends, but were commonly somewhat hollow; a few examples show
marked hollowness there. Predominantly, the Micmac canoes were very
sharp in the ends and paddled swiftly. Early Micmac canoes seem to have
been narrower than more recent examples, which are usually rather broad
as compared to the types used by some other tribes.

Structurally, the Micmac canoes were distinguished by the construction
of the ends and by their light build throughout. The canoes had no
inner framework to shape the ends; stiffness there was obtained by
placing battens outside the bark, one on each side of the hull, that
ran from the bottom of the cut in the bark required to shape the ends
to somewhat inboard of the ends of the gunwales at the sheer. These two
battens, as well as a split-root stem-band covering the raw ends of the
cut bark, were held in place by passing a spiral over-and-over lashing
around all three. Sometimes thicker battens reaching from the high
point of the ends inboard to the end thwarts were added, in which case
the side battens were stopped at the high point of the ends and there
faired into the thick battens.

[Illustration: Figure 50

MICMAC 2-FATHOM PACK, OR WOODS, CANOE with Northern Lights decoration
on bow, and seven thwarts.]

The gunwale structure was rather light, the maximum cross section of
the main gunwale in large canoes being rarely in excess of 1¼ inches
square. These members usually tapered slightly toward the ends of the
canoe and had a half-arrowhead form where they were joined. Old canoes
had no guard or outwale, but some more recent Micmac canoes have had a
short guard along the middle third of the length. Often there was no
bevel to take the rib ends on the lower outboard corner of the main
gunwales, and the gunwales were not fitted so that their outboard faces
stood vertically. Instead, the tenons in the gunwales were cut to slant
upward from the inside, so that installation of the thwarts would cause
the outboard face to flare outward at the top. Between this face and
the inside of the bark cover were forced the beveled ends of the ribs,
which were cut chisel-shape. However, some builders beveled or rounded
the lower outboard corner of the main gunwale, as described under
Malecite canoe building (p. 38). The bark cover in the Micmac canoe was
always brought up over the gunwales, gored to prevent unevenness, and
folded down on top of them before being lashed. The gunwale lashing was
a continuous one in which the turns practically touched one another
outboard, though they were sometimes separated under the gunwale to
clear the ribs, which widened near their ends, so the intervals between
them were very small.

The other member of the gunwale structure was the cap; its thickness
was usually ¼ to ⅜ inch, reduced slightly toward the ends. Its inboard
face and the bottom were flat, but the top was somewhat rounded, with
the thickness reduced toward the outboard edge. The cap was fastened
to the main gunwales with pegs and with short lashing groups near the
ends, but in late examples nails were used. The ends of the caps were
bevelled off on the inboard side, so that they came together in pointed
form. The cap usually ended near the end of the gunwale but in some
canoes, particularly those that were nail-fastened, the cap was let
into the gunwale (see p. 50) so that the top was flush with end of the

[Illustration: Figure 51

MICMAC 2-FATHOM PACK, OR WOODS, CANOE with normal sheer and flat

The ends of the gunwales were supported by headboards that were bellied
outboard to bring tension vertically on the bark cover. The heel of the
board stood on a short frog, laid on the bottom with the inboard end
touching or slightly lapping over the endmost rib. The frog supported
the heels of the headboard and also the forefoot of the stem-piece,
which otherwise would have but partial support from the sewing battens
outside the ends at these points. The headboard was rather oval-shaped
and the top was notched on each side to fit under the gunwale; the
narrow central tenon stood slightly above the top of the main gunwales
when the headboard was sprung into place and was held in position by a
lashing across the gunwales inboard of the top of the headboard. The
heel was held by the notch in the frog. Cedar shavings were stuffed
into the ends of the canoe between the stem-piece and the headboard
to mold the ends properly, as no ribs could be inserted there. All
woodwork in these canoes was white cedar, except the headboards and
thwarts, which were maple, and the stem battens, which were usually
basket ash but sometimes were split spruce roots.

The more recent Micmac canoes usually had no more than five thwarts;
this number was found even on small woods canoes. However, old records
indicate that canoes 20 to 28 feet long on the gunwales were once built
with seven thwarts. The shape of the thwarts varied, apparently in
accordance with the builder's fancy. The most common form was nearly
rectangular in cross-section; in elevation, it was thick at the hull
centerline and tapered smoothly to the outboard ends; and in plan it
was narrowest at the hull centerline and increased in width toward
the ends, the increase being rather sharp at the shoulders of the
tenon. In some, the tenon went through the main gunwales and touched
the inside of the bark cover; in others the ends of the thwarts were
pointed in elevation, square in plan, and were inserted in shallow,
blind tenons on the inboard side of the main gunwales. A single 3-turn
lashing through a hole in the shoulder and around the main gunwale was
used in every case.

[Illustration: Figure 51

MICMAC 2-FATHOM PACK, OR WOODS, CANOE with normal sheer and flat

Sometimes the thwarts just described were straight (in plan view) on
the side toward the middle of the canoe, and only the middle thwart
was alike on both sides. In others the straight side of the end thwart
and of that next inboard were toward the bow and stern of the canoe.
In still others, the middle thwart had a rounded barb form in plan,
with the barb located within 6 or 7 inches of the shoulder and pointed
toward the tenon; the next thwarts out on each side of the middle
thwart were shaped like a cupid's bow but slightly angular and aimed
toward the ends of the canoe, and the end thwarts were of similar plan.
In one known example having such thwarts, there were two very short
thwarts at the ends of the canoe, of the usual plain form described
earlier, each a few inches inboard of the headboard. Thus this canoe
had seven thwarts in the old fashion.

The ribs, or frames, were thin, about ¼ or ⁵⁄₁₆ inch thick, and across
the bottom of the canoe they were often 3 inches wide. In the topsides
the ribs were tapered to about 2 inches in width; when the bottom
and outboard corner of the main gunwales were not beveled, the rib
ends were cut square across on the wide face and chisel-shaped. When
the gunwale corner was beveled, the ribs were formed with a sharply
tapered dull point at the ends. From the middle of the canoe to the
first thwarts each way from the middle, the ribs were spaced 1 inch
edge-to-edge. From the first thwarts to the ends, the spacing was about
1½ inches. Most builders made the ribs narrower toward the ends; if
those in the middle of the canoe were 3 inches wide, those near the
ends might be 2½. They were shaped and placed as described for the
Malecite canoe in Chapter 3.

In the construction of a Micmac canoe, the gunwales were first formed,
assembled, and used as a building frame. If the sheer was to be hogged,
this was done by treating the main gunwales with boiling water before
assembly and then staking them out to dry in the required sheer curves.
The building bed was well crowned, usually 2 to 2½ inches because of
the very wide bottom and the tumble-home of these canoes. Most Micmac
canoes appear to have had only slight fore-and-aft rocker in the
bottom; the bottoms of the seagoing type were often quite straight,
and the other two types had a slight rocker of perhaps 1½ inches, most
of it near the ends. When the sheer was hogged, the amount of hog was
probably close to the amount of crown in the building bed. The ends
of the gunwales, when laid on the bed, were blocked up to about the
desired amount of rocker to be given the bottom.

[Illustration: Figure 53

battens project gunwales to strengthen the ends of the canoe. Some
specimens of this type of canoe had almost no rocker in the bottom.]

The bark cover was selected with great care from the fine stand of
paper birch available to the Micmac. Except in emergencies, only winter
bark was used. The cover was gored six to eight times on each side,
and most of these cuts were grouped amidships, owing to the sharpness
of the ends. The gores were trimmed edge-to-edge, without overlap, as
the Micmac preferred a smooth surfaced canoe, and the sewing was the
common spiral, over and over. The width of the bark cover was usually
pieced out amidships on each side (at least in existing models) by the
addition of narrow panels. These may not have been necessary in the
very old canoes, which appear to have been much narrower than more
recent examples. The horizontal seams of the panels were straight, or
nearly so, and did not follow the sheer. The closely spaced spiral
over-and-over stitch was sewn over a batten, the lap being toward the
gunwale. As has been said, a continuous over-and-over gunwale lashing
was used. The thwart lashings were through single holes in the thwart
shoulders, three turns being usual, and two turns around the gunwale on
each side were added, all passing through the bark cover, of course.
The sewing was neat and the stitches were even.

The wood lining, or sheathing, of the Micmac canoe was like that
described for the Malecite canoe in the last chapter. The sheathing was
a full ⅛ to about ³⁄₁₆ inch thick. The strakes were laid edge-to-edge
longitudinally, with slightly overlapping butts amidships, and were
tapered toward the ends of the canoe. The maximum width of any strake
at the butts was about 4 inches.

[Illustration: Figure 54

MICMAC ROUGH-WATER CANOE, Bathurst, N.B. (_Canadian Geological Survey

In some of the rough-water canoes fitted to sail, a guard strip running
the full length of the canoe and located some 6 or 7 inches below the
gunwale was placed along both sides to protect the strongly tumble-home
sides from abrasion from the paddles, particularly when the craft was
steered under sail. These strips, about ⁵⁄₁₆ inch thick and ¾ inch
wide, were butted on each side, a little abaft amidships, and were held
together by a single stitch. The guards were secured in place by rather
widely spaced stitches around them that passed through the bark cover
and ceiling, between the ribs in the topsides. At bow and stern, the
ends of the guards butted against the battens outside the bark at the
end profiles and were secured there by a through-all lashing.

[Illustration: Figure 55

MICMAC WOODS CANOE, built by Malecite Jim Paul at St. Mary's Reserve
in 1911, under the direction of Joe Pictou, old canoe builder of Bear
River, N.S. Modern nailed type. (_Canadian Geological Survey photo._)]

The proportions and measurements of the Micmac canoes appear to have
changed between the colonial period and the late 19th century. From
early references, it is apparent that the early canoes were much
narrower than later ones, in proportion to length, as mentioned
earlier. An 18-foot rough-water canoe of the 18th century appears to
have had an extreme beam of between 30 and 34 inches and a gunwale
beam, measured inside the members, of 24 to 28 inches, the depth
amidships being about 18 to 20 inches. A similar canoe late in the 19th
century would have had an extreme beam of nearly 40 inches, a beam
inside the gunwales of 33 or 34 inches, and a depth of about 18 inches
or less. An early woods canoe, about 14 feet long overall, appears
to have had an extreme beam of only 29 inches and a beam inside the
gunwales of about 25 or 26 inches. A woods canoe of 1890 was 15 feet
long, 36½ inches extreme beam, and 30 inches inside the gunwales, with
the depth amidships about 11 inches. A big-river canoe of this same
date was a little over 20 feet in extreme length, 18 feet over the
gunwales, 41 inches extreme beam, and 34 inches gunwale width inside,
with a depth amidships of about 12½ inches. An 18-foot big-river canoe
of an earlier time was reported as being 37 inches extreme beam, 30½
inches inside the gunwales, and 13 inches depth amidships. The maximum
size of the rough-water seagoing canoe, in early times, may have been
as great as 28 feet but with a narrow beam of roughly 29 or 30 inches
over the gunwales, and say 24 inches inside, with a depth amidships
as much as 20 or 22 inches due to the strongly hogged sheer there. In
modern times, such canoes were rarely over 21 feet in overall length
and had a maximum beam of about 42 inches, a beam inside the gunwales
of 36 or 37 inches, and a depth amidships of 16 or 17 inches.

In early colonial times, and well into the 18th century, apparently,
the Micmac type of canoe was used as far south as New England, probably
having been brought there by the Micmac war parties aiding the Malecite
and the Kennebec in their wars against the English. The canoe in the
illustration on page 12 is obviously a Micmac canoe and apparently one
used by a war party. As it was brought to England in 1749 in the ship
_America_, which was built in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and probably
sailed from there, it seems highly probable that the canoe had been
obtained nearby, perhaps in eastern Maine.

The small woods canoe, most commonly about 12 feet long, appears first
to have been used by all the Micmac. By the middle of the 19th century,
however, this type was to be found only in Nova Scotia, owing to the
movement of most of the tribe toward the north shore in New Brunswick,
where their inland navigation was confined to large rivers and the
coast. Hence the Micmac in New Brunswick used the big-river model and
the seagoing type. The latter was last used in the vicinity of the head
of Bay Chaleur and was often called the Restigouche canoe, after the
Micmac village of that name. It was replaced by a 3-board skiff-canoe
and finally by a large wooden canoe of the "Peterborough" type with
peaked ends and lapstrake planking; some of the latter may still be
seen on the Gaspé Peninsula.

[Illustration: Figure 56

MICMAC ROUGH-WATER CANOE fitted for sailing. (_Photo W. H. Mechling,

The use of sail in the Micmac canoes cannot be traced prior to the
arrival of the white men. The use probably resulted from the influence
of Europeans, but it is possible that the prehistoric Indians may
have set up a leafy bush in the bow of their canoes to act as a sail
with favorable winds. The old Nova Scotia expression "carrying too
much bush," meaning over-canvassing a boat, is thought by some to
have originated from an Indian practice observed there by the first
settlers. In early colonial times, the Micmac used a simple square
sail in their canoes and this, by the last decade of the 19th century,
was replaced by a spritsail probably inspired by the dory-sail of the
fishermen. The Indian rig was unusual in several respects. The sheet,
for example, was double-ended; one end was made fast to the clew of the
sail and the other to the head of the sprit, so that it served also
as a vang. The bight was secured within reach of the steersman by a
half hitch to a crossbar fixed well aft across the gunwales. The sail,
nearly rectangular and with little or no peak, was laced to the mast,
and the sprit was supported by a "snotter" lanyard tied low on the
mast. A sprit boom was also carried by some canoes; this was secured to
the clew of the sail and to the mast, a snotter lanyard being used at
the latter position.

[Illustration: Figure 57

Bathurst, N.B._)]

[Illustration: Figure 58

Survey photo._)]

The mast was secured by a thwart pegged, or nailed, across the gunwale
caps. Sometimes, the thwart was also notched over the caps, so that
the side-thrust caused by the leverage of the mast would not shear the
fastenings. The crossbar for the sheet was sometimes similarly fastened
and fitted, with its ends projecting outboard of the gunwales. The heel
of the mast was sometimes stepped into a block, which was usually about
5 inches square and 1½ inches thick, nailed or pegged to the center
bottom board, or sometimes it was merely stepped into a hole in the
center bottom board. The bottom boards, usually three in number were
of wide, thin stock and were clamped in place over the ribs by three or
four false frames driven under the thwarts, just as were the canoe ribs
under the gunwales.

[Illustration: Figure 59


The canoes could not sail close-hauled, as a rule, though some Indians
learned to use a leeboard in the form of a short plank hung vertically
over the lee side and secured by a lanyard to a thwart, the board
being shifted in tacking. An alternate was to have a passenger hold a
paddle vertically on the lee side. There seems to have been no fixed
proportions to the area of sail used; the actual areas appear to have
been somewhere between 50 and 100 square feet, depending upon the size
of the canoe. Joseph Dadaham, a Micmac, stated in 1925 that he used "24
yards" in the sail of a "rough-water canoe" 20 feet long and about 44
inches beam, while one 18 feet long and about 36 inches extreme beam
carried "16 to 18 yards"; it is obvious that the "yards" are of narrow
sail cloth and not square yards of finished sail. In the last days of
sailing bark canoes, mast hoops and a halyard block were fitted so that
the sail could be lowered instead of having to be furled around the
mast (to accomplish this the "crew" had to stand). Dadaham also stated
that for his sheet belay he used a jamb-hitch which could be released
quickly when the canoe was found to be overpowered by the wind. It
appears that during the last era of these bark canoes the rig had been
improved to fit it for open-water sailing.

The paddles used by the Micmac appear to have varied in shape. If the
canoe shown in Chapter 1 (p. 12) was indeed a Micmac canoe as supposed,
the paddle shown there is quite different from the later tribal forms
illustrated above, and it is possible that the top grips shown in the
more modern forms were never used in prehistoric times, when the pole
handle shown with the old canoe may have been standard.

The Micmac canoes were decorated by scraping away part of the inner
rind of the birch bark, leaving portions of it in a formal design.
It seems very probable that the Micmac seldom used this form of
decoration in early times, but later they used it a great deal in their
rough-water canoes, perhaps as a result of contact with the Malecite.
The formal designs used as decoration by the Micmac did not have any
particular significance as a totem or religious symbol; they were
used purely as decoration or to identify the owner. Such forms as the
half-moon, a star in various shapes, or some other figure might be used
by the builder, but these were apparently only his canoe mark, not a
family insignia or his usual signature, and could be altered at will.

The usual method of decoration was to place the canoe mark on both
sides of the canoe at the ends and to have along the gunwales amidships
a long narrow panel of decoration, usually of some simple form. The
panel decorations are said by Micmacs to have been selected by the
builder merely as pleasing designs. One design used was much like the
fleur-de-lis, another was a series of triangles supposed to represent
camps, still another was the northern lights design, a series of
closely spaced, sloping, parallel lines (or very narrow panels) that
seem to represent a design much used in the quill decoration for
which the Micmac were noted. Canoes are recorded as having stylized
representations of a salmon, a moose, a cross, or a very simple star
form; these may have been canoe marks or may once have been a tribal
mark in a certain locality. A series of half-circles were sometimes
used in the gunwale panels, which were rarely alike on both sides of
the canoe, and it is probable that use was made of other forms that
have not been recorded. Colored quills in northern lights pattern were
used in some model or toy canoes but not in any surviving example of a
full-size canoe. It is quite possible, however, that such quill-work
was once used in Micmac canoe decoration. Painting of the bark cover
for decorative purposes in Micmac canoes has not been recorded.

[Illustration: Figure 60

MICMAC CANOE, BATHURST, N.B. (_Canadian Geological Survey photo._)]

Historical references to the canoes of the Micmac are frequent in
the French records of Canada; it must have been Micmac canoes that
Cartier saw in 1534 at Prince Edward Island and in Bay Chaleur. The
most complete description of such canoes is in the account of Nicolas
Denys, who came to the Micmac country in 1633 and remained there almost
continuously until his death at 90, in 1688. His travels during this
period took him into Maine as far as the Penobscot and throughout what
are now New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. While his descriptions are
primarily concerned with the Malecite dress, houses, and hunting and
fishing techniques, his notes on birch-bark canoes seem to indicate
very clearly that he is describing a hogged-sheer Micmac rough-water
canoe. He says, for example, that the length of these canoes was
between 3 and 4½ fathoms, the fathom being the French _brasse_, so
that they ranged in length from 16 to 24 feet over the gunwales. This
gunwale length seems reasonable, since Denys gives the beam as only
about 2 English feet, obviously a gunwale measurement in view of
the great tumble-home in these canoes. That the Micmac rough-water
canoe is the subject of Denys' observations is further indicated by
his statement that the depth was such that the gunwales came to the
armpits of a man seated on the bottom. This could only be true in a
canoe having a hogged sheer in the lengths given, and is, in fact, a
slight exaggeration unless the man referred to was of less than average
height. The depth would be about 22 English inches, great even for a
24-foot canoe. Denys states that the inside sheathing of these canoes
was split from cedar. He also states that the splints were about 4
inches wide, were tapered toward the ends, and ran the full length of
the canoe. It is probable that they were butted amidships, as in known
examples; this, however, would have been covered by a rib and might not
have been noticed.

Denys says that the Indians "bent the cedar ribs in half-circles to
form ribs and shaped them in the fire." Adney believed this meant by
use of hot water. However, this bending could have been done by what
was known in 17th-century shipbuilding practice as stoving, in which
green lumber was roasted over an open fire until the sap and wood
became hot enough to allow a strong bend to be made without breakage.
Wood thus treated, when cooled and seasoned somewhat, would hold
the set. While it is certain that later Indians knew how to employ
hot water, it does not follow that all tribes used this method,
particularly in early times.

Denys also states that the roots of "fir," split into three or four
parts, were used in sewing. He apparently used "fir" as a general name
for an evergreen. It is probable that the roots used were of the black
spruce. The technique of building he describes is about the same as
that outlined in the last chapter. He says that the gunwales were round
and that seven beech thwarts were employed, practices that differ from
those in more recent Micmac canoe building, and he notes the goring of
the bark cover. Denys states the paddles were made of beech (instead
of maple as was perhaps the case) with blades about 6 inches wide and
their length that of an arm (about 27 inches), with the handle a little
longer than the blade. He also says that four, five, or six paddlers
might be aboard a canoe and that a sail was often used. "Formerly of
bark," the sail was made of a well-dressed hide of a young moose. Since
it could carry eight or ten persons, the canoe Denys is referring to is
obviously a large one. In his building description he does not mention
headboards, rail caps, or the end forms. It may be assumed that he
was then describing a canoe he had seen during construction but whose
building he did not follow step by step.

De la Poterie, in his book published in 1722, gives a profile and
top view of what must have been a Micmac canoe. The probable length
indicated must have been about 22 English feet overall and about 32
inches extreme beam; seven thwarts are shown.

Late in the 19th century there appears to have been some fusion of
Micmac and Malecite methods of construction, as Malecite built to
Micmac forms and vice versa. This apparently did not produce a hybrid
form so far as appearance was concerned but it did affect construction,
in that inner end-frames were used and other details of the Micmac
design were altered. The Micmac, having early come into close contact
with the Europeans, were among the first Indians to employ nails in the
construction of bark canoes, and this resulted in an early decadence in
their building methods. Hence, some examples of their canoes show what
the Indians termed broken gunwales, in which the ends of the thwarts
were not tenoned into the gunwales, but rather were let flush into the
top by use of a dovetail cut or, less securely, by a rectangular recess
across the gunwale, and were held in place with a nail through the
thwart end and the gunwale member.

From scanty references by early writers, it appears that a spiral
over-and-over lashing was originally used by the Micmac on the ends and
gunwales. The lower edges of the side panels were sewn over-and-over
a split-root batten. In some extant examples the gores are sewn with
a harness stitch; in others a simple spiral stitch is used. The
cross-stitch does not appear to have been used by the Micmac. The
gunwale caps were certainly pegged and the ends lashed; the bark cover
was folded over the gunwale tops and clamped by the caps as well as
secured by the gunwale lashings. Tacking the bark cover to the top of
the gunwales, with the cap nailed over all, marks the later Micmac
canoes. The use of nails and tacks seems to have begun earlier than

[Illustration: Figure 61

MICMAC WOMAN gumming seams of canoe, Bathurst, N.B., 1913. (_Canadian
Geological Survey photo._)]

In spite of decadent construction methods used in the last Micmac
birch-bark canoes, the model remained a very good one in each type.
The half-circular ends, sharp lines, and standard mid-sectional forms
were unaltered; the hogged sheer was retained in some degree in at
least two of the canoe types, the rough water and the big river,
right down to the end of bark-canoe building by this tribe. The very
fine design and attractive appearance of the Micmac canoe may have
contributed to the early acceptance by the early explorers and traders
of the birch-bark canoe as the best mode of water transport for forest


Another tribe expert in canoe building and use was the Malecite. These
Indians were known to the early French explorers as the "Etchimins"
or "Tarratines" (or Tarytines). Many explanations have been given for
the name Malecite. One is that it was applied to these people by the
Micmac and is from their word meaning "broken talkers," since the
Micmac had difficulty in understanding them. When the Europeans came,
these people inhabited central and southern New Brunswick and the shore
of Passamaquoddy Bay, with small groups or tribal subdivisions in the
area of the Penobscot to the Kennebec. These were early affected by the
retreat of the New England Indians before the whites into eastern and
northern Maine and southeastern Quebec. As a result, the Penobscot and
Kennebec Indians became part of the group later known as Abnaki, while
the Passamaquoddy Indians remained wholly Malecite and closely attached
to those living along the St. John River in New Brunswick. Like their
neighbors the Micmac, the Malecite were hunters and warlike; during the
colonial period they were usually friendly to the French and enemies
of the English settlers in their vicinity. It is not certain that the
tribe now called by that name were actually of a single tribal stock;
it is possible that this designation really covers a loose federation
of small tribal groups who eventually achieved a common language. In
addition, the tribal designation cannot be wholly accurate because of
the fact that much of the original group living in New England were
absorbed in the Abnaki in the 17th and 18th centuries. Therefore, the
Malecite are considered here to be those Indians formerly inhabiting
valleys of the St. John and the St. Croix Rivers, and the Passamaquoddy
Bay area. The remaining portions, the Kennebec and Penobscot Indians,
must now be classed as Abnaki, of whom more later (see p. 88).

In considering the birch-bark canoes of the Malecite, it is important
to understand that this tribal form includes not only the types used in
more recent times in New Brunswick and on Passamaquoddy Bay, but also
an overlapping type related to the later Abnaki models. The old form
of Malecite canoe used on the large rivers and along the coast appears
to have had rather high-peaked ends, with a marked overhang fore and
aft. The end profiles had a sloping outline, strongly curved into the
bottom, and a rather sharply lifting sheer toward each end. This form
was also to be seen in old canoes from the St. John River (the lower
valley), the Passamaquoddy, the Penobscot, and the upper St. Lawrence.
By late in the 19th century, however, this style of canoe had been
replaced by canoes having rounded ends, the profiles being practically
quarter-circles and sometimes with such small radii that a slight
tumble-home appeared near the sheer. The small radius of the end curves
is particularly marked in some of the seagoing porpoise-hunting canoes
of the Passamaquoddy. In modern forms, the amount of sheer is moderate
and the quick lift in the sheer to the ends is practically nonexistent.
On the St. Lawrence, the radii of the end curves are very short and
the upper part of the stems stands vertical and straight; the sheer,
too, is usually rather straight. The older type, with high-peaked
ends, was also marked by very sharp lines forward and aft, and had a
midsection with tumble-home less extreme than in the Micmac canoes. The
bottom, athwartships, was usually somewhat rounded (in coastal canoes
the form might be a rounded ~V~) and the bilges were rather slack,
with a reverse curve above, to form the tumble-home rather close to
the gunwales. The river model probably had lower ends and less rake
than the coastal type, but surviving examples of both give confusing
evidence. The river canoes usually had a flatter bottom than the
coastal type, the latter having somewhat more rocker fore-and-aft. The
sections near the ends were rather ~V~-shaped in the coastal canoes,
~U~-shaped in the river canoes.

The old form of small hunting canoe is represented by but one poor
model (see p. 72) in which the ends are lower and with much less rake
than those of the river type. From this very scant evidence, it seems
probable that the small woods canoes were patterned on the river canoe
in all respects but the profile of the ends.

[Illustration: Figure 62

MALECITE 2½-FATHOM RIVER CANOE, 19TH CENTURY. Old form with raking ends
and much sheer.]

From the early English and French accounts, it is evident that none of
the maritime Indians used very large or long war canoes, capable of
holding many men. The old war canoes of the Malecite appear to have
been either of the coastal or river types as the circumstances of their
place of building and use dictated. The slight information available in
these accounts suggests that the war canoe did not differ in appearance
from the other types of Malecite canoes, and that they were not of
greater size. The Malecite appear to have followed the same practices
as the Micmac, using for war purposes canoes of standard size and
appearance but narrower and built for speed, since a war party sought
to travel rapidly to and from its objective in order to surprise the
enemy and escape before organized pursuit could be formed. The Malecite
placed four warriors in each canoe, two to paddle and two to watch and
use weapons while afloat. However, only on rare occasions were bows
and arrows used from canoes afloat; most fighting was done on land.
Each canoe carried the personal mark of each of the four warriors,
apparently one mark on each flap, or _wulegessis_, under the gunwales
near the ends. When a war leader was carried however, only his mark
was on his canoe. After a successful raid, the Malecite used to race
for the last mile or so of the return journey, and the winning canoe
was given, as a distinction, some mark or picture, often something
humorous such as a caricature of an animal. This practice, however, was
not confined to war canoes; in rather recent times it has been noted
that such pictures were placed on any canoe that had shown outstanding
qualities in racing competition or in exhibitions of skill.

When making long canoe trips, the Malecite followed the widespread
Indian practice of using the canoe as a shelter at night. When a
camping place was reached, the canoe was unloaded, carried ashore, and
turned upside down so that the tops of the ends and one gunwale rested
on the ground. If the ends were high enough, as in the old Malecite
type, one gunwale was raised off the ground far enough to permit a
man to crawl under. If, as in the Micmac canoes, the ends were too
low to allow this, they were raised off the ground by short forked
sticks, with the forks resting against the end thwarts and the upper
gunwale and the heels stuck into the earth. The dunnage (provisions
or other cargo) was then stowed on the ground under the ends of the
canoe and the two men would sleep under a single blanket with their
feet pointed in opposite directions, each with his head on a pile of
dunnage. If there were too many men aboard to do this, in bad weather a
crude shelter was made by resting some poles on the upturned bilge and
covering them with sheets of bark; under such a shelter meals could be

[Illustration: Figure 63

In the Peabody Museum, Salem, Mass.]

As did many of the eastern Indians, the old Malecite tribesmen built
canoes of materials other than birch bark. When a canoe was required
for a temporary use such as in hunting, it could be made of spruce
bark. (As the designs of such canoes were rather standardized, they
will be dealt with in Chapter 8.) When bark was unobtainable, the
Malecite built canoes covered with moosehide, or, in rare instances,
they built wooden dugouts.

The old Malecite river canoe shown on page 71 will serve to illustrate
a description of the details of construction that were used. These
canoes were obviously built with their gunwales (which were the length
of the bottom only) serving as a building frame. The ends of the
gunwales were supported by headboards stepped on the heels of the inner
stem-pieces, and the stems raked outward from their heels. The gunwale
ends were joined to the head of the stem-piece by the outwales and the
gunwale caps. Bark was used to the ends of the canoe. One side of the
bark cover was cut so that it stood well above the sheer line from the
gunwale end outboard, and the opposite side was cut to the level of the
sheer. The first piece was then folded over the opposite side and down,
so that it covered both the extreme ends of the gunwales and the top of
the inner stem-piece. Another piece of bark was then fitted over this
fold, and this new piece formed the flaps below the outwales on each
side, the _wulegessis_. The outwales ran past the gunwale ends and were
cut off flush with the outboard face of the stem; the caps ran likewise
and covered the bark over the head of the inner stem piece. The
characteristic sheer of these canoes, where the rise toward the ends
began, showed a quick curve that faired into a rising straight line at
the gunwale and then continued straight and rising to the stem head.
The _wulegessis_ was therefore quite long. The ends of the gunwales
were not of the half-arrowhead shape, but were snied off on their
inboard sides so that they met on a rather long bevel; the lashing was
slightly let in to the outboard faces to keep it from slipping over the
gunwale ends. The caps of the gunwales were similarly reduced in width,
where they came together over the ends of the canoe.

[Illustration: Figure 64

canoes were sometimes fitted to sail or outrigged for rowing. The last
of this type had much lower ends.]

The main gunwale members were about 1¼ inches square amidships,
tapering to ¾ inch at the ends. The lower outboard corner was beveled
to take the ends of the ribs, as shown on page 71, and the lower
inboard corner was also beveled or rounded, but to a lesser degree.
The upper inboard corner, shown beveled in the drawing of figure 62,
was sometimes slightly rounded, as were the outwales. Amidships the
outwale was about 1 inch deep, and it tapered toward the ends, where
its depth was about ⅝ inch, the thickness being ½ inch amidships and a
scant ⅜ inch at the ends. On the canoe shown, the cap was ⅜ inch thick,
tapering to about ⁵⁄₁₆ inch at the ends, and 1¾ inches wide amidships,
tapering to about ⅝ or ½ inch where the caps came together at the ends.
The top corners of the cap were beveled in the example.

The sheathing appears to have been about ³⁄₁₆ inch thick on the
average. On the bottom and sides it was in two lengths, overlapping
slightly amidships. Toward the ends of the canoe the sheathing was
tapered, maximum width of the splints being about 4 inches amidships.

The canoe, which was 18 feet 6 inches long overall, had 46 ribs. These
were about 3 inches wide and ⅜ inch thick from the center to the first
thwart outboard on each side, and 2 inches wide from these thwarts
to the ends, except for the endmost five ribs, which were roughly 1¾
inches wide. The drawing on page 71 shows the shape of the thwarts. The
ends were tenoned through the gunwales, and there were three lacing
holes in the ends of the middle and first thwarts and two in the end
thwarts. The beam of the canoe inside the gunwales was 30 inches and
outside, 31¼ inches; the tumble-home made the extreme beam 35½ inches.
The canoe was rather flat bottomed athwartships and quite shallow, the
depth amidships being 10¾ inches.

The building bed must have had about a 1½ inch crown at midlength. It
is probable that the stem pieces were not fixed in place until after
the gunwales had been raised to sheer height. The gunwales were lashed
with the Malecite group lashings, each of four turns through the bark
and spaced at 3 to 3½ inches apart in the midlength and at 2 inches
from the end thwarts to the headboards. Two auxiliary lashings were
placed over the outwales and caps outboard of the gunwale ends, one
about 6 inches beyond the ends of the gunwales and the other against
the inboard side of the stem-piece. The end closure was accomplished by
the usual spiral lashing passed through the laminated stem pieces. The
latter were split (to within about 4 inches of the heel), into six or
more laminae that were closely wrapped with bark cord. The headboards
were bellied toward the ends to keep the bark cover under tension, and
the ends outboard of the headboards were stuffed with shavings or moss.

[Illustration: Figure 65

bottom rocker and sheer. This rather small, fast canoe for coastal
hunting and fishing was common in the 19th century.]

A canoe from the Penobscot River, obtained in 1826 by the Peabody
Museum, Salem, Massachusetts, and described in _The American Neptune_
for October 1948, shows that the Penobscot built their canoes on the
old Malecite model. The canoe is apparently a coastal type. It has some
round in the bottom amidships and ~V~-sections toward the ends; it is
18 feet 7 inches long overall, 37¼ inches maximum beam, 15¼ inches deep
amidships, and the ends stand 26 to 28 inches above the base line, the
bow being slightly higher and with more rake than the stern. The rocker
takes place within 4 feet of the ends, with the bottom straight for
about 8 feet along the midlength. The bilges amidship are slack, and
the reverse curve to form the tumble-home starts within 6 inches of the
gunwales (see drawing, p. 72.)

A much later coastal canoe of the Passamaquoddy, a porpoise-and
seal-hunting canoe built in 1873, will also serve to show the old type
(see p. 73). This style of canoe was usually built in lengths ranging
from 18 to 20 feet overall, the maximum beam was between 25 and 44
inches, and the beam inside the gunwales was between 29½ and 36 inches.
The depth amidships ranged from about 18 to 21 inches, and the height
of the ends above the base was from 28 or 30 inches to as much as 45
inches. The ribs numbered from 42 to 48 and were 3 inches wide and ½
inch thick. The sheathing was from ¼ to ⅜ inch thick and the rocker
of the bottom, from 4 to 6 inches, took place within the last 4 or 5
feet of the ends. The midsection showed a well-rounded bottom, a slack
bilge, and the high reverse to form the tumble-home seen in the old
Penobscot canoe at Salem. These canoes were still being built well
into the 1880's, if not later, and are to be seen in some old U.S.
Fish Commission photographs of porpoise and seal hunting at Eastport,
Maine. Seal-and porpoise-hunting canoes carried a sail, usually the
spritsail of the dory. While this model probably was little changed in
construction from early times, the surviving examples and models are
of the period when nails were employed. The drawing on page 74 is of a
small coastal hunting canoe of the same class, built in 1875.

[Illustration: Figure 66

MALECITE RACING CANOE OF 1888, showing ~V~-shaped keel piece placed
between sheathing and bark to form deadrise.]

The reasons for the gradual decline in the building of canoes of the
old style are not known, and the transition from the high-peaked ends
to the more modern low and rounded ends was not sudden. It apparently
began in some inland areas, particularly on the St. Lawrence and the
St. John Rivers, at least as early as 1849, and the new trend in
appearance finally reached the coast about 25 years later. In the
period of transition, the high-peaked model developed toward the St.
Francis type, or that of the modern "Indian" canvas canoe, as well as
toward the low-ended type.

One of the later developments took place on the St. John River, in New
Brunswick, where two Indians, Jim Paul and Peter Polchies, both of
St. Marys, in 1888 built for a Lt. Col. Herbert Dibble of Woodstock
the racing canoe illustrated above (fig. 66). This canoe, 19 feet
6½ inches long overall and only 30½ inches extreme beam, was of a
design perhaps not characteristic of any particular type of Malecite
canoe, but it nevertheless shows two elements that may have appeared
during the period of change in model. The sides amidships not only are
without tumble-home, they flare outward slightly, but tumble-home is
developed at the first thwart each side of the middle and continues to
the headboards. The bottom shows a marked ~V~-deadrise achieved by an
unusual construction in a birch-bark canoe: the center strake of the
sheathing is shaped in a shallow ~V~ in cross section, its width being
about 2½ inches amidships and tapering each way toward the ends, and
its thickness along the longitudinal centerline being about ⅝ inch and
tapering to about ¼ inch at the edges; the two lengths of the strake
are butted, not lapped, amidships, though the rest of the sheathing is
lapped at the butts in the usual way and is uniformly ¼ inch thick.
In this manner a ridge that gives a ~V~-deadrise is formed down the
centerline of the bottom, though the frames are bent in a flattened
curve from bilge to bilge. The bottom has very little rocker, the rise
being only 1 inch, and this takes place in the last 2 feet inboard of
the heel of the stem piece.

[Illustration: Figure 67

SHARP-ENDED 2½-FATHOM HUNTING CANOE for use on tidal river. Built
by the Passamaquoddy Indian Peter Denis, it shows what may be the
primitive construction method of obtaining a ~V~-form in hull.]

Another feature in this canoe is the end profile; the curved ends
are strongly raked, the curve used being the same as that in the old
Malecite type, but with the stem-pieces reversed, so that the quick
turn is at the head, near the sheer, rather than at the heel. As a
result, the gunwales come to the ends in a straight, rising line for
the last 16½ inches rather than as a sudden lift near the ends. The
stem-heads stand a little above the rail caps. The headboards belly
toward the ends and are raked in the same direction.

The use of a ~V~-shaped keel piece in the sheathing has been found
in a St. Francis canoe from the St. Lawrence country; this may be a
rather old practice. This racing canoe is very lightly built and much
decorated, the date 1888 being worked into the hull near one end.

Another canoe having a marked ~V~-deadrise was built sometime between
1890 and 1892 by Nicola (sometimes called Peter) Denis (sometimes
spelled Dana), a Passamaquoddy, for his son Francis, who used it
at Frenchman's Bay, Maine. The drawing above (fig. 67) shows a
coastal-type hunting canoe, nailed along the gunwales but sewn
elsewhere, and painted. The craft is 15 feet 9 inches overall and 14
feet 5 inches over the gunwales. The beam amidships is 32 inches over
the gunwales, 29½ inches inside. The depth amidships is 11 inches,
and at the headboards, 14½ inches. The ends are of the low rounded
form; the profile shows a moderate tumble-home just below the sheer,
which is a long fair curve without any quick lift toward the ends. The
construction is of the usual Malecite type described in Chapter 3. The
midsection shows a remarkable amount of ~V~ in the bottom without any
tumble-home anywhere in the topsides. The ~V~-bottom is rounded at the
apex, where the keel would be; this is done by bending the ribs very
sharply where they cross the centerline of the hull. A narrow strake
of thin sheathing runs along the centerline of the canoe, and this is
bent athwart-wise to follow the bends in the ribs there. The canoe had
46 ribs, each 2½ inches wide and ⁵⁄₁₆ inch thick, tapered slightly from
the middle up to the gunwales. The gunwales, as previously noted, are
nailed and the main gunwale members are of sawed spruce. The rest of
the framework is cedar.

[Illustration: Figure 68

MALECITE 2½-FATHOM ST. LAWRENCE RIVER CANOE, probably a hybrid model.
The high ends show a western influence.]

The outside of the canoe was painted red, the inside was a pale yellow,
the gunwales and middle portions of the thwarts were cobalt blue,
the ends of the thwarts were red. The _wulegessis_ was blue, and the
"canoe mark" was a painted representation of the spread eagle of the
United States Seal, the border being in black and white and the eagle
in black, yellow, and white, holding a brown branch with green leaves.
The whole panel was outlined in red. On the side of the canoe, near the
stern, was a white swallowtail pennant on which is lettered "Frenchmans
Bay" in black capital letters. This canoe was used for fishing and also
for porpoise and seal hunting.

The construction employed to form the ~V~-bottom in a birch-bark canoe
can be seen to have been done in two ways; that described on page 76
is undoubtedly the method used in prehistoric times, since laborious
forming of a ~V~ keel-piece in the sheathing, using stone scrapers,
would be avoided. The ~V~-bottom, it should be noted, usually appears
in canoes used in open waters, as this form tends to run straight
under paddle, in spite of a side wind, and thus requires the minimum
of steering to hold it on its course. It was this characteristic, too,
that made the ~V~-bottom suitable for the racing canoe on the St. John
River, since stopping the stroke momentarily to steer diminishes the
driving power of the stern paddler.

The various river canoes of the Malecite, built to the modern low,
rounded-end profiles, or to the short-radii and straight-line forms,
held rather closely to the same lines, that is, sharp ends with a
rather flat bottom amidships and an easy bilge. Some of the canoes
retained the characteristic tumble-home, but others had nearly
vertical sides or the curve of the bilge was carried so high that it
ended at the gunwales.

[Illustration: Figure 69

MALECITE 2½-FATHOM RIVER CANOE of 1890 from the Rivière du Loup region.
Canoes in this area had straight stems and sharp lines from at least as
early as 1857.]

On the St. Lawrence there was apparently a canoe having rather peaked
ends as well as the rather straight-stemmed, low-ended type. A St.
Lawrence River canoe found in the Chateau de Ramezay and built sometime
before 1867 provides an example of the rather high-peaked ends. The
canoe, as illustrated on page 77, has a well-rounded bilge working into
a very round tumble-home above and into a rather flat bottom below, the
tumble-home being carried into the extreme ends, so that the headboards
are rather wide. The ends round up rather quickly and then continue up
to the sheer in a very slight curve, having a very moderate tumble-home
near the sheer. The latter follows somewhat the characteristic sheer
of the old Malecite canoes, but the straight portion just inboard of
the ends is much shorter, so that the quick upsweep of the sheer begins
nearer the ends and thus appears somewhat more pronounced.

The construction is in the usual manner. The rocker of the bottom is 2
inches. The ribs are wider amidships than near the ends. The outwale
is rounded on the outboard face so that the cap is slightly narrower
than the thickness of inner gunwale and outwale combined. The headboard
is rather unusual, however, as it is not bellied but stands straight
and vertical. The lashing at the upper portion of the stems is the
crossed stitch, below it is spiral. The gunwale groups are made up of
six passes through the bark, and the spaces between groups are about
2½ inches. The side panels are sewn with the harness stitch. The canoe
is 16 feet long overall and 14 feet 5 inches inside the gunwales;
the extreme beam amidships is 37 inches and inside the gunwales 32
inches. The depth amidships is about 13 inches and the height of the
ends 25 inches, with 2 inches of rocker at the headboards. This canoe,
retaining the high ends, marks the transition from the old form to the

A later canoe built on the St. Lawrence about 1890, probably near
Rivière de Loup, is shown above. It is 16 feet 11 inches long overall,
the beam over the gunwales is 33½ inches and inside it is 31 inches,
the curve of the bilge being carried up to the gunwales. The bottom is
flat for only a short width. The depth amidships is 11½ inches and the
height of the ends is 20 inches, with 1 inch of rocker in the last two
feet of length. The sheer is a long fair sweep without any quick upward
lift near the ends. The headboards are very narrow and belly only very
slightly toward the ends. The end profile illustrates the short radii
and straight line form that marked many of the last Malecite birch-bark
canoes of the St. Lawrence Valley. It is possible that the end-form was
copied from the white man's St. Lawrence skiff, which usually had ends
that were straight and nearly vertical, with a sharp turn into the keel.

[Illustration: Figure 70

and moderate sheer, developed late in the 19th century.]

Since a Malecite canoe of the form having rounded low ends was the
subject used to describe the construction of a birch-bark canoe in
Chapter 3 (see p. 36), there is no need to discuss all the details
here. There was some variety in the sewing and lashing used in Malecite
canoes; the combination of cross and spiral stitches in the ends and
the use of a batten and the over-and-over stitch in the side panels
are, of course, very common in these canoes. The occasional use of
other stitches in the side panels and even in the gores would probably
be normal, since individual preferences in such details were not
controlled by a narrow tribal practice.

The Malecite are known to have hauled their canoes overland in the
early spring, before the snow was entirely gone, by mounting the canoe
on two sleds or toboggans in tandem, binding the canoe to each. This
was done as late as the 1890's for early spring muskrat hunts. The
Malecite also fitted their river canoes with outside protection when
much running of rapids or "quick water" work was done. This protection
consisted of two sets of battens (see p. 80), each set being made up of
five or six thin splints of cedar about ⅜ inch thick and 3 inches wide,
tapering to 2 or 1½ inches at one end. These were held together by
four strips of basket ash, bark cord, or rawhide. Each cord was passed
through holes or slits made edgewise through each splint. The cords
were located so that when the splints were placed on the bottom of the
canoe, the cords could be tied at the thwarts. The tapered ends of the
splints were at the ends of the canoe; the butts of the two sets being
lapped amidships with the lap toward the stern. This formed a wooden
sheathing, outside the bottom, to protect the bark from rocks and
snags or floating ice that might be met in rapids and small streams.
The fitting was used also by the Micmac and Ojibway; it is not known
whether this was an Indian or European invention. The French canoemen
called it _barre d'abordage_ and the Malecite, _P's-ta' k'n_; the
English woodsmen called the fitting "canoe shoes."

[Illustration: Figure 71


The Malecite paddle was of various forms, as illustrated in figures
71 and 72, the predominant form being very similar to the paddle now
used with canvas "Indian" canoes. The total length of the blade was
usually about 28 to 30 inches; at 10 or 11 inches from the tip it was
about 2½ inches wide. The handle was about 36 inches long. At just
above the blade it was 1¼ inches wide and 1 inch thick. The handle
was not parallel-sided. Near the top it widened gradually to about 2¼
inches at 2½ inches from the top; here the cross-grip was formed. The
thickness of the handle reduced gradually from that given for just
above the top of the blade to about ½ inch at about 5 inches below
the cross-grip, and widened again to ⅝ inch at the point where the
cross-grip was formed. The blade was ridged down its center. The lower
end was rounded and the lower half of the blade was approximately half
an ellipse in shape. The Passamaquoddy blade had its wide point within
7 inches of the lower tip, where it was about 6 inches wide. The handle
was about 1⅛ inches in diameter just above the blade, and then tapered
in thickness until it first became oval and then flat in cross section.
The width remained nearly constant to a point within 12 to 16 inches
of the cross-grip, then gradually widened to nearly 3 inches at the
top. The blade was 33 to 36 inches long and the whole paddle somewhere
between 73 and 76 inches long. The cross-grips were sometimes round,
at other times they were merely worked off in an oval shape to fit the
upper hand. The usual width of the cross-grip was just under 3 inches.

[Illustration: Figure 72


[Illustration: Figure 73

woods, or pack, canoe, showing short ends and use of fiddlehead and
fire-steel form of decoration.]

Formerly, the Malecite placed his personal mark, or _dupskodegun_,
on the flat of the top of his paddle near the cross-grip. The mark
was incised into the wood and the incised line was filled with red or
black pigment when available. Sometimes the whole paddle, including the
blade, was covered with incised line ornamentation. This was usually a
vine-and-leaf pattern, or a combination of small triangles and curved
lines. The Passamaquoddy used designs suggesting the needlework once
seen on fine linens. Sometimes other designs showing animals, camps, or
canoes were used.

[Illustration: Figure 74

in 1898 by Tomah Joseph, Princeton, Maine, on the same model as a
canvas porpoise-hunting canoe.]

The Malecite, particularly the Passamaquoddy, were especially skillful
in decorating bark canoes, as can be seen from the illustrations (pp.
81-87). Sometimes they used scraped winter bark decoration just along
the gunwales; occasionally the whole canoe was decorated in this manner
above the normal load waterline as described on page 87. Usually,
however, the bark decoration was confined to a long panel just below
the gunwales and to the ends of the canoe. The personal "mark" of
the owner-builder would usually be on the flaps near the ends, the
_wulegessis_, meaning the outside bark of a tree or a child's diaper,
but in canoe nomenclature used to indicate the protective cover which
it formed for the gunwale-end lashings. Sometimes the Malecite placed
his mark in the gunwale decoration. Sometimes he placed a picture or
a sign on each side of the ends below the _wulegessis_, in about the
position used for insignia on the canvas "Indian" canoe.

The swastika was used by the Passamaquoddy in a war canoe in colonial
times and has been used later. The Passamaquoddy mark for an
exceptional canoe (such as a war canoe that won the race home) was
often on the _wulegessis_, and on a relatively modern canoe this mark,
or _gogetch_, was a picture of "a funny-looking kind of doll." A common
form of decoration in Passamaquoddy canoes was the fiddlehead curve
which resembles the top of young fern shoots. This appears in numerous
combinations; often double and back to back, joined with a long bar,
or "cross." This particular combination is known as the "fiddlehead
and cross" or as the "fire steel"; the latter because of a fancied
resemblance of the form to the shape of the old fire-making steels
of colonial times. A zigzag line appears to represent lightning to
most Indians. A series of half-circles along the gunwales, with the
rounded side down and just touching one another at the top, having a
small circle in the center of each, represents "clouds passing over
the moon." A similar series of half-circles without the center circles
might mean the canoe was launched during a new moon; the number of
half-circles shown would indicate the month.

[Illustration: Figure 75


Yet there is not full agreement among Indians about the meaning of
decorative forms; the crooked or zigzag line might also mean camps
or the crooked score stick used in a Malecite game. The circle could
mean sun or moon or month. A half-moon form might also be "a woman's
earring," or a new moon. A circle with a very small one inside might be
a "brooch," as well as "money." Right triangles, in a closely spaced
series along the gunwales, apparently meant "door cloth," or tent door
("what you lift with your hand"). Shown on pages 84 and 85 are some
Indian marks on the _wulegessis_, based upon the statements of old
Malecites or upon their sketches.

After the Malecite had become Roman Catholic, a fish on the middle
panel of a canoe meant that it had been launched on Friday. Pictures on
a canoe sometimes indicated a mythological story; a picture of a rabbit
sitting and smoking a pipe on one side of the canoe and a lynx on the
other would be such a case. In Malecite mythology the rabbit was the
ancestor of the tribe. He was also a great magician. The lynx was the
mortal enemy of the rabbit, but in the mythological tales he was always
overcome and defeated by the rabbit's magic. Hence, the idea conveyed
is that "though the-lynx is near, the rabbit sits calmly smoking
his pipe and as he knows he can overcome his enemy," or, in short,

The Indian's mark on his canoe or weapons is not a signature to be
read by anyone. The mark may, of course, be identified as to what it
represents, but unless it is known as the mark used by a certain man it
cannot be "read." Any mark could be used by an Indian, either because
it had some connection with his activities or habits, or because he
"likes it." The stone tobacco pipe used by Peter Polchies (see p.
85) as his mark had no known connection with this Indian's habits or
activities. However, his son, of the same name and well known also
as "Doctor Polchies," took the same mark, but in his case it had a
personal meaning since he was noted locally for his skill in making
stone pipes. Another case was a Passamaquoddy who at every opportunity
used to pole his canoe in preference to paddling. As a result he had
become known as "Peter of the Pole" or "Peter Pole" and he then used as
a canoe mark a representation of a setting pole. In submitting sketches
of the marking on the _wulegessis_ of canoes to old Indians it was
seldom possible to learn the identity of the owner or builder, since
the marks were usually not known to those questioned. In more recent
times, the educated Malecite signed his name in English on his canoe
and thus gave it more permanent identification.

[Illustration: Figure 76


"mark of Mitchell Laporte"

"that pot hanging was used by three or four generations--it was mark on
John Lolar's canoe in 1872"

"I made marks like this on wulegessis and sometimes on middle" (Charlie

"mark of Noel John Sapier" (tomahawk)

"mark of Noel Polchies" (paddle)

"mark of old Peter Polchies" (stone pipe)

"mark of Chief Neptune" (Passamaquoddy)

"mark of Louis Paul"

"canoe was finished on new moon" (Joe Ellis)

"mark of old Solomon Paul"]

[Illustration: Figure 77


In duplicating a design, the Malecite apparently used a pattern, or
stencil, which was preserved to allow duplication over a long period
of time. The stencil was usually cut from birch bark, apparently an
old practice, although whether it was done in prehistoric times cannot
be determined. The long contact of the Malecites with Europeans is
a factor to be considered in such matters. This is sometimes shown
in picture-writing on a canoe; one, for instance, showed a white man
fishing with rod and line from a canoe with an Indian guide. On the
opposite side was the representation of an Indian camp beside two
trees, a kettle over the fire and the brave sitting cross-legged
smoking his pipe, indicating, of course, "comfort and contentment."

Asking old Indians to identify or give the names of decorations, Adney
recorded statements which indicate their thought in regard to such
matters. There were used, for example, two forms of the half-moon or
crescent; one was quite open at the points which plainly indicated a
half-moon, but the other was more nearly closed: [Illustration] Mrs.
Billy Ellis, widow of Frank Francis, a Malecite, said of them, "Old
Indian earrings, that is only what I can call them. Also in nose. Wild
Indian made them of silver or moose-bone, I guess he thought he looked
nice; it looked like the devil." Joe Ellis, an old canoe builder, also
called this form "earrings" and when asked why an Indian would put
these on a canoe, replied "He will think what he will put on here. He
might have seen his wife at bow of canoe, and put it on [there]." Shown
the right-triangle-in-series design, Mrs. Ellis said "I fergit it but
I will remember; what you lift with your hand, we call it that--camp
door" (referring to the cloth or hide hung over a camp door, and raised
at one corner to enter, so that the opening is then divided diagonally).

In a later period, the Malecite usually confined decoration to the
_wulegessis_ and to the pieced-out bark amidships, the panel formed
on each side. The _wulegessis_ was of various forms; its bottom was
sometimes shaped like a cupid's bow, sometimes it was rectangular.
A common form was one representing the profile of a canoe. Being of
winter bark, it was red or brown, with the part where the design was
scraped showing white or yellow. The center panel was also of winter
bark, and the design on it showed a similar contrast in color. Even
when the bark cover was not pieced out, the panel was formed by
scraping all the cover except a panel amidships on each side. Old
models indicate that the early Malecite canoes may have used decoration
all over above the waterline (see p. 81) far more frequently than
has been the recent custom. The decorations were a fiddlehead design
in a complicated sequence so that it bore a faint resemblance to
the hyanthus in a formal scroll, but the design apparently had no
ceremonial significance; it was used for the same reason given Adney
for so many forms of bark decoration, "it looked nice."

[Illustration: Figure 78


[Illustration: Figure 79


The drawings and plans on pages 71 to 87 will serve better than words
to show these characteristic designs and decorations. It is doubtful
that color, paint or pigment, was used in decorating the Malecite bark
canoes before the coming of Europeans, but it was employed occasionally
in the last half of the 19th century. The beauty of the Malecite canoe
designs lay not in the barbaric display of color characteristic of
the large fur-traders' canoes, but in the tasteful distribution of
the scraped winter bark decoration along the sides of the hull. The
workmanship exhibited by the Malecite in the construction of their
canoes was generally very fine; indeed, they were perhaps the most
finished craftsmen among Indian canoe-builders.

_St. Francis_

The tribal composition of the Abnaki Indians is somewhat uncertain.
The group was certainly made up of a portion of the old Malecite
group, the Kennebec and Penobscot, but later also included the whole
or parts of the refugee Indians of other New England tribes who were
forced to flee before the advancing white settlers. It is probable
that among the refugees were the Cowassek (Coosuc), Pennacook, and the
Ossipee. There were also some Maine tribes among these--the Sokoki,
Androscoggin, (Arosaguntacook), Wewenoc, Taconnet, and Pequawket. It is
probable that the tribal groups from southern and central New England
were mere fragments and that the largest number to make up the Abnaki
were Malecite. The latter in turn were driven out of their old homes on
the lower Maine coast and drifted northwestward into the old hunting
grounds of the Kennebec and Penobscot, northwestern Maine and eastern
Quebec as far as the St. Lawrence. The chief settlement was finally on
the St. Francis River in Quebec, hence the Abnaki were also known as
the "St. Francis Indians." These tribesmen held a deep-seated grudge
against the New Englanders and, by the middle of the 18th century, they
had made themselves thoroughly hated in New England. Siding with the
French, the St. Francis raided the Connecticut Valley and eastward,
taking white children and women home with them after a successful raid,
and as a result the later St. Francis had much white blood. They were
generally enterprising and progressive.

Little is known about the canoes of these Abnaki during the period
of their retreat northwestward. It is obvious that the Penobscot, at
least, used the old form of the Malecite canoe. What the canoes of
the other tribal groups were like cannot be stated. However, by the
middle of the 19th century the St. Francis Indians had produced a very
fine birch-bark canoe of distinctive design and excellent workmanship.
These they began to sell to sportsmen, with the result that the type
of canoe became a standard one for hunting and fishing in Quebec. When
other tribal groups discovered the market for canoes, they were forced
to copy the St. Francis model and appearance to a very marked degree
in order to be assured of ready sales. It is obvious, from what is now
known, that the St. Francis had adapted some ideas in canoe building
from Indians west of the St. Lawrence, with whom they had come into
close contact. However, they had also retained much of the building
technique of their Malecite relatives. Hence, the St. Francis canoes
usually represent a blend of building techniques as well as of models.

The St. Francis canoe of the last half of the 19th century had
high-peaked ends, with a quick upsweep of the sheer at bow and stern.
The end profile was almost vertical, with a short radius where it
faired into the bottom. The rocker of the bottom took place in the last
18 or 24 inches of the ends, the remaining portion of the bottom being
usually straight. The amount of rocker varied a good deal; apparently
some canoes had only an inch or so while others had as much as four or
five. A few canoes had a projecting "chin" end-profile; the top portion
where it met the sheer was usually a straight line.

The midsection was slightly wall-sided, with a rather quick turn of the
bilge. The bottom was nearly flat across, with very slight rounding
until close to the bilges. The end sections were a ~U~-shape that
approached the ~V~ owing to the very quick turn at the centerline. The
ends of the canoe were very sharp, coming in practically straight at
the gunwale and at level lines below it. The gunwales were longer than
the bottom and so the St. Francis canoes were commonly built with a
building-frame which was nearly as wide amidships as the gunwales but
shorter in length.

At least one St. Francis canoe, built on Lake Memphremagog, was
constructed with a tumble-home amidships the same as that of some
Malecite canoes. The rocker of the bottom at each end started at the
first thwart on each side of the middle and gradually increased toward
the ends, which faired into the bottom without any break in the curves.
The end profiles projected with a chin that was full and round up to
the peaked stem heads. The sheer swept up sharply near the ends to the
stem heads. This particular canoe represented a hybrid design not
developed for sale to sportsmen, and the sole example, a full-size
canoe formerly in The American Museum of Natural History at New York
and measured by Adney in 1890, is now missing and probably has been
broken up.

[Illustration: Figure 80

ST. FRANCIS 2-FATHOM CANOE OF ABOUT 1865, with upright stems. Built for
forest travel, this form ranged in size from 12 feet 6 inches overall
and 26½-inch beam, to 16 feet overall and 34-inch beam.]

The St. Francis canoes were usually small, being commonly between
12 and 16 feet overall; the 15-foot length usually was preferred by
sportsmen. The width amidships was from 32 to 35 inches and the depth
12 to 14 inches. The 14-foot canoe usually had a beam of about 32
inches and was nearly 14 inches deep; if built for portaging the ends
were somewhat lower than if the canoe was to be used in open waters.
Canoes built for hunting might be as short as 10 or 11 feet and of
only 26 to 28 inches beam; these were the true woods canoes of the St.

The gunwale structure of the St. Francis canoes followed Malecite
design; it was often of slightly smaller cross section than that of
a Malecite canoe of equal length, but both outwale and cap were of
somewhat larger cross section. The stem-pieces were split and laminated
in the same manner, but occasionally the lamination was at the bottom,
due to the hard curve required where the stem faired into the bottom.
Many such canoes had no headboards, the heavy outwales being carried
to the sides of the stem pieces and secured there to support the main
gunwales. If the headboard was used, it was quite narrow and was
bellied toward the ends of the canoe. In some St. Francis canoes the
bark cover in the rockered bottom near the ends showed a marked ~V~. In
the canoe examined by Adney at the American Museum of Natural History,
the ribs inside toward the end showed no signs of being "broken,"
so it is evident that the ~V~ was formed either by use of a shaped
keel-piece in the sheathing or by an additional batten shaped to give
this ~V~-form under the center strake. Since the ~V~ began where the
rocker in the canoe started, in an almost angular break in the bottom,
it is likely that a shaped batten had been used to form it. He could
not verify this, however, as the area was covered by the frames and

[Illustration: Figure 81

ST. FRANCIS CANOE OF ABOUT 1910, with narrow, rockered bottom, a model
popular with guides and sportsmen for forest travel.]

The sheathing was in short lengths with rounded ends which overlapped,
and it was laid irregularly in the "thrown in" style found in many
western birch-bark canoes. The ribs were commonly about 2 inches wide
and nearly ⅜ inch thick, the width tapering to roughly 1¾ inches under
the gunwales. The ends of the ribs were then sharply reduced in width
to a chisel point about 1 inch wide; the sides of the sharply reduced
taper being beveled, as well as the end. A 15-foot canoe usually had 46
to 50 ribs.

The thwarts, unlike those of the Micmac and some Malecite canoes, in
which the thwarts were unequally spaced, were equally spaced according
to a builder's formula. The ends of the thwarts, or crossbars, were
tenoned into the main gunwales and lashed in place through the three
lashing holes in the ends of each thwart, except the end ones, which
usually had but two. In some small canoes, however, two lashing holes
were placed in all thwart ends. The design of the St. Francis thwart
was as a rule very plain, gradually increasing in width from the
center outwards to the tenon at the gunwale in plan and decreasing in
thickness in elevation in the same direction. The ends of the main
gunwales were of the half-arrowhead form, and were covered with a bark
_wulegessis_, but the flaps below the outwales were sometimes cut off,
or they might be formed in some graceful outline.

The bark cover was sometimes in one piece; when it was pieced out for
width, the harness-stitch was used. In most canoes, the bark along the
gunwale was doubled by adding a long narrow strip, often left hanging
free below the gunwales and stopping just short of the _wulegessis_,
which it resembled. It was sometimes decorated. A few St. Francis
canoes with nailed gunwales omitted this doubling piece. When used,
the doubling piece, as well as the end cover, were folded down on top
of the gunwale before being sewn into place. The decoration of the
St. Francis canoes seems to have been scant and wholly confined to a
narrow band along the gunwale, or to the doubling pieces. The marking
of the _wulegessis_ had ceased long before Adney investigated this type
of canoe and no living Indian knew of any old marks, if any ever had
been used.

[Illustration: Figure 82

LOW-ENDED ST. FRANCIS CANOE with ~V~-form end sections made with short,
~V~-shaped keel battens outside the sheathing at each end. Note the
unusual form of headboard, seen in some St. Francis canoes.]

The ends were commonly lashed with a spiral or crossed stitch, but
some builders used a series of short-to-long stitches that made groups
generally triangular in appearance. The gunwale lashing was in groups
about 2½ inches long, each having 5 to 7 turns through the bark. The
groups were about 1½ to 1¼ inches apart near the ends and about 2
inches apart elsewhere. The groups were not independent but were made
by bringing the last turn of each group over the top and inside the
main gunwale in a long diagonal pass so as to come through the bark
from the inside for the first pass of the new group. The caps were
originally pegged, with a few lashings at the ends.

The ribs were bent green. After the bark cover had been sewn to the
gunwales, the green ribs were fitted roughly inside the bark, with
their ends standing above the gunwales, and were then forced into the
desired shape and held there, usually by two wide battens pressed
against them by 7 to 10 temporary cross struts. After being allowed to
dry in place, the ribs were then removed, the sheathing was put into
place, and the ribs, after a final fitting, were driven into their
proper positions. Some builders put in the ribs by pairs in the shaping
stage, one on top of the other, as this made easier the job of fitting
the temporary battens. The forcing of the ribs to shape also served to
shape the bark cover, and the canoe was placed on horses during the
operation, so that the shape of the bottom could be observed while
the bark was being moulded. Some builders used very thin longitudinal
battens between the bark and the green ribs to avoid danger of bursting
the bark.

The canoe was built on a level building bed, in most instances
apparently, with the ends of the building frame blocked up about an
inch. It seems possible, however, that narrow bottom canoes may have
been built with the bed raised 2 or 3 inches in the middle, rather than
employing a narrow building frame. The construction of the building
frame was the same as among the western Indians and as described in
Chapter 3.

[Illustration: Figure 83

ST. FRANCIS-ABNAKI CANOE FOR OPEN WATER, a type that became extinct
before 1890. From Adney's drawings of a canoe formerly in the Museum of
Natural History, New York. Details of Abnaki canoes are also shown.]

In preparing the ribs, a common practice was the following: Assume, for
example, that there are 10 ribs from the center to the first thwart
forward; these are laid out on the ground edge-to-edge with the rib
under the center thwart to the left and the rib under the first thwart
to the right. On the rib to the left the middle thwart is laid so
that its center coincides with that of the rib, and the ends of the
thwart are marked on the rib. The same is done to the rib on the far
right, over which the first thwart is laid as the measure. On each
side of the centerline the points marking the ends of the thwarts
are then joined by a line across the ribs, as they lie together, to
mark the approximate taper of the canoe toward the ends, at the turn
of the bilge. Each rib is taken in turn from the panel and with it
is placed another from the stock on hand to be set in a matching
position on the other side of the middle thwart, toward the stern; the
pair, placed flat sides together, are then bent over the knee at, or
outside of, the marks or lines. The ribs in the next portion of the
canoe's length are shaped in the same manner, using the lengths of the
first and second thwarts as guides. Thus, the ribs are given a rough,
preliminary bend before being fitted inside the bark cover and stayed
into place to season. This method allowed the bilge of the canoe to
be rather precisely determined and formed during the first stages of
construction. At the ends, of course, the ribs are sharply bent only
in the middle. Since the full thwart length makes a wide bottom, by
setting the length of the rib perhaps a hand's width less than that of
the whole thwart, the narrow bottom is formed.

The rough length of the ribs was twice the length of the thwarts
nearest them. Hackmatack was used for thwarts by the St. Francis
Indians, rock maple being considered next best. Cedar was first choice
for ribs, then spruce, and then balsam fir. Longitudinals were cedar
or spruce. All canoe measurements were made by hand, finger, and
arm measurements. Basket ash strips were often used in transferring

[Illustration: Figure 84

of moulding ribs inside the assembled bark cover.]

From what has been said, it will be seen that the construction practice
of the St. Francis did not follow in all details that of their Malecite
relatives. The intrusion of western practices into this group probably
took place some time after the group's final settlement at St. Francis.
As they gradually came into more intimate relations with their western
neighbors and drifted into western Quebec, beyond the St. Lawrence,
their canoe building technique became influenced by what they saw
to the westward. As would be expected, the St. Francis Abnaki began
early to use nails in canoe building, but, being expert workmen, they
retained the good features of the old sewn construction to a marked
degree up to the very end of birch-bark canoe construction in southern
Quebec, probably about 1915. It should perhaps be noted that what has
been discovered about the St. Francis Abnaki canoes refers necessarily
to only the last half of the 19th century, since no earlier canoe of
this group has been discovered. The changes that took place between the
decline of the Penobscot style of canoe and that of the later Abnaki
remain a matter of speculation.

[Illustrations: Figure 85



The fourth group of Indians, classed here as belonging to the eastern
maritime area, are the Beothuk of Newfoundland. Historically, perhaps,
these Indians should have been discussed first, as they were probably
the first of all North American Indians to come into contact with
the white man. However, so little is known about their canoes that
it has seemed better to place them last, since practically all that
can be said is the result of reconstruction, speculation, and logic
founded upon rather unsatisfactory evidence. The tribal origin of the
Beothuk has long been a matter of argument; they are known to have
used red pigment on their weapons, equipment, clothes, and persons. A
prehistoric group that once inhabited Maine and the Maritime Provinces
appears to have had a similar custom; these are known as the "Red Paint
People," and it may be that the Beothuk were a survival of this earlier
culture. But all that can be said with certainty is that the Beothuk
inhabited Newfoundland and perhaps some of the Labrador coast when the
white man began to frequent those parts. The Beothuk made a nuisance
of themselves by stealing gear from the European fishermen, and by
occasionally murdering individuals or small groups of white men. Late
in the 17th century, the French imported some Micmac warriors and began
a war of extermination against the Beothuk. By the middle of the 18th
century the Newfoundland tribe was reduced to a few very small groups,
and the Beothuk became extinct early in the 19th century, before
careful investigation of their culture could be made.

Their canoes were made to a distinctive model quite different from
that of the canoes of other North American Indians. The descriptions
available are far from complete and, as a result, many important
details are left to speculation. Some parts of the more complete
descriptions are obscure and do not appear to agree with one another.
In spite of these difficulties, however, some information on the canoes
is rather specific; by using this, together with a knowledge of the
requirements of birch-bark canoe construction, and by reference to some
toy canoes found in 1869 in the grave of a Beothuk boy, a reasonably
accurate reconstruction of a canoe is possible.

Captain Richard Whitbourne had come with Sir Humphrey Gilbert to
Newfoundland in 1580 and revisited the island a number of times
afterward. In 1612 he wrote that the Beothuk canoes were shaped "like
the wherries of the River Thames," apparently referring to the humped
sheer of both; in the wherry the sheer swept up sharply to the height
of the oar tholes, in profile, and flared outward, in cross section.

John Gay, a member of the Company of Newfoundland Plantation, wrote
in 1612 that Beothuk canoes were about 20 feet long and 4½ feet wide
"in the middle and aloft," that the ribs were like laths, and that
the birch-bark cover was sewn with roots. The canoes carried four
persons and weighed less than a hundredweight. They had a short, light
staff set in each end by which the canoes could be lifted ashore. "In
the middle the canoa is higher a great deale, than at the bowe and
quarter." He also says of their cross section: "They be all bearing
from the keel to portlesse, not with any circular, but with a straight,

Joann de Laet, writing about 1633, speaks of the crescent shape of the
canoes, of their "sharp keel" and need of ballast to keep them upright;
he also states that the canoes were not over 20 feet long and could
carry up to five persons.

The most complete description of the Beothuk canoe was in the
manuscript of Lt. John Cartwright, R.N., who was on the coast of
Newfoundland in 1767-1768 as Lieutenant of H.B.M. Ship _Guernsey_.
However, some portions are either in error or the description was
over-simplified. For example, Cartwright says that the gunwales were
formed with a distinct angle made by joining two lengths of the main
gunwale members at the elevated middle of the sheer. This hardly
seems correct since such a connection would not produce the rigidity
that such structural parts require, given the methods used by Indians
to build bark canoes. The three grave models show that the sheer
was actually curved along its elevated middle. It is possible that
Cartwright saw a damaged canoe in which the lashings of the scarf of
the gunwales had slackened so that the line of sheer "broke" there.
Cartwright is perhaps misleading in his description of the rocker of
the keel as being "nearly, if not exactly, the half of an ellipse,
longitudinally divided." The models show the keel to have been straight
along the length of the canoe and turned up sharply at the ends to form
bow and stern. Cartwright also states the keel piece was "about the
size of the handle of a common hatchet" amidships, or perhaps 1 inch
thick and 1½ inches wide, and tapered toward the ends, which were about
¾ inch wide and about equally thick. The height of the sheer amidships
was perhaps two-thirds the height of the ends.

[Illustration: Figure 86

A 15-FOOT BEOTHUK CANOE OF NEWFOUNDLAND with 42½-inch beam, inside
measurement, turned on side for use as a camp. It gives headroom
clearance of about 3 feet, double that of an 18-foot Malecite canoe
with high ends. When the ends were not high enough to provide maximum
clearance, small upright sticks were lashed to bow and stern. The
shape of the gunwales would permit the canoe to be heeled to an angle
(more than 35°) which would swamp a canoe of ordinary sheer and depth.
(_Sketch by Adney._)]

Nearly all observers, Cartwright included, noted the almost perfect
~V~-form cross section of these canoes, with the apexes rounded off
slightly and the wings slightly curved. From an interpretation of
Cartwright's statements, it appears that after the bark cover had been
laced to the gunwales, the latter were forced apart to insert the
thwarts, as in some western Indian canoe-building techniques. The three
thwarts are described as being about two fingers in width and depth.
It is stated that the gunwales were made up of an inner and outer
member and all were scarfed in the middle to taper each way toward the
ends, the outer member serving as an outwale or guard. Cartwright also
states that the inside of the bark cover was "lined" with "sticks"
2 or 3 inches broad, cut flat and thin. He refers also to others of
the same sort which served as "timbers" so he is describing both the
sheathing and the ribs as being 2 or 3 inches wide. He does not say how
the thwarts were fitted to the gunwales, how high the ends were, how
the ends of the gunwales were formed, nor does he give any details of
the sewing used. However, the grave models suggest the form of sewing
probably used and the approximate proportions of sheer.

An old settler told James Howley that the Beothuk canoes could be
"folded together like a purse." Considering the construction required
in birch-bark canoes, this is manifestly impossible; perhaps what the
settler had seen was a canoe in construction with the bark secured to
shaped gunwales, ready for the latter to be sprung apart by thwarts,
as in opening a purse. Howley also obtained from a man who had seen
Beothuk canoes a sketch which shows a straight keel and peaked ends,
confirmed in all respects by the grave models or toys.

The toy canoes so often referred to here were found by Samuel Coffin
in an Indian burial cave on a small island in Pilley's Tickle, Notre
Dame Bay (on the east coast of Newfoundland), in 1869. Among the graves
in the cave, one of a child, evidently a boy, was found to contain
a wooden image of a boy, toy bows and arrows, two toy canoes and a
fragment of a third, packages of food, and some red ochre. With one of
the canoes was a fragment of a miniature paddle. One of the canoes was
32 inches long, height of ends 8 inches, height of side amidships 6
inches, straight portion of keel 26 inches and beam 7 inches, as shown
by Howley.

In Newfoundland there was very fine birch but no cedar. There was,
however, excellent spruce which would take the place of cedar. It seems
certain, then, that all the framework of the Beothuk canoes was of
spruce. It seems likely that they were never built of a single sheet
of birch but were covered with a number of sheets sewn together, as in
other early Indian birch-bark canoes. The canoe birch of Newfoundland
grew to a diameter of 2 to 2½ feet at the butt, which would produce a
sheet of birch of 6 to 7 feet width; the length would be decided by how
far up the tree the Indian could climb to make the upper cut. As has
been stated, the prehistoric Indians seemingly made little attempt to
build birch-bark canoes of long lengths of bark, preferring to use only
the bark obtainable near the ground and above the height of the winter

The form of the Beothuk canoes, particularly the lack of bilge and the
marked ~V~-form, has caused much speculation. One writer assumed that
the form was particularly suited for running rapids. Actually, the
Beothuk appeared to have used canoes for river travel very rarely, as
few rivers in their country were suited for navigation. Instead, they
seem to have been coast dwellers and to have used canoes for coastal
travel and for voyages from island to island.

Their canoes were undoubtedly designed for open-water navigation, and
the ~V~-form was particularly suitable for this. The draft aided in
keeping the canoe on its course with either broadside or quartering
winds, and if the Beothuks knew sail, the hull-form would have served
them well. It is quite evident that the Beothuk canoes used ballast
in the form of stones or heavy cargo. Stones would have been placed
along the keel piece and covered with moss and skins. The strongly
hogged sheer was useful in protecting cargo amidships from spray and,
in picking up a seal or porpoise, the canoe could be sharply heeled
without taking in water. The ~V~ sections fore and aft were suitable
for rough-water navigation; because of its form and the weight of
ballast, the canoe would pass partly over and through the wave-top
without pounding. If a wave of such height as to overtop the gunwales
just abaft the stem were met, the strongly flaring sides would give
reserve buoyancy, causing the canoe to lift quickly as the wave reached
up the sides.

The small sticks in the ends, mentioned by John Gay, served not only
for lifting the canoe but also as braces to support the canoe at a
given angle when turned over ashore to serve as a shelter. The Beothuk
canoe, because of its form, was not well suited for portaging, and it
must be concluded that little of this was done. In coastal voyages, the
canoe would be unloaded and brought ashore each night to serve as a

It is believed that the gunwale lashing of these canoes was in groups,
as in the Malecite. Howley questioned an old Micmac who had seen the
Beothuk lashing; he likened it to the continuous lashing used by his
own people, indicating some form of group wrapping, at least. It is
probable that the group lashings were let into the gunwales by shallow
notching at each group, a common Indian practice when no rail cap was
used, to prevent abrasion from the paddle or from loading and unloading
the canoe. The lacing of the ends appears to have been in the common
spiral stitch, judging by the grave models. These, however, show a
continuous wrapping at the gunwales, a common simplification found in
Indian canoe models, representing either group or continuously wrapped
gunwales indiscriminately.

The paddle of the Beothuks had a long, narrow blade, probably with a
pointed tip and a ridged surface. The shape is nearly spatulate. The
handle is missing from the grave model but was perhaps of the usual
"hoe-handled" form without a top cross-grip.

From these descriptions and on the basis of common Indian techniques
in birch-bark canoe construction, the form and methods of building the
Beothuk canoe can be reconstructed. The drawing on page 97 shows the
probable shape and appearance of the finished canoe. It seems likely
that a level building bed was first prepared. The keel, probably
rectangular in cross section, was then formed of two poles placed
butt-to-butt, worked to shape, and scarfed. The fastening of the scarf
was probably two or more lashings let into the surface of the wood.
These lashings are assumed to have been of split-root material but may
have been sinew. Possibly to strengthen the scarfs, pegs were also
used, a technique consistent with the state of Beothuk culture. The
keel probably had its ends split into laminae to allow the sharp bend
required to form the bow and stern pieces; and it was probably treated
with hot water and staked out to the desired profile. The main gunwales
were similarly made and worked to the predetermined sheer which, in
staking out, was hogged to a greater degree than was required in the
finished canoe. The ends of the gunwales were apparently split into
laminae to allow the shaping of the sharp upsweep of the sheer close to
bow and stern. The outwales were probably formed in the same manner,
after which the three thwarts were made and the material for ribs and
sheathing prepared. The ribs were apparently bent to the desired
shape, using hot water, and were either staked out or tied to hold them
in form until needed.

[Illustration: Figure 87


The keel was then laid on the bed and a series of stakes, perhaps
4½ feet long, were driven into the bed on each side of the piece in
opposing pairs at intervals of perhaps 2 or 3 feet. The stakes and
keel piece were then removed and the bark cover laid over the bed.
This may have been in two or three lengths, with the edges overlapped
so that the outside edge of the lap faced away from what was to be the
stern. The keel was then placed on the bark and weighted down with a
few stones or lashed at the stem heads to the end stakes; then the bark
was folded up on each side of the keel, and the stakes slipped back
into their holes in the bed and driven solidly into place, perhaps with
the tops angled slightly outward. The heads were then tied together
across the work and battens placed along the stakes and the outside of
the bark to form a "trough" against which the cover could be held with
horizontal inside battens. These were secured by "inside stakes" lashed
to each outside stake in the manner used in building eastern Indian
canoes (see p. 45). The bark cover now stood on the bed in a sharp
~V~ form, with the keel supported on the bed, the ends of the bark
supported by the end stakes, and both held down by stones along the
length of the keel. An alternative would have been to fix heavy stakes
at the extreme bow and stern of the keel and to lash the stem-heads
firmly to these in order to hold the keel down on the bark.

Next the main gunwales, prebent to the required form, were brought
to the building bed and their ends temporarily lashed to stem and
stern. The bark was brought up to these, trimmed, folded over their
tops, and secured by a few temporary lashings. Then the outwales were
placed outside the bark with their ends temporarily secured, and a few
pegs were driven through outwale, bark, and main gunwales, or a few
permanent lashings were passed. The bark cover was next securely lashed
to the gunwales and outwales combined, all along the sheer to a point
near the ends. The excess bark was then trimmed away at bow and stern
and the cover was laced to the end pieces to form bow and stern. This
lacing must have passed through the laminations of the stem and stern
pieces in the usual manner, avoiding the spiral lashing that held
the laminae together. The ends of the gunwales and outwales were next
permanently lashed together with root or other material and to the stem
and stern pieces. This done, the gunwales were spread apart amidships,
pressing the stakes outward still more at the tops. At this point the
tenons may have then been cut in the main gunwales and the thwarts
inserted. This method, incidentally, was used in building some western
Indian bark canoes.

The usual steps of completing a birch-bark canoe would then follow--the
insertion of sheathing, held in place by temporary ribs, and then the
driving home of the prebent ribs under the main gunwales, with their
heads in the spaces between the group lashings along the gunwales and
against the lower outboard corner of the main gunwale member, which was
probably beveled as in the Malecite canoe. The sheathing may have been
in two or three lengths, except close to the gunwale amidships where
one length would serve. On each side of the keel piece a sheathing
strake was placed which was thick on the edge against the keel but thin
along the outboard edge, in order to fair the sheathing into the keel

At some point in this process, the bark cover was pieced out to
make the required width, and gores were cut in the usual manner. In
spreading the gunwales, the bow and stern would have to be freed
from any stakes, as these would tend to pull inboard slightly as the
gunwales were spread in the process of shaping the hull. The ribs
could have been put in while green and shaped in the bark cover by use
of battens and cross braces inside, as were those of the St. Francis

The sewing of the bark cover at panels and gores would take place
before the sheathing and ribs were placed, of course. A 15-foot canoe
when completed would have a girth amidships of about 65 to 68 inches
if the beam at the gunwales were 48 inches, and a bark cover of this
width could be taken from a tree of roughly 20 inches in diameter.
Hence, there may have been little piecing out of the bark for width.
In the form of the Beothuk canoe as reconstructed there is nothing
that departs from what is possible by the common Indian canoe-building
techniques. The finished canoe would, in all respects, agree with most
of the descriptions that have been found and would be a practical craft
in all the conditions under which it would be employed.

These were the only birch-bark canoes supposed to have made long runs
in the open sea clear of the land. In them the Beothuk are supposed to
have made voyages to the outlying islands, in which runs in open water
of upward of 60 miles would be necessary, and they probably crossed
from Newfoundland to Labrador.

The ~V~-form used by the Beothuk canoe was the most extreme of all
birch-bark canoe models in North America, although, as has been
mentioned, less extreme ~V~-bottoms were used elsewhere. The Beothuk
canoe may have been a development of some more ancient form of bark
sea canoe also related to the ~V~-bottom canoes of the Passamaquoddy.
The most marked structural characteristic of the Beothuk canoe was the
keel; the only other canoe in which a true keel was employed was the
temporary moosehide canoes of the Malecite.

The Beothuk keel piece may have sometimes been nearly round in section
like the keel of the Malecite moosehide canoe (p. 214). The two
garboard strakes of the sheathing may have been shaped in cross section
to fair the bark cover from the thin sheathing above to the thick keel
and at the same time allow the ribs to hold the garboards in place.
They could, in fact, be easily made, since a radial split of a small
tree would produce clapboard-like cross sections. This construction
would perhaps comply better with Cartwright's description of the keel
than that shown in the plan on page 97.

The sheer of the Beothuk canoe is an exaggerated form of the gunwale
shape of the Micmac rough-water canoe but this, of course, is no real
indication of any relationship between the two. Indeed, the probable
scarfing of the gunwales of the Beothuk canoe might be taken as
evidence against such a theory. On the other hand, the elm-bark and
other temporary canoes of the Malecite and Iroquois had crudely scarfed
gunwale members, as did some northwestern bark canoes.

Most of the building techniques employed by Indians throughout North
America are illustrated by these eastern bark canoes, yet marked
variation in construction details existed to the westward, as will be

_Chapter Five_


The Indians inhabiting central Canada were expert builders of
birch-bark canoes and produced many distinctive types. The area
includes not only what are now the Provinces of Quebec (including
Labrador), Ontario, Manitoba, and the eastern part of Saskatchewan,
but also the neighboring northern portions of Michigan, Wisconsin and
Minnesota in the United States. The migrations of tribal groups within
this large area in historical times, as well as the influence of a
long-established fur trade, have produced many hybrid forms of bark
canoes and, in at least a few instances, the transfer of a canoe model
from one tribal group to another. It is this that makes it necessary
to examine this area as a single geographic unit, although a wide
variation of tribal forms of bark canoes existed within its confines.

The larger portion of the Indians inhabiting this area were of the
great Algonkian family. In the east during the 18th and 19th centuries,
however, some members of the Iroquois Confederacy were also found, and
in the west, from at least as early as the beginning of the French
fur trade, groups of Sioux, Dakota, Teton, and Assiniboin. From the
fur trade as well as from normal migratory movements there was much
intermingling of the various tribes, and it was long the practice in
the fur trade, particularly in the days of the Hudson's Bay Company, to
employ eastern Indians as canoemen and as canoe builders in the western
areas. These apparently introduced canoe models into sections where
they were formerly unknown; as a result, the tribal classification of
bark canoes within the area under examination cannot be very precise
and the range of each form cannot be stated accurately. It was in this
area, too, that the historical _canot du maître_ (also written _maître
canot_), or great canoe, of the fur trade was developed.

Most of central Canada, except toward the extreme north in Quebec
and toward the south below the Great Lakes, is in the area where the
canoe birch was plentiful and of large size. There the numerous inland
waterways, the Great Lakes, and the coastal waters of James and Hudson
Bays make water travel convenient, and natural conditions require a
variety of canoe models. Hence, when Europeans first appeared in this
area they found already in existence a highly developed method of
canoe transportation. This they immediately adopted as their own, and
in the long period lasting until very recent times, during which the
development of the northern portion of this area was slow, the canoe
remained the most important means of forest travel.

In the northeastern portion of the area, including the Province of
Quebec (with Labrador) from a line drawn from the head of James Bay
eastwardly through Lake St. John and the Saguenay River Valley to the
St. Lawrence and thence northward to the treeline in the sub-Arctic,
dwelt the eastern branch of the far-ranging Cree tribe. Those living
on the shores of Hudson and James Bays, along the west side of the
Labrador Peninsula, were known as the Eastern, Swamp, or Muskeg Cree.
To the north, at the Head of Ungava Bay, around Fort Chimo, and to the
immediate southward, were the Nascapee, or Nascopie, supposedly related
to the Eastern Cree. In southern Labrador and in Quebec along the north
shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and for some distance inland, dwelt
another related tribal group now known as the Montagnais.

Although the most recent canoe forms employed by these three Indian
groups were very much the same, this may not have been the case
earlier. A common canoe model in this area was the so-called "crooked
canoe," in which there was a very marked fore-and-aft rocker to the
bottom without a corresponding amount of sheer; as a result the canoe
was much deeper amidships than near the ends. Another common model
had a rather straight bottom fore and aft, with some lift near the
ends and a corresponding amount of sheer. Between these was a hybrid
which had some fore-and-aft rocker in the bottom and a very moderate
sheer. Not until the 1870's was any detailed examination made of the
canoes in this area; then it appeared that the crooked canoe might be
the tribal model of the eastern Cree only, while the Nascapee employed
a straight-bottom model, but it is possible that the examination was
limited and that Nascapee use of the crooked canoe was simply not
observed. By 1900, however, the crooked model was in use not only by
the eastern Cree and the Nascapee but also by the Montagnais.

[Illustration: Figure 88

MONTAGNAIS CROOKED CANOE. (_Canadian Geological Survey photo._)]

In the area around Fort Chimo and at the northern ranges of the
eastern Cree and of the Montagnais the lack of good birch bark made it
necessary to make up the bark cover out of many small pieces. This not
only was laborious but made a rough and rather unsightly cover. Hence,
some of the northern builders, particularly the Nascapee, substituted
spruce bark, which was available in quite large sheets. The use of
the spruce bark, however, did not cause any of these people to depart
markedly from the model or the method of constructing birch-bark
canoes, as it did for the Indians in the maritime area.

At the time (1908) when Adney was carefully observing the canoes
in this area he found that both crooked and straight-bottom canoes
were being used by all three tribal groups, but with a variation in
midsection form among individual builders. Both types were built with
a midsection that had a wide bottom and vertical sides, or, as an
alternative, a narrow bottom and flaring sides. The end profile of
all these canoes showed chin. In some crooked canoes the profile was
apparently an arc of a circle, but in most canoes the form was an
irregular curve. The stem met the gunwale in a marked peak rounded very
slightly at the head, as the result of the method by which the stem
was constructed, but in the hybrid model used by the Nascapee the ends
were low and not much peaked and the quick upward rise of the sheer
near the ends was lacking. In cross section all these canoes became
~V~-shaped close to the ends, regardless of the midsection form. For
the straight-bottom canoe and in the hybrid form this resulted in very
sharp level lines, but the very great rocker of the crooked canoe
brought the ends well above the normal line of flotation, so that this
type was quite full-ended at the level line in spite of the ~V~-section.

It is apparent upon examining the crooked canoe that there was actually
less variation in its form, in spite of differences in midsection
shape, than in that of the straight-bottom canoe, owing to its very
great depth amidships in proportion to its width. This proportion
made necessary a very moderate flare in the narrow-bottom midsection
and resulted in a rather wall-sided appearance, even in this model.
The hybrid form, which fell between the extremes of the crooked canoe
and the straight-bottom canoe, had a narrow-bottomed flaring-sided
midsection, and its relatively moderate depth made obvious the flare in
the topsides and thus created a distinctive model.

[Illustration: Figure 89


_Eastern Cree_

The construction of canoes of the eastern Cree and related tribes
seems generally like that of the Micmac craft. Instead of the gunwale
method employed in the Maritime area, a building frame was used, and
as a result the gunwales were longer than the bottom. In constructing
the crooked canoe, the building frame must be heavily sheered, and
there is evidence that the building bed was depressed amidships, rather
than raised as was usual in the east. The great amount of rocker in
the bottom in this form of Cree canoe made it necessary to block up
the ends of the building frame to a very great height, and there was
no need to raise the building bed at midlength, since the rocker
extended the full length of the bottom. The bark cover had to be gored
at closely spaced intervals to allow the rocker to be formed, and
even in the straight-bottom model, the quick rise of the bottom near
the ends required closely spaced gores there. In the straight-bottom
model, however, the building bed was raised at midlength, as in eastern
canoe-building, and the building frame was ballasted to a cupid's-bow
profile, when on the bed, so as to achieve the combination of straight
bottom amidships with sharply rising ends.

The gunwales were formed of the main gunwale member and a light gunwale
cap, no outwale being employed. They were joined at the ends and,
after hot water had been applied, were staked out with posts under
the ends to obtain the required sheer. The thwarts were then tenoned
into the main gunwales, though occasionally a canoe was built with
"broken" gunwales, that is, the thwart-ends were let flush into the
top and covered by the caps. Some builders did not spread the gunwales
and place the thwarts until after the bark cover was lashed at the
sheer; others used the eastern methods of assembling the gunwale
structure prior to securing the bark cover at sheer. The bark cover
was attached to the main gunwales with a continuous lashing, as in
the Micmac canoes, but the bark was not always brought over the top
of the gunwales. As a result, some canoes had a batten placed under
the lashing, near the edge of the cover, to prevent the lashing from
tearing away. Due to the lack of good root material, the lashing was
often of rawhide. For all horizontal seams in the side panels of the
bark cover, rawhide sewing over a root batten was used. The ends of the
gunwales were supported by sprung headboards; in some canoes these were
bellied toward the ends to such a degree that they almost paralleled
the end profiles.

[Illustration: Figure 90

NASCAPEE 3-FATHOM CANOE, EASTERN LABRADOR. Similar canoes, with slight
variations in model and dimensions, were used by all Ungava Indians:
the Montagnais and the Eastern, or Swamp, Crees.]

[Illustration: Figure 91

decoration forms. Drawing based on small model of a narrow-bottom canoe
built for fast paddling.]

[Illustration: Figure 92

Ungava-Cree, Montagnais, and Nascapee. Also built with a wide bottom
and a slight tumble-home in the topsides.]

[Illustration: Figure 93

birch bark, with details of canoes and paddles.]

The ends were formed by means of the same technique used for Micmac
canoes; no inside stem-piece was employed and the bark cover was
stiffened by outside battens covered by the lashing. In the Cree
canoes, however, the stem battens were "broken" sharply at the sheer to
form a slightly rounded peak where the end met the gunwale caps. The
"break" in the battens was made by bending them very sharply, so that
they were almost fractured. The Cree practice also differed from that
of the Micmac, although not universally, by passing the lower end of
the stem batten through the bark cover at the point where the stem met
the bottom. The slit thus made was sealed with gum or, more recently,
covered with cloth impregnated with gum. The stems were lashed in
various ways; the most common was a spiral form up to the sheer. Near
the gunwale caps crossed stitches or small, closely spaced wrappings
were also employed. The tops of the battens, forming the peak of the
stem, were brought along under the rail caps, in line with the gunwale
lashings inboard, and secured with a continuous lashing for about 6
inches. In the northern parts of the area under discussion the stem
lashing was often of rawhide.

[Illustration: Figure 94

EASTERN CREE CROOKED CANOE of rather moderate sheer and rocker.
(_Canadian Pacific Railway Company photo._)]

Gunwale caps were wider than the gunwales and thus gave some protection
to the lashing there. The ends of the gunwale caps were heavily tapered
to allow the sharp bends necessary to carry them out on the stems. They
were pegged or nailed to the gunwales, but at the ends were lashed;
usually with two or three small group lashings over and under the stem
battens, below the caps.

The most recent canoes had canvas covers instead of bark. Nails, tacks,
and twine for sewing were used; otherwise they were built as the
Indians built birch- and spruce-bark craft, and not as white men built
canvas canoes and boats.

The framework of the canoes was usually spruce or larch. Toward the
south and along the St. Lawrence some white cedar was used, and in the
south maple was sometimes used for thwarts. The ribs of the canoes
inspected by Adney were usually about 3 inches wide, and a short taper
brought them to about 2 inches at the ends, where they were cut square
across. They were spaced about 1 inch apart edge-to-edge amidships
and somewhat further apart toward the ends of the canoe. The canoes
usually had an odd number of ribs, as the first was placed under the
thwart amidships. The last three ribs at the ends were "broken" at the
centerline to allow them to take the necessary ~V~-section there; but
the fourth rib from each end was only sharply bent. In some canoes the
heel of the very narrow headboard was stepped on the sheathing against
the endmost rib, in others it was stepped, as in the Micmac canoes, on
a frog which rested against the endmost rib.

[Illustration: Figure 95


In more recent times the sheathing was laid in one of two ways,
according to the preference of the builder, but the existence of the
two styles suggests that each was once a tribal-group method. One
method of shaping the bottom sheathing was to employ a center, or
keelson, piece in two lengths, the butts being overlapped amidships,
parallel-sided except toward the stems, where it was tapered to fit the
~V~-sections rather closely. The next strake outboard was short and
was in the form of a shallow triangle with its base along the middle
portion of the first strakes and about one-third the length of the
bottom. Its apex was under the middle thwart. The next strake outboard
was in two lengths lapped amidships, parallel sided along the arms of
the triangular strake, and snied off at the ends to fit along the sides
of the first strake. Another strake outboard of this was similar in
form and position, but longer. Thus seven strake widths would complete
the bottom sheathing. The side sheathing was narrow and slightly
tapered; each strake in two lengths overlapped slightly amidships.
The ends of the topside sheathing ran well into the ends, in most
canoes, where they apparently served as stiffening. The second method
of sheathing employed parallel-sided strakes throughout, laid side by
side on the bottom, with the ends snied off to fit the form of the bark
bottom. The existence of a model canoe made about 1850 (see p. 91)
supports the theory that the first method was originally the Montagnais
tribal construction and that the more primitive second method was
probably Cree or Nascapee.

The ribs were preformed and fitted to the canoe after drying out. They
were bent to the desired shape in pairs and tied with a thong across
the ends to hold their shape while drying. Some builders inserted a
strut inside the bent ribs, parallel to the thong, protecting the
surface of the inner rib by a pad of bark placed under each end of
the strut. The pair of ribs might also be wrapped with a bark cord to
help hold them together. To aid in handling, one pair of ribs might
be nested inside another. As in eastern canoes the ribs under the
gunwales were driven into place. At the ends they were canted toward
the center, so that in the straight-bottom models they stood nearly
perpendicular to the rocker of the bottom there; in the crooked canoe
the ribs were all somewhat canted in this manner.

[Illustration: Figure 96

Geological Survey photo._)]

The paddles used in this area were made with parallel-sided blades, the
end of the blade being almost circular. The handle might be fitted with
a wide grip at the head or it might be pole-ended. It is impossible to
say how early sails were used to propel canoes, but it is probable they
were introduced by the fur traders. Square sails were being used on the
coastal canoes at the time the earliest reference was made to these
canoes, in the 1870's.

Little is known about the decorations employed by the eastern Cree. The
Montagnais birch-bark model canoe of about 1850 (see p. 91) has three
small circles placed in a triangular position on the bow and a band
along the bottom of the side panels. The circles and the bands are in
red paint, but may have been intended to represent the dark inner rind
left after scraping the winter bark cover. The use of decoration in
this area after 1850 has not been noted in any available reference.

As a rule, the straight-bottom canoes were small, commonly between
12 and 18 feet overall, and the most popular size was 14 to 16 feet
overall. A canoe of this size was usually employed as a hunters' canoe
for forest travel, though it might be used occasionally along the
coasts. These canoes were light and, in this respect, resembled the
Micmac models shown in Chapter 4.

The original purpose of the crooked canoe is in question. Those
travelers who saw this canoe in use on the Hudson Bay side of the
Labrador Peninsula believed that it was designed for use in rough,
exposed water. While it would be a desirable form for beach work in
surf, the high ends would make paddling against strong winds very
difficult. On the other hand the Montagnais used the crooked canoe for
river navigation, particularly where rapids were to be run, and for
this work it appears to have been well adapted. The crooked canoe was
commonly built larger than the straight-bottom model, between 16 and
20 feet in length overall, and was a vessel of burden rather than a
hunting canoe. Canoes up to 28 feet in length have been mentioned by
travelers in this area but investigation indicates strongly that these
were not the tribal form but the _canot du nord_, or north canoe of the
Hudson's Bay Company traders.

Along the southern borders of their territory and to the westward
the eastern Cree often built and used canoes modeled on those of
their neighbors, the Têtes de Boule and the Ojibway. Hence the tribal
classification does not hold good in these localities. Also, the
eastern Cree were employed by the Hudson's Bay Company as builders of
forms of the _maître canot_ and _canot du nord_ that are unlike their
typical tribal model.

_Têtes de Boule_

The Têtes de Boule, particularly the western bands, were skilled canoe
builders and had long been employed by the Hudson's Bay Company in the
construction of large fur-trade canoes. Apparently made up of bands
of Indians inhabiting lower Quebec, in the basin of the St. Maurice
River and on the Height of Land, these bands had come down to the lower
Ottawa River to trade with the local Algonkin tribe there in early
times. They were known to the Algonkins, who had had some contact with
civilization, as "wild Indians." They also came into close trading
relations with the French colonists, as the Ottawa River was the early
French canoe route between Montreal and Lake Superior. Because they
cut their hair short, unlike the other Indians, these northern bands
were nicknamed "Bull Heads," or "Round Heads," by the French traders,
and the tribesmen soon came to accept this rather than their own
designation of "White Fish People" as the tribal name. In more recent
times, the name has been applied to groups of Indians living in western
Quebec Province, near Lake Barrière and Grand Lake Victoria, but these
do not consider themselves related to the St. Maurice bands.

It seems apparent that the canoe models of all these groups had been
altered as a result of long contact with other tribal groups. Although
the St. Maurice and the western bands were apparently not of the same
tribal stock, their relations with the Algonkin may have brought about
the use of a standard model by all.

[Illustration: Figure 97

FIDDLEHEAD OF SCRAPED BARK on bow and stern of a Montagnais birch-bark
canoe at Seven Islands, Que., 1915.]

[Illustration: Figure 98

DISK OF COLORED PORCUPINE QUILLS decorating canoe found at Namaquagon,
Que., 1898. Within the 4-inch disk may have been an 8-pointed star.]

The Têtes de Boule lived in an area where very superior materials for
birch-bark canoe construction were plentiful. This, with the need for
canoes imposed by the numerous waterways and the demand for canoes
from white traders, made many of the tribesmen expert builders. Their
small canoes, ranging from the 8-to 12-foot hunter's canoes to the
14-to 16-foot family canoes, were very similar in profile to the canoes
of the St. Francis Abnaki. The Têtes de Boule canoes, however, were
commonly narrower on the bottom, and in their construction a building
frame was always used. The Têtes de Boule model was straight along the
bottom for better than half the length and then rose rather quickly
toward the ends. Similarly, the sheer was moderate amidships and
increased toward the ends. The stems showed a chin and were much peaked
at the gunwale ends. Most commonly the midsection had a flat bottom
athwartships and a well-rounded bilge, giving the topsides, near the
gunwale, a very slight outward flare. Some Têtes de Boule canoes had
rather ~V~-section ends in which the endmost rib was "broken" at the
centerline. As a result the lines were sharp and the canoes paddled
very easily.

[Illustration: Figure 99

A FLEET OF 51 BIRCH-BARK CANOES of the Têtes de Boule Indians,
assembled at the Hudson's Bay Company post, Grand Lake Victoria,
Procession Sunday, August 1895. (_Photo, Post-Factor L. A.

For construction of the Têtes de Boule canoe, which was marked by good
structural design and neat workmanship, the building bed was slightly
raised at midlength, as was the general practice of the St. Francis
builders. The building frame was usually about 6 inches less in width
amidships, inside to inside, than were the gunwales, and from 15 to 18
inches shorter. The building frame was made quite sharp toward the ends
so that, viewed from above, it rather approached a diamond form; this
produced the very sharp lines that are to be seen in many examples of
the Têtes de Boule canoes. The building frame was of course removed
from the canoe as soon as the gunwales were in place and the bark cover
lashed to them.

The gunwale structure, comprised of main gunwale members, caps, and
outwales, was the same as in the Malecite canoes. The main gunwales
were rectangular in cross-section, some being almost square, with the
lower outboard corner bevelled off. Compared to those of eastern canoes
of equal length, the main gunwales were unusually light; their depth
and width rarely exceeded 1 inch, and in very small hunter's canoes
these were often only about ¾ inch. Toward the ends, they tapered to ½
inch, or even slightly less. The ends of the main gunwales, usually of
the common half-arrowhead form, were held together by rawhide or root
thongs passed back and forth through horizontal holes in the members.
After being thus lashed together, they were securely wrapped with
thongs which usually went over gunwales and outwales and through the
bark cover.

The gunwale caps, also light, were usually between ¼ and ½ inch thick
and from 1 to 1½ inches wide. At the ends they were tapered in width
and thickness, often to ³⁄₁₆ by ½ inch, so as to follow the quickly
rising sheer there. The ends of the gunwales, caps, and outwales
required hot-water treatment to obtain the required curve of the sheer.
The caps were pegged to the gunwales and were secured at each end with
two or three groups of lashings which passed around the outwales as
well, and through the bark cover.

The outwales were likewise light battens between ¼ and ½ inch thick and
from ¾ to 1¼ inches deep, the depth near the ends being tapered to ⅜ to
¾ inch so as to sheer correctly.

The bark cover had four or five vertical gores on each side of the
middle thwart, the gore nearest each stem being commonly well inboard
of the end thwarts. The side panels were usually deep amidships and
narrowed toward the ends. A root batten was used under the stitching
of the longitudinal seams of the side panels, which were sewn with a
harness-maker's stitch. The top edge of the bark cover was brought
over the top of the main gunwales, as in the Malecite canoes, and was
secured by group wrappings passing over the gunwales and outwales,
under the caps. These groups were not independent, the root thong being
carried from group to group outside the bark in a long pass under the
outwales. The groups of seven to nine turns were roughly an inch apart
in many small canoes, and perhaps 1½ inches in the large craft. In the
last birch-bark canoes in which no nails or tacks were used, wrappings
of root thongs began with a stop knot, but this does not appear to have
been the earlier practice.

[Illustration: Figure 100


The Têtes de Boule canoes had inside stem-pieces split, according to
the size of the canoe, in four to six laminations and lashed with a
bark or root thong in an open spiral in some canoes but close-wrapped
in others. The stem-piece was as in the Malecite canoes, except that it
ended under the rail cap, and did not pass through it as in the Eastern
canoes; the heel was notched to receive the heel of the headboard.
The bark was usually lashed through the stem, as in the Malecite
construction. However, in some Têtes de Boule canoes, the stem close to
the heel was not laminated and the bark was lashed to the solid part by
an in-and-out stitch passing through closely spaced holes drilled in
the stem piece. Above this, the lashing was the usual spiral which, in
at least a few instances, was passed through the bark just inboard of
the stem piece. Near the top of the stem the lashings sometimes were
rather widely spaced and passed inboard of the stem-pieces; at other
times, however, these lashings were more closely spaced and passed
through the stem.

Ordinarily, at the ends of the canoe no _wulegessis_, or covers of
bark, were used under the gunwale caps, although in one example
examined a small cover had been inserted over the gunwale ends and
under the caps, it did not extend below the outwales to form a
_wulegessis_. In some canoes the bark cover was pieced up at the peak
of the stems by a panel whose bottom faired into the bottom of the side

A variety of methods was used to fit the gunwale caps at the ends of
the canoe. Some builders carried the cap out beyond the gunwale ends,
flat, over the edges of the bark cover and the top face of the outwale,
but others tilted the cap outboard and downward. The ends of the caps
came flush with the face of the stems. In an apparently late variation,
the gunwales, instead of ending in the half-arrowhead, were snied off
the inside and a triangular block was inserted between the ends. The
gunwales were then pegged or nailed to the block and the whole secured
with a root wrapping around them, before the outwales were in place.
The first turn began by passing the root through a hole in the block
near its inboard end, with a stop knot in the root.

The ends of the gunwales were supported by a narrow headboard sharply
bellied toward the end of the canoe. The top of the headboard was
notched to stand under the main gunwales; the center portion often
was carried high and ended with a cylindrical top that was slightly
swelled like the handle of a gouge or chisel. The heel was sometimes
held in the stem-piece notch with a root lashing.

[Illustration: Figure 101


The thwarts, spaced equal distances apart, were tenoned into the
gunwales as in the old Malecite canoes, and were secured with a peg and
lashing through the two holes in the thwart ends. The middle thwart
was usually formed with a shoulder, viewed in plan, that started 6
or 7 inches inboard of the inside face of the main gunwale. In form,
this thwart usually swelled outward in a straight line from the tenon
shoulder, then reduced in a curved line to about the width of the
tenon tongue and, finally, increased again in a right-angle cut to the
greatest width. From here it was reduced again in a long curve to the
canoe's center line. The other thwarts usually had simple ends, wide
at the tenon shoulder and reduced in a long curve to a narrow center.
In elevation, all the thwarts were thin outboard and thick at the
centerline of the canoe. The cross section of the center thwart at the
centerline was square or nearly so, the first thwart on each side was
rectangular in cross section at the center, and the end thwarts were
similar, but very thin.

The sheathing of the Têtes de Boule canoes was thin, particularly at
the ends of the strakes. The bottom was laid with a parallel-sided
center strake going in first. This strake was in two lengths in a small
canoe and three lengths in a large, the butts overlapping slightly. The
rest of the strakes in the bottom were tapered toward the ends of the
canoe. At the extremities of the canoe, the narrow ends of the strakes
were very thin and overlapped along their edges, the bottom sheathing,
when in place, thus following the diamond form of the building frame.
The topside sheathing was laid up in short lengths with overlapping
butts and edges in an irregular plan, those strakes along the bilges
being longer than above. Toward the ends of the canoe these strakes
were slightly tapered and the edges were very thin. The sheathing ended
irregularly, outboard of the headboards, in narrow butts as in most
eastern canoes.

[Illustration: Figure 102

TÊTES DE BOULE HUNTING CANOE, 1½-FATHOM, with typical construction
details and a paddle.]

[Illustration: Figure 103

TÊTES DE BOULE CANOE, 2½-FATHOM, with some construction details.]

The ribs, like the rest of the structure, were very light, usually ¼
to ⅜ inch thick and from about 1¼ to 1¾ inches wide, depending upon
the size of the canoe. A few examples had ribs 2 inches wide, and
still fewer had ribs up to 2½ inches wide. The spacing was usually
close, somewhat more than an inch edge to edge amidships and a little
more between the end thwarts and the headboards. The spacing amidships
would average perhaps 3¼ inches, center to center. The ends of the
ribs, in the last 2 or 3 inches, were reduced in width very sharply in
a hollow, curved taper to ½ to ¾ inch wide, and were usually beveled
on the inside edge. The thickness was also reduced by a cut on the
inside, so that the ends were chisel-pointed with a short bevel on the
inboard side. The rib ends were forced between the main gunwales and
the bark cover, coming home in the bevel of the lower outboard edge of
the main gunwales between the group lashings of the bark cover as in
the Malecite canoes. The ribs were not prebent but were placed in the
canoe when green, treated with hot water, and then allowed to dry into
place. In preparing the rib, it was first bent over the knee. It was
the custom of some builders to place under the building frame the ribs
that were to go near the ends of the canoe, and to mark the point where
they would be bent. Sometimes the endmost ribs that were to be "broken"
at the centerline to form the ~V~-section were split edgewise. A piece
of the inner lamina was then cut out to one side of the center so that
the inner laminae would lie flat against each other, and to prevent the
inner half from buckling the rib was wrapped with a thong to one side
of the "break."

[Illustration: Figure 104

TÊTES DE BOULE HUNTING CANOE, 2-FATHOM, with wide bottom, showing
structural details.]

It does not appear to have been the common practice of the Têtes de
Boule to decorate their small canoes, though when building for white
men they would decorate if the buyer requested it.

The paddles used by the Têtes de Boule were somewhat like those of the
eastern Cree but the blade was slightly wider near the tip than near
the handle. The top grip was formed wide and thin, the taper from the
lower grip to the upper one often being very long. The paddles were
usually of white birch, but maple was used in a few of the examples

The gunwales, outwales, and caps of the Têtes de Boule canoes were
usually of spruce; the ribs and stem pieces, white cedar; the thwarts,
white birch; the headboards, white cedar in all but one of the canoes
inspected (in this, birch had been used). Jack pine was used also for
thwarts, and cedar was sometimes used for the gunwale members; as would
be expected, the builders used the materials that were at hand near the
building sites.

Têtes de Boule fur-trade canoes, like those of the eastern Cree, appear
to have had no relationship to the smaller tribal types, since they
were constructed under supervision of white men. They will be discussed
as a group on page 135.


The Algonkins were a tribe residing on the Ottawa River and its
tributaries, in what are now the provinces of Quebec and Ontario,
when the French first met them. They appear to have been a large and
powerful tribe and were apparently competent builders and users of
birch-bark canoes. They were not the same tribe as the Ottawa, who
controlled the Lake Huron end of the canoe route between Montreal and
Lake Superior, by way of the Ottawa River. These Ottawa were related
to the Ojibway tribe and received their name from the French, who gave
the name _Outaouais_, or "Ottaway," to all Indians, except the Hurons,
who came from the west by way of the Ottawa. The Algonkins, because of
their location, were much influenced by the French fur trade. Early
in the 18th century they intermingled with certain Iroquois whom
they allowed to settle with them, near Montreal, at the Lake of Two
Mountains, later Oka. Thence they gradually spread out and lost tribal
unity, until only small groups were left. These lived on the Golden
Lake Algonkin Reserve, Bonshere River, Ontario; at Oka, Quebec; and
elsewhere in western Quebec and eastern Ontario. It is possible that
they were the first to build fur-trade canoes for the French, but
evidence to support such a claim with any certainty is lacking.

Due to intermixing with other tribal groups and to the influence of the
fur trade, in which they were long employed as canoe men and builders,
the Algonkins no longer used a single tribal model of canoe. However,
one of their models, which had high ends resembling those of the large
fur-trade canoe, may have been the tribal type from which the fur-trade
canoe was developed, as will be seen.

[Illustration: Figure 105


The high-ended model, the oldest form known to have been used by this
tribe, was narrow-bottomed, with flaring sides. The canoes seen were
built with careful workmanship and in the old manner, without iron
fastenings. They were light and easily paddled, yet would carry a heavy
load. The ends were sharp at the line of flotation. The bottom was
straight to a point near the ends, where it lifted somewhat. The sheer
was rather straight over the middle portion of the canoe, then lifted
slightly until close to the stem, where it rose sharply, becoming
almost perpendicular at the ends of the rail caps. The midsection was
slightly rounded across the bottom, with a well-rounded bilge and a
gently flaring topside. The cross-section became ~V~-shaped close to
the headboards. The most marked feature in the appearance of this
canoe was the profile of the ends. The stem line, beginning with a
slight angle where it joined the bottom, bent outward in a gentle
curve, reaching the perpendicular at a point a little more than half
the height of the end, and from there it tumbled home slightly. In
most of the canoes examined the top of the stem then rounded inboard
in a quick, hard curve, usually almost half a circle, so that the stem
was turned downward as it joined the outwale and gunwale cap. In a
variation of this stem form, the top of the stem was cut off almost
square, forming a straight line that ran parallel to the rise of the
bottom below the stems to the point where it would meet the upturned
outwale and cap. The ends of the outwales and caps were thus 3 or 4
inches inboard of the extremities. This form of stem, particularly when
to top was rounded in a half-circle, approached the basic form of the
ends of the fur-trade canoe.

[Illustration: Figure 106

OLD MODEL, OTTAWA RIVER, ALGONKIN CANOE, combining capacity with easy
paddling qualities.]

All the examples of this form of canoe that were examined were small,
from 14 to a little over 16 feet in length overall, but this is not
proof that larger canoes of this type had not existed earlier.

The later and more common form of Algonkin canoe was the _wabinaki
chiman_. A corruption of Abnaki, _wabinaki_ to the later Algonkin meant
the Malecite as well as the St. Francis Indians. The _wabinaki chiman_
was built in lengths from 12 to 18 feet.

Iroquois living in the Algonkin territory during the period built this
form of canoe as well as the older, high-ended form. The _wabinaki
chiman_ was very much like the St. Francis and Malecite canoes in
appearance, but it was not an exact copy. The Algonkin version was
commonly a narrow-bottom canoe with flaring topsides. There was some
variation in the end profiles; most had the rather high, peaked ends
of the St. Francis canoe. The sheer was rather straight until near the
end, where it rose rapidly to the stem. The stem was rounded and was
faired into the bottom. The top of the stem was often rather straight
and tumbled home slightly, but on some it raked outward, much as did
the stem of some Malecite canoes.

Another form of Algonkin canoe had a low sheer with only a slight lift
toward the ends. In this canoe the stem might have a short, hard curve
at the heel and an upper portion that was quite straight and slightly
tumbled home; or the full height might be well rounded, with a slight
tumble-home near the stem head.

In appearance these canoes were very like the straight-stem Malecite
models. The _wabinaki chiman_ was unquestionably copied from the
eastern canoes that came into popularity among the Algonkin late in
the 19th century, when white sportsmen were demanding canoes of the
St. Francis and Malecite models. However, the Algonkin canoes differed
somewhat from the eastern canoes not only in model but also in methods
of construction.

[Illustration: Figure 107

ALGONKIN AND OJIBWAY STEM-PIECES, models of old forms made by Adney: 1,
2, 3, Ojibway; 4, 5, 6, 7, Algonkin.]

Algonkins used the same construction methods in both their canoe
models, though the framework was not alike in all respects. The
building frame was always used. For a 2-or 2½-fathom canoe this was
made of two strips of cedar, 1½ inches wide and ¾ inch deep, that were
bent edgewise, notched, and tied together at the ends with thongs of
the inner bark of the basswood. These strips were held apart in the
required shape by cedar crosspieces 1 inch wide and 1¾ inches deep,
with the ends notched ¾ inch deep (the depth of the longitudinals) and
the tops well rounded. The crosspieces, five in all, were fastened
to the longitudinals with thongs passing through holes in the ends.
The middle one was about 19½ inches between the inside faces of the
longitudinals, those on each side of it were about 15½ inches long by
similar measure, and the end ones were nearly 6 inches long and were
located a foot or so from the extremities of the longitudinals. The
outside width of the building frame amidships would thus be about 22½
or 23 inches.

[Illustration: Figure 108

LIGHT, FAST 2-FATHOM HUNTING CANOE of the old Algonkin model.]

The building bed was level, with a 6-inch-wide board, some 6 to 8
feet in length, sunk into the earth flush with the surface to insure
a true line for the bottom. The outside stakes were of the usual sort
described in building the Malecite canoe (pp. 40-41). The wedge-shaped
inside stakes, or clamp pieces, were 1½ inches wide, 1 inch thick, and
20 to 25 inches long. The posts for setting the height of the gunwales
at the ends and at the crosspieces were not cut off square at the top
as for the Malecite canoe, but were notched on the outside to take the
gunwales. The heights of the posts were graduated, of course, to form
the required sheer in the gunwales. Like the canoes of the Têtes de
Boule, these of the Algonkin were generally less deep amidships than
the general run of eastern canoes.

Building procedure was as follows: The gunwales were made, bent, and
the ends fastened, but instead of being mortised and fitted with
thwarts, they were spread by temporary crosspieces, or "spalls," made
of a splint, or plank-on-edge, with the lower edge notched in two
places to take the gunwale members. Sometimes the spalls were lashed,
pegged or nailed to the gunwales as well. The stakes were set along the
building frame and these were generally driven sloping, so that their
heads stood outboard of the points. They were then pulled and laid
aside, the building frame was removed, and the bark cover placed on the
building bed. After the building frame has been reset in its original
position and the bark cover turned up along the sides, the stakes
were again driven in their holes. The cover was then pieced out with
side panels as necessary and gored, and longitudinal strips of wood
were set in place by means of the clamp pieces, about as in Malecite
construction. The gunwales were then placed on the posts, which had
been set to the required sheer, and the bark trimmed and fitted to
them. The old method was to lash the bark to the main gunwale members
and to peg on the outwales at intervals of about a foot. In earlier
times most builders inserted along the gunwales an extra reinforcing
strip of bark extending a little below the outwales, as in the St.
Francis canoes, but in the nailed-and-tacked bark canoes built during
the decadent period this was sometimes omitted.

[Illustration: Figure 109

HYBRID ALGONKIN CANOES: Eastern 2½ fathom (above) and northeastern
2-fathom adaptation, with sketches of stems used in each.]

Mortises for the thwarts were next cut and the middle thwart was forced
into place, after the spall there had been removed. This required that
the gunwales be spread slightly, thus increasing the amount of sheer
somewhat. Much judgment was needed to do this correctly. The increase
in the sheer lifted the ends slightly and put some rocker in the bottom
toward the ends. The building frame was lifted out before the rest of
the thwarts were placed; usually it was taken apart in the process. In
forming the ends of the bark cover, the two sides were held together by
a clothespin-like device made of two short, flat sticks lashed together.

Increasing the beam at the gunwales by fitting the thwarts after the
bark cover had been secured to the gunwales not only increased the
sheer but decreased the depth of the canoe amidships as established by
the posts placed under the gunwales in setting up. In order to retain
the required sheer and the desired depth of side, the gunwales had been
sheered up at the ends while being shaped, and had also been treated
with hot water and hogged upward amidships by being staked out to dry
into shape. The spreading of the gunwales tended to lift the ends of
the bottom line, a condition that was controlled in two ways: the usual
one apparently was to employ, in combination with a level bed, a
building frame slightly wider than was desired for the finished bottom;
the second way was to follow Malecite procedure and elevate slightly
the middle of the building bed while employing a building frame the
width of the finished bottom. The Algonkin procedure of spreading the
gunwales during construction was that employed in the northwest and
in the building of the fur-trade canoes, as will be seen. The amount
of spread to be given the gunwales also affected the angle, or slope,
at which the side stakes were driven on the building bed. Even so,
some builders who spread the gunwales a good deal would set the stakes
almost vertically, instead of at a slant, as this made sewing the side
panels easier, particularly in large canoes and in canoes whose covers
were made up of a large number of small pieces of bark.

[Illustration: Figure 110

ALGONKIN, 2-FATHOM HUNTER'S CANOE, without headboards. Details of
building frame, stakes or posts, gauge, and stem.]

The gunwales of the Algonkin canoes were made up of three members--main
gunwales, outwales, and caps. The main gunwales, usually of cedar, were
rectangular in cross section and bent on the flat. The lower outboard
corner was bevelled off to take the rib ends, as in the Malecite
canoes. The gunwales were rather light ranging in the examples found
from about 1 inch square to 1 by 1⅝ inches, the ends being tapered
to a lesser size. The outwales were light battens, rectangular in
cross-section, about as deep as the main gunwales and about two-thirds
their thickness or less; they tapered in depth toward the ends to ⅜
or ½ inch in order to follow the sheer, while the thickness might be
constant or only slightly reduced. The caps, which were pegged to the
gunwales, were also light and were about equal to the combined width
of the main gunwales and outwales and had a depth of about ⅜ to ½ inch
amidships. At the ends they were tapered in both width and depth,
becoming ½ inch wide and ⅜ inch deep. The amount of taper in the ends
of the gunwale members depended upon the form of sheer; the Algonkin
practice in the old form of canoe was to sheer the outwales and caps to
the top of the stem, while the gunwales sheered less and met the sides
of the stem piece at a lower point, as in the drawing (p. 116). In the
_wabinaki chiman_, however, the gunwales and other members, as a rule,
all followed the sheer of the ends of the canoe.

[Illustration: Figure 111


The Algonkins used inside stem-pieces in both models, but the
stem-piece of the old high-ended canoe was quite different from that of
the _wabinaki chiman_, for it was built to give a profile in which the
top of the high stem ended in a line straight across to the sheer. The
piece consisted of a crooked stick, without lamination, worked out of
a thin board, ⅜ to ½ inch thick. It was shaped to the desired profile
inside and out, and was slightly sharpened, or sometimes rabbeted and
sharpened, toward the outboard face. The headboard was mounted on this
stem-piece by means of the usual notch but was not bellied; instead it
stood approximately vertical and a short strut was tenoned into both
the headboard and the inside face of the stem at a point about half the
height of the stem. Sometimes two struts were used, side by side, with
the outboard ends lashed at the sides of the stem. Thus the stem-pieces
and headboards were placed as a single unit, not independently as
in eastern canoes. The gunwale ends were lashed to the sides of the
stem-piece, between the strut and the stem-head, at a height determined
by the sheering of the main gunwale members. The outwales and caps
did not touch the stem-piece, ending with a nearly vertical upward
sweep, a few inches inboard. The ends of the outwales and caps were
always higher than the top of the stem-piece so that, when the canoe
was turned upside down, the bark cover over the stem-head was kept off
the ground and thus preserved from damage. The top of the stem-piece
was held rigid not only by the strut to the headboard but also by the
ends of the main gunwale members lashed to it a little higher up.
The headboard was in the form of a rounded ~V~ that was widest at
midheight, at the gunwales, which were let into its sides.

When the stem-head was rounded in the style of the fur-trade canoe, the
stem-piece except near the heel was split into very thin laminations
about ¹⁄₁₆ inch, or a little more, thick. The carefully selected cedar
of which these were made was treated with boiling water, then bent to
profile; the head was sharply bent over and down, inside the stem,
then sharply up again so the end stood at about right angles to the
face of the stem at midheight. The headboard was mounted as previously
described, except that the end of the stem-piece was inserted into a
hole in the headboard just above the strut. The laminations of the
stem-piece were wrapped in the normal manner and the lashing was often
brought around the strut as well, up against the outboard face of the
headboard. The whole structure was thus made rigid and very strong. As
in the other form, the main gunwale members did not follow the sheer
near the ends of canoe but were secured at a point lower down on the
sides of the stem-piece. In the round-head form, however, the outwale
and cap ends were fastened on the after face of the stem-head where the
laminations were curved downward as illustrated in the drawing (p. 116).

The headboards for both models were thicker than those in the eastern
canoes; this aided in holding the stem line in form. Tension on the
bark cover was obtained by making the cover ~V~-formed toward the
ends and then spreading the sides of the ~V~ with the headboard, thus
bringing pressure on the strakes of the sheathing and forcing the sides
outward in a slight curve.

The stem-pieces of the _wabinaki chiman_ were either cut out of a
thin board or laminated. In the straight-stem form, only the forefoot
part was laminated, and no headboard was used. Ordinarily, however,
the rigid headboard with a single strut was used. The head of the
stem-piece was carried through the rail caps and showed above them;
the ends of the caps and main gunwales were notched to permit this, but
neither these nor the cap extended outboard of the face of the stem.

[Illustration: Figure 112


The bark cover was lashed to the gunwales with group lashings in which
the thong was carried from group to group by a long stitch outside the
cover, under the outwale. The turns in each group were passed through
five or six holes in the cover and reinforcing piece, two turns of the
thong going through each hole. The connecting stitch between groups,
which were usually about 1½ inches apart, usually passed from the last
hole in a group to the second hole in the next. Some builders laid a
wooden measuring stick along the gunwales to space the lashings; this
was perhaps the practice of many tribal groups.

The lashing of the ends of the cover was passed through the stem
pieces; when the latter were not laminated, holes through the soft,
thin cedar were made by a sharp awl and an in-and-out or harness stitch
was quite commonly used. On laminated stem pieces the form of lashing
varied; in the _wabinaki chiman_ it was commonly some combination of
spiral and crossed turns; in the old form of high-ended canoe multiple
turns through a single hole (usually at the top of the stem-head)
were also used in combination with closely spaced long-and-short
turns in triangular groups near the top of the stem profile. Below,
in the forefoot, spiral or crossed stitches were used. The ends of
the outwales were lashed together with a close wrapping of turns in
contact where they turned upward sharply, and the caps were secured
there by two or more group lashings. The head of the headboard was
lashed to each gunwale by passing the thong through holes each side
of the headboard; these lashings were in a long group and were passed
around gunwale and outwale before the caps were in place. With plank
stem-pieces the ends of the bark cover were slightly inboard of the
cutwater line, sometimes protected by a rabbet.

The side panels were sewn on with in-and-out stitches, back stitches,
or a double line of either. The gores were sewn spirally in the usual
manner or were stitched with a closely spaced lacing.

Some of the old Algonkin canoes examined had what appeared to be a
_wulegessis_ just outboard of the headboards. No marking was found on
these and they were too far aft to protect the ends of the gunwales.
The bark was carried across the gunwales, under the caps, and hung down
a little below the outwales. On top, it reached from the headboard out
to the lashings of the outwales, forming between the headboards and
the lashings a short deck that may have been intended to keep dirt
and water out of the ends of the canoe. Sometimes a modern _wabinaki
chiman_ has a _wulegessis_, copying the Eastern practice but without

[Illustration: Figure 113

ALGONKIN CANOE DECORATIONS by Tommy Sersin (or Serzia), Golden Lake,
Ont., showing four sides of stems of one canoe. Indian shown has the
eastern headdress rather than that of the Plains Indian. Moose, bear,
beaver, and goose are shown. (_Sketches by Adney._)]

The thwarts were of various designs; a common one had parallel sides in
plan. The old canoes had thwarts much like those of the Têtes de Boule.
The end lashings of these were usually passed through three holes in
the thwart ends, but some had only two holes.

Sheathing was laid somewhat as in the Têtes-de-Boule canoe, with
overlapping edges and butts. The end sheathing was short and was laid
first; the centerline strake was parallel-sided to a point near the
sharp end of the canoe. The strakes on each side of it were tapered
and were laid with their wide ends toward the middle of the canoe and
with the sides and narrow end lapped. In the middle of the canoe the
strakes were parallel-sided and their butts were on top of those of
the strakes in the end of the canoe. The sheathing was carried up to
within about three inches of the gunwales. The edges were not thinned
or feathered as much as were those in the Têtes de Boule canoe.

Ribs were of cedar from 2 to 3 inches wide, closely spaced and, as
usual, without taper until near the ends, which were formed with a
narrow chisel edge as in the Têtes-de-Boule canoe. The ribs were first
roughly bent, using the building frame as a general guide for length,
in order to obtain a somewhat dish-shaped cross section; by this
means the width of the bottom could be established to the builder's

The foregoing description of building methods and construction is
based largely upon what is known of the old canoes. In later times the
Algonkin copied the eastern canoes and their procedure altered. Not
only did they copy extensively the appearance of the St. Francis and
Malecite canoes, but they built some canoes much like those of the
Têtes de Boule and Ojibway. As a result, it has become difficult to
determine what their tribal practices were.

Their paddles were of the same design as those of the Têtes de Boule,
round-pointed and with the blade parallel-sided for most of its length.
In portaging, the Algonkin, like many forest Indians, placed a pair
of paddles a foot or so apart fore-and-aft over the middle thwart and
those on each side of it. These were lashed in place with the ends of
a band of hide or the inner bark of a tree like the basswood or elm.
This band had been first passed around the ends of the middle thwart,
outside the shoulders, and hitched with ends long enough to secure the
paddles in place. The shoulder on the middle, thwart, a few inches
inside the gunwales, was placed there for just this purpose, not as a
mere decoration, so that the line could not slide in along the thwart.
The canoe was then lifted and turned over by raising one end, or by
lifting the whole canoe, and was placed on the carrier's shoulders, so
that the paddle handles were on his shoulders. This brought the middle
thwart to just behind the carrier's head. The loop of the bark or hide
cord was then placed around the forehead of the carrier in order to
keep the canoe from slipping backward. In this fashion one man could
carry a canoe for miles if the canoe were small--and all woods, or
portage, canoes were small and light. The headband was known to white
men as a "tump line." The Indians used it to carry not only canoes but
other heavy or awkward loads (see p. 25).

There is no certainty about the decorations of Algonkin canoes. Some
of the older Indians claimed that the old form of canoe was often
decorated with figures formed by scraping the winter bark; usually
these depicted the game the owner hunted. Five-pointed stars, fish, and
circular forms are known to have been used on the _wabinaki chiman_,
but it is not known whether these were really Algonkin decorations or
merely something that had been copied "because it looked good."

The Algonkin called the large fur canoes _nabiska_, a name which the
Têtes de Boule rendered as _rabeska_. The word may be a corruption of
the Cree word for "strong." At any rate, the name _rabeska_ (sometimes
pronounced ra-bas-ha), rather than the French maître canot, was long
applied by white men in the fur trade to the large canoes built in the
Ottawa River Valley for their business. In late years the rabeska was a
"large" 2½-fathom high-ended birch-bark canoe, but originally it meant
a fur-trade canoe, with the characteristic ends, of from 3 fathoms
upward in length.


The Indian bands that were called "_Outaouais_" by the early French do
not appear to have been an independent tribe, as has been mentioned,
but were largely made up of Ojibway from the Great Lakes region.
Perhaps some Têtes de Boule were among these bands before these people
were given their nickname. The Ojibway were a powerful tribal group,
made up of far-ranging bands, located all around Lake Superior and to
the northwest as far as Lake Winnipeg. They had been in the process of
taking over the western end of Lake Superior when the earliest French
explorers reached that area; they pushed the Sioux from these forest
lands into the plains area, joining with the western Cree in this
movement. In the process they seem to have absorbed both some Sioux and
some Cree bands. Within the Ojibway tribal group, later called Chippewa
or Chippeway by the English and Americans, the bands had local names,
or were given nicknames, such as the Menominee, Saltreaux, Pillagers,
etc. All the important bands within the tribal group were expert
canoemen and builders. As far as can be discovered now, the Ojibway
added to their own tribal types the models of canoes they encountered
in their expansion westward. It has long been true that the Ojibway
canoe can be one of at least three forms, depending upon which area of
their territory is being discussed.

What is believed to be their old tribal form was a high-ended canoe
in all respects very much like the high-ended Algonkin type. This was
the model used by the Lake Nipigon Ojibway, north of Lake Superior in
Ontario, and by those of the same tribe that once lived near Saginaw,
Michigan, as well as by the Menominee of Wisconsin. At the late period,
from the middle of the 19th century onward, for which information was
available or in which investigation was possible, it appears that the
Ojibway canoes of this high-ended model were built in larger sizes than
contemporary Algonkin canoes of like design. The Ojibway canoes had the
same end structure as these; the early examples found had "chin" in the
end profiles and the tumble-home of the stem was straight, or nearly
so, between the large curve of the forefoot and the very short hard
curve at the stem head. The Ojibway used the same inner stem-piece,
laminated and brought downward abaft the stem-head and then inboard so
that the end fitted into a slot in the headboard a little above its
midheight, at which point was fitted a strut from the headboard to the
back of the stem-piece. The midsection of the Ojibway canoe was very
much like that of the Algonkin; it had a narrow bottom somewhat rounded
athwartships, a well-rounded bilge, and flaring topsides.

A small Ojibway portage canoe built in the middle of the 19th century
had an end profile somewhat different from that described above; the
ends were well rounded and had a heavy chin, the stem was carried into
the tumble-home with a full rounded curve all the way to the stem-head,
where the stem piece was bent in and downward very sharply and then
inboard sharply again, so that the end pierced the vertical headboard
at sheer height. The ~S~-curve was so located that the main gunwales
could be lashed to the stem piece at the point where they paralleled it
well below the stem head. In these canoes the Ojibway followed Algonkin
practice in ending the gunwales; there was, therefore, no strut. Where
this canoe was built is uncertain.

[Illustration: Figure 114

OJIBWAY 2-FATHOM HUNTER'S CANOE, used by the eastern tribal groups.
Probably the ancient model.]

[Illustration: Figure 115

(above), and 2-fathom hunter's canoe, showing the easy paddling form

[Illustration: Figure 116

based on canvas canoes.]

[Illustration: Figure 117

THE OLD FORM OF OJIBWAY 2½-FATHOM CANOE of the eastern groups (above),
and the long-nose Cree-Ojibway canoe of the western groups.]

At Lake Timagami, north of Georgian Bay in Ontario, the Ojibway used a
low-ended canoe with a remarkably straight tumble-home stem profile;
the forefoot had a very short radius ending at the bottom line with
a knuckle, and the stem-head stood slightly above the gunwale caps.
The stem-piece was made from a thin plank cut to profile; thus no
lamination was necessary. The headboard stood straight, falling
inboard slightly at the head. The midsection was dish-shaped, with
a flat bottom athwartships and strongly flaring sides, the turn of
the bilge being rather abrupt. The ends were strongly ~V~-shaped in
cross-section; a number of the frames there being "broken" at the
centerline of the bottom. A canoe of this design was seen by Adney at
North Bay, Ontario, in 1925, indicating that the design may have been
used in some degree outside the Lake area in later years.

The most common Ojibway model used to the northwest and west of Lake
Superior was the so-called "long-nose" form, a rather straight-sheered
canoe. The bottom, near the ends, had a slight rocker, and the sheer
turned up very sharply there, becoming almost perpendicular at the
extremities, yet the ends were not proportionally very high. The
end-profile came up from the bottom very full and round, then fell
sharply inboard in a slightly rounded sweep to join the upturned
sheer well inboard. The midsection was somewhat dish-shaped, but with
well-rounded bilges, so that the flare of the topsides was rounded and
not very apparent to the casual observer. The end section developed
into a tumble-home form, so that a section through the top of the
headboard was rather oval. As a result, these canoes appeared rather
clumsy and unfair in their lines, but this apparently did not harm
their paddling qualities or seaworthiness.

[Illustration: Figure 118

EASTERN OJIBWAY CANOE, OLD FORM. (_Canadian Pacific Railway photo._)]

[Illustration: Figure 119


These canoes had narrow headboards that were sharply bellied, somewhat
like those in the crooked canoes, and the belly was sufficient to allow
the heel of the end-board to pass under the bottom sheathing and inside
the bark cover so that two end ribs served to hold the heel in place.
The inside stem-piece was often no more than a light stick or rod bent
to profile, with the head split and brought over the gunwale ends and
down inside, between them. Each half of the split was then lashed to
its neighboring gunwale member. A strip of bark was often placed over
the end of the bark cover and carried down the face of the stem, under
the sewing. The rail caps were then brought up over the tops of the
gunwales and overlapped the top portion of the stem piece. The heel of
the stem-piece was bevelled off on the inboard side so that it could be
wedged under the headboard, inside the bark cover. These headboards,
it should be noted, were no more than a thin, narrow batten, and in
some canoes the head of this batten was lashed under the gunwale ends
instead of coming up between them inboard, as usual. A variation in the
fitting of the stem head was found in a canoe at Long Lake, Ontario;
the stem head, instead of being split, was lashed between the gunwale
ends and thus was brought inboard level with the top of the gunwales.

[Illustration: Figure 120

trend toward the long nose form, and the final Ojibway-Cree hybrid form
combining flaring sides amidships with tumble-home sections at ends.]

The cross section of the main gunwales was round or nearly so in nearly
all long-nose canoes, and often a gunwale cap was fitted. The bark
cover was secured to the gunwales by a continuous lashing, but in at
least one example, from Minnesota, the gunwale wrappings were in groups
over an outwale after the regular fashion to the eastward. The ends of
the thwarts were wedge-or chisel-shaped and instead of being tenoned
were forced into splits in the round gunwales. Many canoes had bark
covers at the gunwale ends and vestiges of the _wulegessis_ were to be

All Ojibway canoes were built with a building frame, the bed being
slightly higher at midlength than at the ends. The stakes were driven
nearly perpendicular, instead of with heads slanted outward. It is
apparent from observed examples that some canoes were built by the same
procedure as the Algonkin, but that not all the long-nose canoes were
built by spreading the gunwales; some were built using the methods of
the St. Francis.

[Illustration: Figure 121


Preparing a building site or bed; building frame in place.

Bark set up; bark staked out on building bed.

Bark cover being sewn on building bed.

(See pp. 170-171 for more photos of Ojibway canoe building.) Gunwales
being lashed.

Securing gunwales.

Pitch being applied to seams.]

[Illustration: Figure 122

LONG LAKE OJIBWAY LONG-NOSE CANOE. (_Canadian Geological Survey

The lashing in the high-ended Ojibway canoes was about the same as that
in the Algonkin canoes, but in the long-nose type the workmanship was
often coarse. On many of the latter the stems were lashed by use of
small groups in which two turns were taken through each of two closely
spaced holes in the bark and the connection between the groups was
made by a long spiral around the outside of the stem. This pattern was
carried down from the stem-head to about the level of the midship sheer
height; from there down around the forefoot the lashing consisted of a
simple spiral. Another style was to use widely spaced groups made up of
two or three turns through a pair of facing holes in the bark, one on
each side and inboard of the stem. The turn went around the stem, and
the last connected with the next pair of holes below. A few canoes of
this style used closely spaced wrapping, as in the high-ended canoes.

The long-nose Ojibway canoe is surprisingly primitive by comparison
with the graceful and well-finished high-ended model built after the
Algonkin style. Adney believed that the long-nose type originated
with the Sioux Dakotas, before the combined Ojibway and Cree movement
forced them out of the forest lands to the west of Lake Superior. He
considered it possible that both the Ojibway and Cree adapted the
Dakota model, modifying it somewhat to their methods of construction.
It is true that the western Cree built a long-nose canoe, but it had
less chin than the Ojibway model. On the other hand, the Ojibway
prebent ribs in pairs like the eastern Cree, and used spreaders in the
end ribs while drying them, in exactly the same manner. A picture taken
in 1916 shows the gunwales of a Cree long-nose canoe being set; it was
laid on the ground and weighted along the midlength by stones laid on
boards placed across the longitudinals. The ends had been sheered up
and were supported at each end by a thong made fast to the gunwale end
and then brought over a post, or strut, a few feet inboard and made
fast to the middle thwart.

It is unnecessary to detail the construction of the Ojibway canoes, as
they employed a building-frame, as the drawings on pages 123 to 127
show plainly enough the pertinent details of fitting and construction.
It is important to observe that the wide variation in model and in
construction details of the Ojibway canoes produced a variety of
building procedures that in the main were like those of the Algonkin
and Cree. Hence the older tribal method of construction cannot now be
stated with any accuracy.

The paddle forms used by the Ojibway groups varied somewhat. Most were
made with parallel-sided blades and oval tips. The hand grip at the top
of the handle was rectangular and was large in comparison to the grip
of the eastern Cree paddles. A few variations have been noticed; the
blade of one was widest at the top, the tip was almost squared off, and
the upper hand grip was much as in the factory paddle of today. This
paddle, from an unknown locality, was used in 1849.

As in the case of the Algonkin, the eastern Ojibway built fur-trade
canoes under supervision. Though these canoes differed somewhat from
those built by the Algonkins, it is now impossible to say whether
or not there was any real relationship between them and the small,
high-ended "old-form" canoe. Likewise, the Ojibway built a version
of the _wabinaki chiman_ which seems to have influenced some types
of their own, such as, for instance, the straight-stem Lake Temagami

[Illustration: Figure 123

NINETEEN-FOOT OJIBWAY CANOE with thirteen Indians aboard (1913).]

_Western Cree_

The western portion of the great Cree tribe appear to have occupied the
western shore of James Bay and to have moved gradually northwestward
in historical times. Their territory included the northern portion of
Ontario and northern Manitoba north of Lake Winnipeg, and as early
as 1800 they had entered northwestern Alberta. The line of division
between the canoes of the eastern and western Cree cannot be strictly
determined, but it is roughly the Missinaibi River, which, with the
Abitibi River, empties into the head of James Bay at the old post of
Moose Factory. The southern range of the Cree model was only a little
way south of the head of James Bay, irregularly westward in line
with Lake St. Joseph to Lake Winnipeg. To the west, the Cree type of
canoe gradually spread until it met the canoe forms of the Athabascan
in the Northwest Territories, in the vicinity of Lake Athabaska in
northwestern Saskatchewan.

The canoes of the western Cree, as has been noted, strongly resembled
the long-nose Ojibway model except that they had less pronounced chin.
But unlike those of the eastern Cree, their canoes employed an inside
stem-piece that was sometimes a laminated piece and sometimes a piece
of spruce root. The stem head was commonly bent sharply and secured
between the gunwale ends at the point where the two longitudinals were
fastened together, much as in some Ojibway long-nose canoes. The Cree
canoe had basically the same dish-shaped midsection, but it had very
full, round bilges and the flare was so curved in the topside that it
was even less apparent than in the Ojibway model. The shorter chin of
the Cree canoe also made tumble-home in the end sections unnecessary,
and cross section near the headboards was given the form of a slightly
rounded ~U~.

The bottom had very little rocker at the ends, being straight for
practically the whole length. The stem-piece if laminated (often in
only two or three laminations) came up from the bottom in a fair round
forefoot and then tumbled in by a gentle curve to the stem-head, where
it was bent sharply to pass down between the gunwale ends as previously
noted. But if the stem-piece was of spruce root, the profile was often
somewhat irregular and the chin was more pronounced. In a common style
the stem came fair out of the bottom in a quick hard curve, then curved
outward slightly until the height of the least freeboard amidships
was reached, at which height another hard turn began the tumble-home
in a gentle sweep to the stem-head, where there was a very hard turn
downward. The stem-head was often split, as in some Ojibway canoes,
so that it came over the joined ends of the main gunwales and the two
halves were then lashed to the inside faces of the gunwales.

Birch bark was often poor or scarce in the territory of the western
Cree, as in that of their eastern brothers. As a substitute, they
employed spruce bark and in general seem to have achieved better
results, for their spruce-bark canoes had a neater appearance. If the
canoe was built when or where root material was difficult to obtain,
the western Cree used rawhide for sewing the bark cover. When the stems
were lashed with rawhide, a stem-band of bark under the lashing was

The gunwales were round in cross section and were often spliced
amidships. The bark cover was lashed to these with a continuous
lashing, no caps or outwales being employed. As in the Ojibway
long-nose canoe, the headboards were very narrow and much bellied.
These canoes were built with four or five thwarts; the 4-thwart type
was used for gathering wild rice, as was the Ojibway type, while the
5-thwart canoe was the portage model. The thwarts were sometimes
mortised into the gunwales, but some builders made the thwart ends
chisel-pointed and drove them into short splits in the gunwales before
lashing them, one or two holes being drilled in the thwart ends to take
the lashing thongs. When the thwarts were tenoned into the gunwales,
the builders of course made the inside of the gunwales flat.

When spruce bark was employed, its greater stiffness made it possible
to space the ribs as much as 10 inches on centers, but with birch
the spacing was about 1 inch, edge to edge. The sheathing was in
short splints and the inside of the canoe was "shingled" or covered
irregularly without regard to lining off the strakes, a practice
sometimes observed in Ojibway long-nose canoes. The much-bellied and
narrow headboards were fitted as in the long-nose canoe, and the heel
was secured under a piece of sheathing and held by it and the first two

Western Cree canoes were built with a building frame, and the bed was
raised in the middle. The sewing varied. The ends were lashed with
combinations of close-wrapped turns, crossed turns, grouped, and spiral
turns; the lashing commonly went around the inside stem piece rather
than through it. Side panels were sewn with in-and-out stitches or
back stitches, and the gores with the usual spiral. Gumming as a rule
was done with clear spruce gum tempered by repeated meltings.

[Illustration: Figure 124

WESTERN CREE 2½-FATHOM CANOE, Winisk River District, northwest of James
Bay. Built of either birch or spruce bark. Inside root stem piece,
round gunwales, and much-bellied headboard are typical.]

The woodwork varied with the building site; some builders could use
much cedar, but spruce was most common and the thwarts were usually
of birch. When spruce bark was used it was never employed in a single
large sheet, since it would have been impossible to mold it to the
required shape. Hence the bark cover was pieced up, whether birch or
spruce, as an aid in molding the form. Before the spruce bark was
sewed and gummed, the edges of the pieces had to be thinned to make a
neat joint. Furthermore, in the continuous lashing it was desirable to
take two or three turns through one hole in the bark cover to avoid
weakening the material with closely spaced holes.

The western Cree paddles had parallel-sided blades with rounded tips;
the handle sometimes had a ball-shaped top grip and sometimes it was
pole-ended. The blade did not have a ridge on its face near the handle.
Old Cree paddles were often decorated with red pigment bands, markings
in the shape of crosses, squares in series, and dots on the blades; the
top grip might also be painted.

Many tribal groups in the western portion of the area have been
mentioned--Teton, Sioux, Assiniboine, Illinois, Huron, and many
others--but no record of their canoe forms has survived and the
assigning of any model to them is pure speculation. The fur trade alone
brought about a period of tribal movement among the Indians long enough
to erase many tribal distinctions in canoes and to cause types to move
great distances.

[Illustration: Figure 125

AN OLD 6-FATHOM FUR-TRADE CANOE, or "rabeska," used on the
Montreal-Great Lakes run. Also called the Iroquois canoe, it
approximates the canoes built for the French, at the Trois Rivières,
Que., factory and is of the style used by the North West and Hudson's
Bay Companies.]

_Fur-Trade Canoes_

Of all birch-bark canoe forms, the most famous were the _canots du
maître_, or _maître canots_ (also called north canoes, great canoes, or
_rabeskas_), of the great fur companies of Canada. These large canoes
were developed early, as we have seen in the French colonial records,
and remained a vital part of the fur trade until well toward the very
end of the 19th century--two hundred years of use and development at
the very least. A comprehensive history of the Canadian and American
fur trade is yet to be written; when one appears it will show that the
fur trade could not have existed on a large scale without the great
_maître canot_ of birch bark. It will also have to show that the early
exploration of the north country was largely made possible by this
carrier. In fact, the great canoes of the Canadian fur trade must be
looked upon as the national watercraft type, historically, of Canada
and far more representative of the great years of national expansion
than the wagon, truck, locomotive, or steamship.

Little has survived concerning the form and construction of the early
French-colonial fur-trade canoes. Circumstantial evidence leads to the
conclusion that the model was a development, an enlargement perhaps,
of the Algonkin form of high-ended canoe as described on pages 113 to
116. The early French came into contact with these tribesmen before
they met the Great Lakes Ojibway, the other builders of the high-ended
model. It is known that the Indians first supplied large canoes to the
French governmental and church authorities and that when this source of
canoes proved insufficient, the canoe factory at Trois Rivières was set
up and a standard size (probably a standard model as well) came into
existence. As the fur trade expanded, large canoes may well have been
built elsewhere by the early French; we know at least that building
spread westward and northward after Canada became a British possession.

In the rise of the great canoe of the fur trade, the basic model was
no doubt maintained through the method of training its builders. The
first French engaged in bark-canoe building learned the techniques, let
us say, from the original Indian builders, the Algonkin. As building
moved westward, the first men sent to the new posts to build canoes
apparently came from the French-operated canoe factory. It would be
reasonable to expect that as building increased in the west, local
modifications would be patterned on canoes from around the building
post, but that the basic model would remain. This may account for the
departures from the true Ojibway-Algonkin canoes seen in the _maître

[Illustration: Figure 126

construction, fitting, and decoration.]

[Illustration: Figure 127

SMALL 3-FATHOM NORTH CANOE of the Têtes de Boule model. Built in the
19th century for fast travel, this Hudson's Bay Company canoe was also
called nadowé chiman, or Iroquois canoe.]

In model, all the fur-trade canoes had narrow bottoms, flaring
topsides, and sharp ends. The flaring sides were rather straight in
section and the bottom nearly flat athwartships. The bottom had a
moderate rocker very close to the ends. In nearly all of these canoes,
the main gunwales were sheered up only slightly at the ends and were
secured to the sides of the inner stem-piece; the outwales and caps,
however, were strongly sheered up to the top of the stem. The curvature
and form of the ends, in later years at least, varied with the place of

After the English took control of Canada and the fur trade, a large
number of Iroquois removed into Quebec and were employed by the English
fur traders as canoemen and as canoe builders. Though the aboriginal
Iroquois were not birch-bark canoe builders, they apparently became so
after they reached Canada, for the fur-trade canoes built on the Ottawa
River and tributaries by the Algonkins and their neighbors became known
after 1820 as _nadowé chiman_ or _adowe chiman_, names which mean
Iroquois canoe. These "Iroquois canoes," however, were not a standard
form. Those built by the Algonkin had relatively upright stem profiles,
giving them a rather long bottom, and the outwales and caps stood
almost vertical at the stem-heads; in contrast, the "Iroquois canoes"
built by the Têtes de Boule had a proportionally shorter bottom than
those of the Algonkin, because the end profiles were cut under more at
the forefoot. Also, the outwales and caps of the Têtes de Boule canoes
were not sheered quite as much as were those of the Algonkin.

It is supposed that the Têtes de Boule were taught to build this model
by Iroquois, who had replaced the French builders subsequent to the
closing of the canoe factory at Trois Rivières, sometime about 1820.
After the English took possession of Canada in 1763, the old canoe
factory had been maintained by the Montreal traders (the "North West
Company"), and it was not until these traders were absorbed by the
Hudson's Bay Company that canoe manufacture at Trois Rivières finally
came to a halt, although it is probable that the production of canoes
there had become limited by shortages of bark and other suitable
materials. However, the North West Company had built the large trading
canoes elsewhere, for many of its posts had found it necessary to
construct canoes locally, and when the Hudson's Bay Company finally
took over the fur trade it continued the policy of building the canoes
at various posts where material and builders could be found. This
policy appears to have produced in the fur-trade canoe model a third
variant in which the high ends were much rounded at the stem head;
this was the form built by the Ojibway and Cree (see p. 139). It must
be noted, however, that the variation in the three forms of fur-trade
canoe was expressed almost entirely in the form and framing of the
ends; the lines were all about the same, though small variations in
sheer, rocker, and midsection must have existed.

[Illustration: Figure 128

MODELS OF FUR-TRADE CANOES, top to bottom: 2½-fathom Ottawa River
Algonkin canoe, Hudson's Bay Company express canoe, 3½-fathom Têtes
de Boule "Iroquois" canoe, 3¾-fathom Lake Timagami canoe, 5-fathom
fur-trade canoe of early type, and 5-fathom Hudson's Bay Company canoe
built in northwestern Quebec Province.]

Although no regulations appear to have been set up by the fur companies
to govern the size, model, construction or finish of these canoes,
custom and the requirements of usage appear to have been satisfactory
guides, having been established by practical experience. As a result,
the length of canoes varied and the classification by "fathoms" or feet
must be accepted as no more than approximate.

The form of the canoe was determined by the use to which it was to
be put, in trade or in travel. Fur-trade accounts often mention the
"light canoe," or _canot léger_, often misspelled in various ways in
early English accounts, and this class of canoe was always mentioned
where speed was necessary. Commonly, the light canoe was merely a trade
canoe lightly burdened. Due to the narrow bottom of these canoes,
they became long and narrow on the waterline when not heavily loaded
and so could be paddled very rapidly. It is true, however, that some
"express canoes" were built for fast paddling. These were merely the
common trade models with less beam than usual at gunwale and across
the bottom. Some posts made a specialty of building such canoes, often
handsomely painted, for the use of officials of the company, or of the
church or government, during "inspection" trips. Not all of the highly
finished canoes were of the narrow form, however, as some were built
wide for capacity rather than for high speed.

[Illustration: Figure 129

Hopkins (_Public Archives of Canada photo_).]

The fur traders used not only the so-called fur-trade canoes, of
course, but they employed various Indian types when small canoes were
required. And in the construction of the high-ended fur-trade models,
they did not limit themselves to canoes of relatively great length.
Each "canoe road" forming the main lines of travel in the old fur-trade
had requirements that affected the size of the canoes employed on it.
The largest size of fur-trade canoe, the standard 5½-fathom (bottom
length), was employed only on the Montreal-Great Lakes route, in the
days before this run was taken over by bateaux, schooners, sloops,
and later, by steamers. At the western end of this route, a smaller
4-or 4½-fathom canoe came into use. The latter was used on the long
run into the northwest. Even smaller canoes were often employed by
the northern posts; the 3-or 3½-fathom sizes were popular where the
canoe routes were very difficult to operate. For use on some of the
large northern lakes, the large canoes of the Montreal-Great Lakes
run were introduced. Fur coming east from the Athabasca might thus be
transported in canoes of varying size along the way.

In judging the size of the canoe mentioned in a fur-trader's journal,
it is often very difficult to be certain whether the measurement he
is employing is bottom or gunwale length. In the largest canoes,
however, the 5½-fathom bottom-length was the 6-fathom gunwale length,
and the use of either usually, but not always, indicates the method of
measurement. This is not the case in the small canoe however, where the
matter must too often be left to guesswork. To give the reader a more
precise idea of the sizes of the canoes last employed in the fur trade,
the following will serve. The _maître canot_ of the Montreal-Great
Lakes run was commonly about 36 feet overall, or about 32 feet 9 inches
over the gunwales, and a little over 32 feet on the bottom. The beam
at gunwale was roughly 66 inches (inside the gunwales) or about 68-70
inches extreme beam. The width of the building frame that formed the
bottom would be somewhere around 42 inches. The depth amidships, from
bottom to top of gunwale might be approximately 30-32 inches and the
height of the stems roughly 54 inches. These dimensions might be best
described as average, since canoes with gunwale length given as 6
fathoms were built a number of inches wider or narrower, and deeper or
shallower. The earlier fur-trade canoes of the French and of the North
West Company, for example, were apparently narrower than the above.

[Illustration: Figure 130

Hopkins (_Public Archives of Canada photo_).]

[Illustration: Figure 131

OJIBWAY 3-FATHOM FUR-TRADE CANOE, a cargo-carrying type, marked by
cut-under end profiles, that was built as late as 1894.]

[Illustration: Figure 132

Christopherson's Hudson's Bay Company posts at Grand Lake Victoria,
Lake Barrière, and Lake Abitibi. Called the Ottawa River canoe by
fur-traders, it was used for fast travel and shows the upright stems of
the northwest Quebec Algonkin.]

The 5-fathom size that replaced the larger canoe at the close of the
bark-canoe period was about 31 feet long over the gunwales or 30 feet 8
inches in a straight line from tip of upturned rail cap at one stem to
the other. The beam inside the gunwales was 60 inches. The width of the
building frame would be between 40 and 45 inches, and the frame when
formed would be about 26 feet 8 inches long. The depth of the canoe
amidships, from bottom to top of gunwale, was approximate 30 inches and
the height of the stems about 50 inches. The overall length of such a
canoe was about 34 feet 4 inches. An express canoe of this size would
be about 56 inches beam inside the gunwales or even somewhat less, and
the depth amidships about 28 inches or a little less.

[Illustration: Figure 133

"HUDSON'S BAY CANOE RUNNING THE RAPIDS." From an oil painting by
Hopkins (_Public Archives of Canada photo_).]

A 4-fathom canoe measured 26 feet 8 inches over the tips of the
upturned rail caps, and 29 feet 11 inches overall. The beam amidships
was 57 inches inside the gunwales and the depth amidships to top of
gunwales was 26 inches; the height of the stem was 53 inches.

A 3-fathom canoe was 19 feet 2 inches overall, 16 feet 8 inches
over the ends of the gunwale caps, 42 inches beam amidships inside
of gunwales, the depth of the canoe from bottom to top of gunwale
amidships was 19 inches, and the height of the ends was 38 inches. The
building frame for this canoe was 15 feet 8 inches long and 27 inches

The canoes falling between the even-fathom measurements were often
of about the same dimensions as the even-fathom size next below;
a 3½-fathom canoe would have nearly the same breadth and depth as
a 3-fathom; only the length was increased. The half-fathom rarely
measured that--a canoe rated as 3½ fathom was actually only 20 feet 5
inches overall. One express canoe rated 3½ fathoms measured 20 feet 1
inch overall, 18 feet 3 inches over the gunwale caps, 44 inches beam
inside gunwales amidships, and 21 inches deep, bottom to top of gunwale
cap. The height of the ends was 39 inches. This example will serve to
indicate how inexact the fathom classification really was. It should
also be noted that the height of the ends varied a good deal in any
given range of length, as this dimension was determined not by the
length of the canoe but by the judgment and taste of the builder and
his tribal form of end. Generally, however, small canoes had relatively
higher ends than large canoes, in proportion to length, because, as
will be remembered, one function of the end was to hold the upended
canoe far enough off the ground to permit the user to seek shelter
under it.

[Illustration: Figure 134

"REPAIRING THE CANOE." From an oil painting by Hopkins (_Public
Archives of Canada photo_).]

Extremes of dimension appear to have been rare in fur-trade canoes;
none whose length overall exceeded 37 feet have been found in the
records, and the maximum beam reported in a _maître canot_ was 80
inches. When canvas replaced birch bark in the fur-trade canoes,
the high-ended models disappeared; the canvas freight canoes were
commonly of the white man's type having low-peaked ends, or a modified
Peterborough type.

Before discussing the methods of construction, the loading and
equipment of the fur-trade canoes should be described from contemporary
fur trade accounts. The goods carried in these canoes were packed into
easily handled bundles, or packages, of from 90 to 100 pounds weight.
Wines and liquor were carried in 9-gallon kegs, the most awkward of
all cargo to portage. In some cases the furs were packed into 80-or
90-pound bundles in the Northwest, and were repacked into 100-pound
bundles before being placed on the large canoes of the Montreal-Great
Lakes route, but bundles lighter than 90 pounds were made up for the
shipment of small quantities of individual goods to isolated posts.
The bundles, or packs, of furs were formed under screw presses so that
500 mink skins, for example, were made into a package 24 inches long,
21 inches wide and 15 inches deep, weighing very close to 90 pounds.
Buffalo hides formed a larger pack, of course. In the canoe, packs were
covered by a _parala_, a heavy, oiled red-canvas tarpaulin.

Boxes called _cassettes_ were carried; these were 28 inches long and
16 inches in width and depth, made of ¾-inch seasoned pine dovetailed
and iron-strapped, with the lid tightly fitted. The top, and sometimes
the bottom too, was bevelled along the edges. The lids were fitted
with hasps and padlocks and the boxes were as watertight as possible.
Each box was painted and marked; in these were placed cash and other
valuables. Also carried was a travelling case--a lined box for
medicine, refreshments for the officers, and what would be needed
quickly on the road.

[Illustration: Figure 135

Crees at posts near James Bay in the middle of the 19th century, for

Provisions such as meat, sugar, flour, etc. were carried in tins and
were stowed in baskets which were usually of the form known to woodsmen
as pack-baskets. Baskets also served to carry cooking utensils and
other loose articles. Bedrolls consisted of blankets or robes, made up
in a tarpaulin or oilskin groundsheet and were used in the canoe as
pads or seats. The voyageur's term for the canoe equipment--paddles,
setting poles, sail, mast, and yard, and the rigging and hauling
lines--was _agrès_, or _agrets_.

The term _pacton_ was applied to packs made up ready for portage; they
were ordinarily made up of two or more packages, so the weight carried
was at the very least 180 pounds. No self-respecting voyageur would
carry less, as it would be disgraceful to be so weak. The _pacton_ was
carried by means of a _collier_, or tump-line similar to that used
to portage canoes (see p. 122). It was made of three pieces of stout
leather. The middle piece was of stout tanned leather about 4 inches
wide and 18 inches long, tapered toward each end, to which were sewn
pliant straps 2 or 2½ inches wide and 10 feet long. These were usually
slightly tapered toward the free ends. The middle portion of this piece
of gear was of thick enough leather to be quite stiff, but the straps
were very flexible. Sometimes the middle portion and 2 or 3 feet of
the end straps were in one piece with extensions sewn to the latter.
The _pacton_ was lifted and placed so that it rested in the small of
the carrier's back, with its weight borne by the hips. The ends of the
_collier_ were tied to the _pacton_ so as to hold it in place, with
the broad central band around the carrier's forehead. On top of the
_pacton_ was placed a loose package, _cassette_, or perhaps a keg. The
total load amounted to 270 pounds on the average if the trail was good;
the maximum on record is 630 pounds. With his body leaning forward to
support the load, the carrier sprang forward in a quick trot, using
short, quick paces, and moved at about 5 miles an hour over a good
trail. A carrier was expected to make more than one trip over the
portage, as a rule.

The traditional picture of the fur-trade voyageur as a happy, carefree
adventurer was hardly a true one, at least in the 19th century.
With poor food hastily prepared, back-breaking loads, and continual
exposure, his lot was a very hard one at best. The monstrous packs
usually brought physical injury and the working life of a packer was
very short. In the early days, and during the time of the North West
Company, the canoemen were allowed to do some private trading to add
to their wages, but when the Hudson's Bay Company took over this was
not allowed and discipline became far more harsh. As a result, the
French Canadians deserted the trade, to be replaced with Indians and
half-breeds. The paddling race against time, to reach the destination
before the fall freeze, was labor comparable to that of a galley
slave, but in a very harsh climate. Altogether, if the brutal truth is
accepted, the life of the canoeman was far more hardship than romance.

[Illustration: Figure 136

Bay Company posts.]

The cargo of a fur-trade canoe was not placed directly on the bottom;
light cedar or spruce poles were first laid in the bottom of the canoe
and then the cargo loaded aboard. The poles prevented damage to the
canoe by any undue concentration of weight. The weight of cargo carried
varied with the size of the canoe and with the conditions of the canoe
route. The canoes were usually loaded deeply, except in the case of the
light express canoe, in which the cargo was reduced for sake of rapid

An account written in 1800 by Alexander Henry the younger gives the
following list of cargo in a trade canoe on the run to Red River in
the Northwest, where canoes under 4½ fathoms were generally used:
General trade merchandise, 5 bales; tobacco, 1 bale and 2 rolls;
kettles, 1 bale or basket; guns, 1 case; hardware, 1 case; lead shot,
2 bags; flour, 1 bag; sugar, 1 keg; gunpowder, 2 kegs; wine, 10 kegs.
This totaled 28 pieces: in addition the crew had 4 bales (1 for each
paddler) of private property, 4 bags of corn of 1½ bushels each, and
½ keg of "grease," plus bedrolls and the canoe gear. The trade goods
carried to the posts included such items as canoe awls, axes, shot,
gunpowder, gun tools, brass wire, flints (or, later, percussion caps),
lead, beads, brooches, blankets, combs, coats, fire-steels, finger
rings, guns, spruce gum, garters, birch bark, powder-horns or cartridge
boxes, hats, kettles and pans, knives, fish line, hooks, net twine,
looking glasses, needles, ribbons, rum, brandy, wine, blue and red
broadcloth, tomahawks or hatchets, tobacco, pipes, thread, vermillion
and paint, and false hair.

[Illustration: Figure 137

Survey photo._)]

The tarpaulins used to cover the cargo were 8 by 10 feet, hemmed and
fitted with grommets around the edges for lashings. The cloth was
treated with ochre, oil, and wax to give it a dull red color and to
waterproof it. One of the tarpaulins usually served as the sail. The
fur bales were each sacked, that is, wrapped in a canvas cover that was
sewed on and stenciled with identification and ownership marks.

The cargo manifests were not always the same. Compare the previous
list with this cargo, with which two light canoes were each loaded: 3
_cassettes_, 1 travelling case, 2 baskets, 1 bag of bread, 1 bag of
biscuits, 2 kegs of spirits, 2 kegs of porter, 1 tin of beef, 1 bag of
pemmican for officers and 2 for the crew, 2 tents for officers, cooking
utensils, canoe equipment, and 1 _pacton_ for each of the 9 men in each

The rate of travel varied a good deal, depending upon the condition
of the waterway and of the men. Perhaps, as an average, 50 miles a
day would be the common expectation during a 3-month run into the
northwest. Traveling fast with good conditions, an express canoe might
average as much as 75 or 80 miles a day, but this was exceptional.

The number of men required to man a fur-trade canoe varied with the use
required of the canoe, with its load, and its size. There were rare
occasions in which a _maître canot_ had 17 paddlers and a steersman,
but normally such a canoe was manned by between 7 and 15 men, depending
upon how much space aboard was required by cargo or passengers and
upon the difficulties of the route. An express canoe, traveling light
and at high speed, was manned by 4 to 6 paddlers, one of whom acted as
steersman or stern paddler, and one as the equally important bowman in
river work.

The most valuable information on the construction methods of fur trade
canoes was obtained in 1925 from the late L. A. Christopherson, a
retired Hudson's Bay Company official. He had joined the Company in
1874 and retired in 1919, after 45 years service, 38 of which he had
spent in western Quebec at the posts on Lake Barrière and on Grand
Victoria. These were canoe-building posts, and Christopherson had
supervised the construction of both the 5-and 4½-fathom trade canoes.
His posts had built the nearly vertical-ended _nadowé chiman_, the
Iroquois, or Ottawa River, type of Algonkin canoe. The actual building
was done by Indians, but the work was directed by the Company men.

[Illustration: Figure 138

about 1885. Christopherson in white shirt and flat cap, sitting with
hands clasped. Five-fathom canoes, Ottawa River type.]

In the building the eye and judgment of the builder were the only
guides, aided by the occasional use of a measuring stick, and
Christopherson made it abundantly clear that the Company had no
rules or regulations that he knew of, regarding the size, model, and
construction of the canoes, nor any standards for decoration. The model
and appearance of the canoes were determined by the preferences of
the builders and the size by the needs of the posts. For example, the
5-fathom canoe had been built at the Grand Victoria post until it was
decided there that a 4½-fathom canoe would serve. The decoration, if
any, was apparently according to "the custom of the post."

The method of construction described by Christopherson seems to be
largely that of the Algonkin, modified slightly by Ojibway practices.
The canoes were built on a plank building bed made of 2-or 2½-inch
thick spruce; its middle was higher than the ends, as were the earthen
beds used in the east, and holes were bored in it to take the stakes.
A stake was placed near the end of each thwart and one between, along
the sides of the canoe. The individual builders had their preferences
as to the method of setting stakes; some set them vertically while
others bored the bed so that the stakes stood with their heads pointed
outward. A post might have two or more building beds, one for each
size, or model.

Canoes were always built by means of a building frame. This was made
with four or five crosspieces that determined the fullness or fineness
of the bottom of the canoe toward the ends. By altering the lengths
of the end crosspieces, the degree of fullness in the lines of the
finished canoe could be predetermined. As a result the bed, which was
usually about 18 inches wider than the building frame, might have the
shape of its frame marked on it twice, with two sets of holes for
stakes. Otherwise, the alteration in the building frame would require
a special bed to be used. In addition to the alteration in the ends
of the building frame, there could also be variations in its width
amidships. Christopherson's posts commonly built canoes intended for
fast travel, so most of them were narrower in beam at the gunwale and
across the bottom than were the fur-trade canoes of the period, and the
building frame was likewise narrower.

The length of the building frame used in these canoes was the same as
the bottom length, or a little longer than the distance between the two
headboards of the finished canoe. Thus, in a 5-fathom canoe the bottom
length would be 30 feet, and in a 4½-fathom canoe, 27 feet; the beds
would be some 6 feet longer than these lengths.

[Illustration: Figure 139.

Company photo._)]

As the canoes at Christopherson's were built for speed and rarely
measured more than 48 inches beam between the gunwale members, the
building frame was about 32 inches wide amidships, or approximately
two-thirds the beam inside the gunwales in a 5-fathom canoe. The beam
of his 4½-fathom canoes was less, say 42 inches inside the gunwales
and 27 or 28 inches across the building frame, with a depth, bottom to
top of rail cap, of between 19 and 21 inches. A 5-fathom canoe of this
narrow model would carry nearly 2½ short tons with a crew of six, while
the smaller model would carry nearly 2 tons. However, the capacity of a
wide canoe was much greater. A 6-fathom canoe, the _Rob Roy_, built by
another post about 1876 to bring in the bishop for the consecration of
a church at the Lake Temiscaming post, was described by Christopherson
as being about 6 feet beam on the gunwales. Considered a fine example
of a freight canoe, the _Rob Roy_ was afterwards loaded with 75 bags of
flour, totaling 3½ tons deadweight, and carried as well a crew of seven
and their provisions and gear.

The bark cover was commonly in two lengths on the bottom of the canoe,
summer bark being used. The post maintained a supply of bark for canoe
building and sheets 4 fathoms in length and 1 in breadth were not
uncommon. Such sheets would have been ample for the cover of a small
canoe but would not be expended so needlessly; hence, the canoes, large
or small, had two lengths of bark in their bottoms. The lap was toward
the stern. In what appears to have been a local characteristic of the
canoes built at Christopherson's posts, the bows were indicated by
making the thwarts toward that end slightly longer than those toward
the stern, so that the forebody was fuller at sheer than the afterbody;
the canoe master could thus instantly see which end was the bow
without having to examine the bottom or the bark cover.

The two pieces of bark sewn together were placed on the building bed
and the building frame placed on it and weighted down, in the usual
manner. The stakes were then set in the holes in the bed and the bark
secured to them with the usual inside stakes, as well as with the
clothespin-like clamps used by the Algonkin and other Indian canoe
builders. The end stakes were set in a peculiar manner: a short pair
were set with their heads sloping inboard, for use later to support
the sheering of the outwales, and a long pair were set raking sharply
outboard to help support the bark required for the high ends. As the
bark cover was made up, pieces were worked into the ends to allow
the high ends to be made. The side panels often seen on the eastern
Indian bark canoe were used, and the bark doubled at the gunwales. The
doubling pieces were put on about 6 inches wide and trimmed off after
the outwales were in place. The pieces were widest amidships, and
when trimmed would extend about two inches or a little more below the
outwales, narrowing somewhat toward the ends. Longitudinal battens to
fair the bark along the sides were placed as usual in canoe building.

The main gunwales were originally made of white cedar, but when this
became scarce at the posts, whipsawed spruce was used instead. The
gunwales were rectangular in cross section, with the outer lower
corner beveled off. The cross section of the inner gunwale member was
smaller, in proportion, than the outwale, compared to a small eastern
Indian canoe. The gunwales were bent "on the flat" in plan, and were
sheered "edge bent." The tenons for the thwart ends were cut slanting,
so that when the gunwales were made up they stood at a flare outward
toward the top edge. The gunwales had much taper toward the ends as it
was usual to work in some sheer in these members. The canoes built at
Christopherson's posts, unlike some other trade canoes, had a good deal
of sheer at the ends, as the main gunwales rose nearly to the top of
the stem.

The manner of forming the gunwales varied somewhat. If the stakes
around the building frame had been set to stand vertically, it was
necessary to assemble the gunwales with temporary crosspieces, or false
thwarts, each shorter by several inches than would be the finished
thwart in their place, or twice the amount of flare desired. After the
gunwale assembly had been set above the building frame on the usual
posts to determine its height above the building bed, the bark cover
would be lashed to each gunwale member. This done, each crosspiece
would be removed in turn and replaced with its corresponding thwart. By
this means the gunwales would be spread and, in the process, lowered
in proportion to the change in beam. This would usually make too much
sheer. Therefore, if the gunwales were to be spread as a result of
the side stakes standing vertically, they had to be formed with some
reverse sheer amidships. This was done as usual, by first treating
each member with hot water and then weighting it on a long plank, or
unused building bed, over a block placed under it at midlength. The
height of the block would determine the amount the sheer was "humped"
in the middle, usually only an inch or so. The gunwale ends were
also treated with hot water and sometimes were split horizontally to
get the required sheer there; they were then bent up and held, while
drying and setting, by a long cord that was stretched between them and
placed under tension by means of a strut, about 4 feet long, placed
under the cord at midlength and stepped on the gunwale member being
bent. However, if the side stakes were set sloping outward, it was
unnecessary to hump the sheer amidships.

The reason why many builders preferred to set the stakes on the bed
vertically was that it made easy the goring and the sewing of the bark
cover side panels; if the bark available for the cover required little
sewing, the sloping stakes might be preferred. It appears, however,
that the usual procedure was to set the stakes vertically and to spread
the gunwales, since good bark was usually available. A good deal of
judgment was required to estimate the amount of hump or reverse to
be worked into the gunwale members; too much would leave a hump in
the sheer of the finished canoe and not enough would cause too much
dip amidships. Before being bent to sheer, the gunwale members were
worked smooth with a plane or with scrapers made of glass or steel. The
building frame was taken apart and removed from the canoe after most of
the thwarts were in place.

The ribs Christopherson called "timbers" and the sheathing, "lathing."
The ribs, commonly of cedar, were usually ¼ to ⅜ inch thick, and were
2½ to 3¼ inches wide in most canoes, with a long taper so that near the
ends the width was about half that at the middle, and at the ends they
tapered almost to a point. Some large canoes had ribs 4 inches wide
at the centerline, amidships, but these appear to have been unusual.
The ribs were placed on the building frame at their proposed position
and the width of the frame at that point was marked on each. After
being cut to about the required length and tapered, the ribs were
then treated with hot water, and were then usually bent over the knee
in pairs, the marks determining where the bending was to be done. In
a freight canoe the ribs amidships would be nearly flat across the
bottom but in a fast canoe they would be slightly rounded. The parts
of the rib nearest the ends were not bent, and thus the rib would
appear dish-shaped when in form. Each pair while drying was sometimes
held by cords tied across the ends, or the ribs might be inserted in
about their proper location in the unfinished canoe and held in place
by battens and struts until they took their final set. The ribs at
the extreme ends were often "sprung" or "broken" at the centerline
to get the ~V~-section required there, particularly in a sharp-ended
express canoe.

[Illustration: Figure 140

FUR-TRADE CANOE STEM-PIECES, models made by Adney: 1, Algonkin type; 2,
Iroquois type, Ottawa River, old French; 3, Christopherson's canoes.]

The sheathing was about ¼-inch thick and was laid according to the
tribal practice of the builder; Christopherson appears to have followed
the Algonkin practices generally in this as in other building matters
at his posts.

Whereas Malecite practice was to lash the bark cover to both inwale
and outwale, in the western type of canoe the cover was lashed to the
main gunwale first, owing to the spread gunwales, and the outwale was
then pegged to the gunwale and also lashed, the ends being wrapped
with figure-eight turns. All gunwale lashing in fur-trade canoes was
in groups. Because of the sheer at the ends, the outwales were split
horizontally into four or more laminae, and the splitting extended
almost to the end-thwart positions. In a few canoes outwales were
omitted or were short and did not extend beyond the end thwarts, but
this practice was relatively uncommon. The outwales were usually
rectangular in cross section and much tapered toward the ends.

The rail caps were also rectangular in cross section, but often they
had the outboard upper edge rounded off or beveled. The caps were
pegged at 1-foot intervals to the main gunwales, but at the ends they
could only be lashed to the outwale, as both outwales and caps were so
sharply upswept at the ends that they stood almost vertically. The ends
were squared off and stood a little above the top of the stems, so that
when the canoe was placed upside down as a shelter for the paddlers
and packers it rested upon these members rather than on the sewing of
the bark cover on the tops of the stems, as was usual with all the
high-ended Algonkin and Ojibway canoes.

The stem-pieces and headboards were assembled into single units,
as shown on pages 149 and 151, before being installed during
construction. The stem-pieces were of white cedar, about four fingers
deep fore-and-aft and laminated, and about ¾ to 1¼ inches wide,
depending upon the size of the canoe and the judgment of the builder.
In Christopherson's area the stem-piece was relatively short, the
head coming up and around and ending at a point far enough under the
rail-cap ends for it to be securely lashed to these members and to
the outwale ends. It was bent by use of hot water and the laminae
were secured by wrapping the stem piece with fine twine. The stem was
stiffened by stepping the headboard on its heel in the usual manner,
and the two were held in the required position by two horizontal
struts, the outboard ends of which were lashed to the sides of the
stem piece well up above the heel; the inboard ends were pegged at
the sides of the headboard, in notches, or were passed through the
headboards in slots and the strut ends secured with wedges athwartships
on the inboard face of the headboard. The result was a rigid and
strong end-frame. More complicated bending was employed at some posts,
where the building of fur-trade canoes followed Algonkin or Ojibway
practices. In these, as has been mentioned, the stem-pieces were
brought down and around under the stem-head to the back or inboard
edge of the stem-piece and lashed, then brought inboard horizontally
to end in a hole in the headboard, between struts placed as in the
Christopherson-built canoes. Another method was to bring the stem-piece
around the stem head and down and around outboard to the inboard face
of the stem, where the end was split and each half lashed to the sides
of the stem-piece. In this case there was a lashing between stem-piece
and the headboard, placed where the reverse was made, inboard and
below the top of the stem, well up on the headboard. The heel of the
headboard and stem-piece were pegged together.

Struts were not required with this construction, described earlier (on
p. 123) as the Ojibway method. In bending the stem-piece, the reverse
curve around the stem-head was formed over a short strut that was
removed when the stem-piece was dried and set to shape. As a variety
of forms were used in shaping these stem-pieces, it was the ingenuity
of the builder that decided just how the end of the stem-piece was
best secured and how the whole was to be braced. These details will be
better understood by reference to the plans and illustrations on pages
134 to 151.

The headboards were not sprung or bellied, but stood nearly vertical
in the canoes. The inboard face was often decorated; in the old French
canoes and in those of the North West Company, the board was carved or
painted to represent a human figure, _le petit homme_, which was often
made in the likeness of a voyageur in his best clothes. In some canoes,
only a human head was used, or the top of the headboard, or "button,"
was decorated with a rayed compass drawn in colors.

The thwarts were usually rather heavy amidships and were made in
various forms to suit the taste of the builder. They were commonly of
maple, but Christopherson's canoes had spruce or tamarack thwarts,
the latter being his preference. These thwarts were not intended to
be used as seats, though the sternman, or steersman, often sat on the
aftermost one. The paddlers often used seats in the large canoes; these
were planks slung from each end by cords made fast to the gunwales.
These cords allowed the height of the seats to be adjusted; the
paddlers usually knelt on the bottom of the canoe with hips supported
by the seat. The seats were usually slung before the thwarts, except
amidships, where the space was taken up by passengers or cargo.

The factors often took great pride in the appearance of the canoes from
their posts and many, like Christopherson, had the craft gaily painted
in a rather barbaric fashion. Christopherson's canoes did not use any
of the circular decoration forms; his canoes usually had painted on
them, he recalled, such names as _Duchess_, _Sir John A. MacDonald_,
_Express_, _Arrow_, and _Ivanhoe_. The ends were often painted white,
with the figures or letters on this background. The Company flag was
often painted on the stern with the initials of the Company, H.B.C.,
said to mean "Here Before Christ" by disrespectful clerks. Many posts
used such figures as the jackfish, loon, deer, wolf, or bear, on the
bow. The rayed circular devices appear to have been long popular and
were said to have been introduced by the French. There is no record
of any device being officially required in any district but the
_cassettes_ of certain districts were marked with distinctive devices
at one time; Norway House used a deer's head with antlers, Saskatchewan
two buffalo, Cumberland a bear, Red River a grasshopper, and Manitoba a

[Illustration: Figure 141

FUR-TRADE CANOE STEM-PIECES, models made by Adney: 1, Têtes de Boule
type; 2, Ojibway form; 3, old Algonkin form.]

During Christopherson's long service he knew the canoes built in
his vicinity at such nearby building posts as Lake Abitibi, Lake
Waswanipi, and Kipewa, in western Quebec; and Lake Timagami (Bear
Island), Matachewan on Montreal River, Matagama (west of Sudbury), and
Missinaibi, in nearby Ontario. These were but a few of the building
posts, of course, for canoes were built at numerous posts to the west
and northward.

When portaged, the large canoes might be carried right side up or
upside down, the former being more usual method. The _canot du nord_
was often light enough to be carried by two paddlers, one under each
end, with the canoe right side up and steadied by a cord tied to the
offside gunwale and held in the carrier's hand. The _maître canot_
required four men to carry it. Various methods were used. One was to
lash carrying sticks across the gunwales near the ends and to carry
the canoe right side up with a man on the end of each stick. Another
way was for the men to distribute themselves along the bottom of
the canoe, near the ends, and to use steadying cords. Or the canoe
might be carried upside down with the men carrying it by placing one
shoulder under the gunwales at convenient places. When a bad place
in the portage was reached, the whole crew might have to turn to. The
method of portaging had to meet the physical limitation of the portage
path and the matter was not so much one of standard procedure as of
improvisation of the moment.

[Illustration: Figure 142

PORTAGING A 4½-FATHOM FUR-TRADE CANOE, ABOUT 1902, near the head of the
Ottawa River. Shows an unusually large number of carriers; four would
be the normal number. (_Canadian Pacific Railway Company photo._)]

The voyageur was particular about his paddle; no man in his right mind
would use a blade wider than between 4½ and 5 inches, for anything
wider would exhaust him in a short distance. The paddle reached to
about the users' chin, when he stood with the tip of the paddle on the
ground in front of him. Longer paddles, about 6 feet long, were used by
the bow and stern men, the two most skillful voyageurs in the canoe and
the highest paid. These men had, also, spare paddles whose total length
was 8 feet or more; these were used in running rapids only. The paddles
were of hardwood, white or yellow birch or maple, as hardwood paddles
could be made thin in the blade and small in the handle without loss of
strength, whereas softwood paddles could not. The blades were sometimes
painted white, the tips in some color such as red, blue, green or
black, but other color combinations were often used.

In Christopherson's service, sail was rarely used, as the canoemen
were unskilled in handling it and loss had resulted. In early times,
however, it appears to have been much used on the Great Lakes routes
by the French and the North West Company. A single square-sail was the
only rig employed; the canoes could not be worked to windward under
fore-and-aft sails.

During the great seasonal movements the trade canoes moved in fleets
called brigades, the usual brigade in early times being three or four
canoes, but later, when the needs of the individual posts had grown,
the brigade could be of any necessary number of canoes to carry in the
required supplies and goods or to bring out the season's catch of furs.
The leader of the brigade was the _conducteur_ or _guide_; sometimes
he was the post's factor. In French times the _maître canot_ would be
loaded with 60 pieces, or packs, to the total of about 3 short tons
and half a ton of provisions, and eight men, each with an allowance
of 40 pounds for gear, so that the whole weight in the canoe would
be something over 4 short tons. An example of such a canoe measured,
inside the gunwales, 5½ fathoms long and 4½ feet beam. The usual
brigade of four of these canoes would thus carry roughly 12 short tons
of goods.

The Company would send one brigade after another, at close intervals of
time, until the whole seasonal movement was in progress. Those brigades
going the greatest distance were started first. Although cargoes left
the coast from early spring on to late summer, the great canoe movement
took place towards the fall. Canoe travel north and northwestward
from the Great Lakes had to be carefully timed, as goods had to be
accumulated at the base posts on the Lakes and the brigades placed in
movement at the last safe date which would permit them to reach their
destination before the first hard freeze-up. The base posts were those
where the run of the _maître canot_ ended and that of the _canot du
nord_ began, the places where reloading for the individual trading
posts in the Northland was necessary. The late start was usually
desirable in order to await the arrival at the base posts of all the
goods required, for movements of freight were uncertain before the days
of railroads and steamers.

[Illustration: Figure 143

DECORATIONS: FUR-TRADE CANOES. (_Watercolor sketch by Adney._)]

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, before the whole canoe trade
fell under the control of the Hudson's Bay Company, it was the custom
to distribute 8 gallons of rum to each canoe for consumption during
the run, and it was also the custom for all hands to see how much of
this they could drink before starting out. This grandiose undertaking
usually began as soon as the local priest, who gave his blessing to the
canoemen, had left the scene. The magnificent drunk lasted one day and
the next morning the crew had to be underway. The first day's run, old
accounts repeatedly show, not only was short but was often beset by

The era of the bark trading canoe did not close with a dramatic
change. Its ending was a long, slow process. By the last decade of
the 19th century the bark trading canoe had disappeared from most of
the old routes, and even in the Northwest it had been almost wholly
displaced by York boats, scows, bateaux, and canvas or wooden canoes
of white-man construction. By the beginning of the first World War,
the _maître canots_ and _canots du nord_ were finished, except as
curiosities--hardly even as these, for not one was preserved in a

Indeed, so complete was the disappearance of the fur-trade canoe that
any attempt to record its design, construction, and fitting would have
been almost hopeless, had it not been for the notes, sketches, and
statements of such men as L. A. Christopherson, aided by a few models
and pictures, and for the memories of a few Indian builders who had
worked on the canoes.

_Chapter Six_


Indians of the Northwest Territories and the Province of British
Columbia in Canada, and the States of Alaska and Washington, built bark
canoes that may be divided into three basic models.

The first may be called the "kayak" model, a flat-bottom, narrow
canoe having nearly straight flaring sides and either a chine or a
very quick turn of the bilge. These bark canoes were low-sided and
were usually partly decked. A number of tribal groups built canoes of
this model, the variation being relatively minor. The rake and form
of the ends varied somewhat as did the amount of decking; there were
also some slight variations in structure and method of construction.
While these bark canoes had some superficial resemblance in general
proportions to the Eskimo kayaks, it is necessary to point out that
they did not, particularly in Alaska, have the same hull form as the
seagoing kayaks in that area. In fact, the single-chine form of the
Alaskan version of this canoe appears only in the kayaks of northern
Greenland and Baffin Island. The Alaskan seagoing skin kayaks are all
multi-chine forms that approximate a "round-bottom" hull. It has been
thought that the flat-bottom seagoing kayak form may have existed in
the Canadian Northwest, at the mouth of the Mackenzie; a kayak so
identified is in the collections of the U.S. National Museum (see p.
202), but there is now doubt among authorities as to the correctness of
this identification. As will be shown later, it seems probable that it
has been improperly assigned to the Mackenzie delta and is, in fact, an
eastern Eskimo model.

The second model used in the Northwest area was a narrow-bottom
flaring-sided bark canoe with elevated ends, having, perhaps, a faint
resemblance to the Algonkin-Cree canoes of the old type. Here too
there was some variation among the canoes of tribal groups, mostly
in the shape and construction of the ends and in the fitting of the
gunwales. Most of the canoes of this type had stem-pieces formed of a
plank-on-edge, but in a few examples the stem-pieces were bent. This
model was built by the same tribal groups in Canada that built the
kayak form, the explanation being that the kayak form was the hunting
while the second model was commonly the family or cargo canoe. In
Alaska, however, only the kayak-form was used and the family, or cargo,
canoe was merely an enlargement of it.

The third model may be called the "sturgeon-nose" type; in this the
ends were formed with a long, pointed "ram" carried well outboard
below the waterline as an extension of the bottom line of the canoe.
Primitive in both model and construction, it was built in a rather
limited area in British Columbia and in the State of Washington. The
last canoes built on this form were canvas-covered; in earlier times
spruce or pine bark was usually employed.

The birch in most of the Northwest is a small tree and the bark is of
poor quality for canoe building; hence, in many areas spruce bark was
commonly employed in its place; a single tribal group might build its
canoes of either, depending upon what was available near the building
site. However, near the Alaska coast, where kayak-form bark canoes were
used and good birch was usually not available, some tribes used seal or
other skins as a substitute. In the framework spruce and fir were most
commonly employed, but occasionally cedar was available and was used.

The canoe-building Indians in northwestern Canada were mostly of the
Athabascan family and included the Chipewyan or "Chipewans," the Slave
or "Slavey" (= Etchareottine), the Beaver (= Tsattine), the Dogrib (=
Thlingchadinne), the Tanana (= Tenankutchin), the Loucheux, the Hare (=
Kawchodinne), and others. Some of these tribal groups built not only
bark canoes but also dugouts. There were also some Eskimo people who
built bark canoes for river service, as well as skin canoes, on the
same model as the bark kayak-form.

In the vicinities of Lake Athabasca and Great Slave Lake, the Chipewyan
employed not only their own models of canoes but also that of the
western Cree. The latter had invaded Chipewyan territory before the
arrival of the first white men in the Northwest and undoubtedly had
influenced canoe-building technique during the long period of the fur
trade that followed. It is therefore not possible to say where the
influence of Chipewyan building techniques ends and that of the Cree
and the eastern Indians, as introduced through the fur-trade canoes,
begins. This raises the question whether the high-ended Athabascan
canoe is itself the result of influence. One may infer from Samuel
Hearne's description of his travels in this area, in his _Journey ...
to the Northern Ocean_,[1] that only the kayak-form then existed, for
this type is the only one he describes, and he describes it in great
detail. However, Alexander Mackenzie, in an entry in his journal for
June 23, 1789, refers to the "large canoe" in a manner indicating
that it was a local type. It may well be that then, as later, the
kayak-form and cargo canoe existed side by side, or it may be that
Mackenzie was referring to a large kayak-form canoe like the family
canoe of the Alaska Yukon Indians. Perhaps the reason that Hearne did
not mention the "large canoe" is that the people he met on his way to
the Coppermine River, and on his way back by way of Lake Athabasca to
Hudson Bay, did not then use canoes of the second model.

[1] See bibliography.

[Illustration: Figure 144

CHIPEWYAN 2-FATHOM hunter's canoe (top), with bent stem piece, and
Athabascan 2½-fathom canoe with plank stem piece. Plank and bent stem
pieces were both employed in Athabascan canoes. Spruce or birch bark
were used without alteration of the design or basic construction

_Narrow-Bottom Canoe_

Because the variations in the second model, the Algonkin-Ojibway type,
are relatively slight, it will be easiest to describe this first. The
canoe is known to have been built extensively by the Chipewyan, Dogrib,
and Slave. The sizes most common were 16 to 22 feet over the gunwales,
with a beam of between 36 and 48 inches. The sheer was usually rather
straight, the sharp upward turn to the end taking place very close
to the gunwale ends. Most of the bottom was straight; the rocker, if
existing, occurred close to the ends of the canoe and was moderate.
The midsection was dish-shaped and nearly flat across the bottom, with
a rather slack, well-rounded bilge and almost straight flaring sides,
the amount of flare being usually great. The bottom apparently was
never dead flat athwartships, for in all known examples it was somewhat
rounded. Near the ends the sections were in the shape of a ~V~ with
apex rounded; the form of the ends was sharp and without hollow either
at the gunwale or at the level lines. The ends of the canoes were never
lofty and many had end profiles that were very long fore-and-aft and
showed a marked angularity. Inwales and outwales formed the gunwale
structure; some canoes also had gunwale caps which stopped well short
of the end profiles. The ends of the inwales were carried to the
stem-pieces; they were sharply tapered and curved to sheer, and were
elaborately cross-wrapped to secure them there. The end profiles were
formed of a thin plank-on-edge in most canoes, but some had stem-pieces
split into laminae in the usual fashion and bent. In all cases
headboards were employed; the heads were forced under the inwale ends
and against the inside face of the stem-piece. The gunwale lashings
were in groups, although some canoes exist in which the outwale was
omitted and the lashing was continuous; these canoes usually had
laminated bent stem-pieces and their stem lashing was identical with
that of the Algonkin-Ojibway fur-trade canoes. This departure, it
is reasonable to assume, was the result of outside influence on the
Athabascan technique. When the stem-piece was of thin plank, the bark
was usually fastened to it by multiple turns of two thongs passed, one
from each side, through the bark and through holes bored in the stem.

[Illustration: Figure 145

2½-fathom (top) and Dogrib 3-fathom. These canoes were covered with
spruce or birch bark.]

The end profile varied with the tribe of the builder. Chipewyan canoes
had a very long end profile fore-and-aft; the heel was angular, and the
outline of the stem then swept forward in an easy curve to a height
about two-thirds the depth of the canoe amidships, then began to tumble
in a little, the curve becoming gradually sharper until the head was
reached. The stem-head in its fore-and-aft length was almost one third
the height of the ends and was roughly parallel to the bottom of the
canoe directly beneath it. Because of the rocker of the bottom, the
after end of the head was thus lower than the fore end. The sheer
was faired up to the after end of the head in a short, quick curve.
Usually the outwales were cut off short of this point, but in some
canoes they were brought up along with the inwales to the stem-head.
Wedges were used in making up the gunwale-end lashings in both the
Chipewyan and Dogrib canoes; these served to tighten the lashings and
formed a sort of breasthook. In a few examples of the Athabascan type,
the stem-pieces were of cedar root without lamination; this use of
the roots enabled the angular form of the plank-on-edge stems to be
retained. It cannot be determined whether the root stem-pieces were
part of the old Athabascan technique or were an importation from the
western Cree. The lashing in these canoes followed the forms used
in the fur-trade canoes--long-and-short turns in groups generally
triangular in shape, with a spiral turn between groups.

[Illustration: Figure 146

PLANK-STEM CANOES OF HYBRID FORMS, 3-FATHOM Slavey (top) and 2½-fathom
Algonkin-type Athabascan, probably the results of the influence of
fur-trade canoe-building.]

The canoes of the Dogrib were practically identical with those of the
Chipewyan except that the end profiles were usually slightly deeper
fore-and-aft; also the Dogrib canoes were perhaps more often of birch
bark, judging from the remaining canoes and models. The form of the
ends in the Dogrib canoes was such that they often appeared higher than
they really were, as the stem-heads stood some distance above the ends
of the sheer, an effect which was heightened by the small fore-and-aft
depth of the stem-heads.

The large canoes of the Slave had the same hull characteristics as
the others but differed in end profiles and did not have rail caps.
In the Slave canoe, the ends were formed of thin plank and in profile
were almost upright and slightly curved. The stem line came out from
the bottom in a sharp, almost angular curve and ascended with a slight
sweep to a point about level with the gunwale amidships (in some, to
within a few inches of the stem-head); from there a tumble-home carried
it to the stem-head, which was short fore-and-aft and slightly crowned,
the inboard end dropping vertically downward inside the gunwales. The
headboards were under the gunwale ends. Inwales and outwales were both
carried to the stems but the end lashings were quite short. There were
no rail caps. The bark cover was lashed to the stem with an in-and-out
stitch from side to side through holes in the plank. The sheer was
brought up nearly to the top of the stem in a rather long, easy sweep
beginning inboard at the endmost thwart.

The gunwale members in all these Athabascan canoes were quite light
compared with their Eastern counterparts. A reinforcing strip of bark
was placed under the outwales so as to hang down below them some four
inches or so amidships and less toward the ends; this was sometimes
decorated with a painted zigzag stripe or with widely spaced circles.
The end lashings of the gunwales were protected by short bark deck
pieces inserted under the caps. The edges of these deck pieces
were trimmed flush with the outboard edges of the caps, so that no
_wulegessis_ resulted.

In spruce-bark canoes, because the bark was stiff the ribs were spaced
6 to 8 inches, whereas in birch-bark canoes the ribs were spaced about
as usual, 1 to 2 inches edge to edge. In the Dogrib and Slave canoes
the ribs were without taper; in the Chipewyan there was usually a
slight taper from the bottom to the gunwale end. The ends of the ribs
were forced under the gunwales in the usual manner employed in the
east, the gunwales being rectangular in cross-section, with the lower
outboard corner beveled.

The thwarts were all parallel-sided, but tapered toward the ends, in
elevation. The thwart ends were tenoned into the inner gunwale and
usually had two holes in each end for the lashings.

In the bark cover the horizontal sewing was often over root battens. In
many canoes rawhide was used in much of the lashing and sewing, and in
the last-built bark canoes the end lashings of the gunwales were often
protected by a decking formed of a small triangular sheet of metal,
obtained from a large can and crimped along its edges so as to clamp
the bark and main gunwales. When this metal deck-piece was used, the
cap and outwale ended against the inboard edge of it.

For use in open water these canoes were often fitted with a blanket
square-sail. The sapling serving as a temporary mast stood in a hole
in the second thwart, and was stepped on a block, or board, pegged or
lashed to the ribs.

The sheathing of all canoes of this class was of the same form--wide,
short strakes amidships, narrower short strakes afore and abaft. The
midship strakes were often quite short and their ends were over the
longer end strakes. The end strakes were, of course, tapered toward the
stems. The placing of the strakes was often irregular, with the result
that the butts were somewhat staggered. Some canoes had four strakes to
the length, but three appears to have been most common.

The large canoe was employed on the large lakes of the Mackenzie
region; smaller canoes of the same general form, 14 to 16 feet in
length and 30 to 40 inches in beam, were used on the large rivers
and streams. In the smaller canoes of this class, the flare of the
topsides was often less than in the larger craft. The Cree in this
area, particularly to the south of Great Slave Lake, also employed the
Athabascan form. This class of canoe, in general, appears to have been
strongly affected by outside influence; consequently this description
must be understood to cover existing canoes and models, not pure
Athabascan canoe building.

The usual construction methods were employed in building this class
of canoe; the stakes around the building frame were set vertically,
and when the bark cover was lashed to the gunwale members (inwale and
outwale together) the gunwales were spread and the thwarts inserted in
their tenons. Skill was required in preshaping the gunwale members,
which, as in the fur-trade canoes, had to be arched in sheer amidships
to allow for the change in sheer caused by spreading the gunwales in
construction. The building bed was also arched at midlength to allow
for the lifting of the ends that occurred in spreading the gunwales
with the bark cover attached.

A typical large Chipewyan canoe of this class was 21 feet 4 inches in
overall length, 43 inches beam and 14 inches in depth amidships. A
smaller Dogrib canoe of the same class was 14 feet 7 inches in overall
length, 31¼ inches beam, and 11½ inches in depth. However, these
smaller canoes appear to have been relatively uncommon, and the average
large canoe was about 20 feet long.

_Kayak-Form Canoe_

The kayak-form canoe was widely employed in the Northwest and was
highly developed in both model and construction. It was essentially a
portage and hunting craft, ranging in length from 12 to 18 feet and in
beam from about 24 to 27 inches, with a depth between 9 and 12 inches.
In areas where the kayak form was used as a family and cargo canoe,
the length would be as great as 20 or 25 feet and the beam might reach
30 inches. Except in the family or cargo canoe, which had none, there
was usually some decking at the ends, most of it forward. Some tribal
groups built the kayak form with its greatest beam at midlength, but
the most common form had its greatest beam abaft midlength and its
greatest depth there likewise. Many of the kayak forms had unlike end
profiles, so that there was a distinct bow in appearance as well as in

There was much variety in end profile, and the canoes of each tribal
group were usually identifiable by this means. The kayak-form bark
canoes of the lower Yukon and neighboring streams had a short
overhang, formed in a curved rake and alike or very nearly so, at bow
and stern. On the upper Yukon and adjoining streams the canoes had much
rake at both ends, the rake being straight from the bottom outward for
some distance, then curving rather markedly. The bow rake was usually
greatest, but the stern might be higher by one or two inches. The
bottom was without rocker, being straight or even slightly hogged in
most of these canoes. The sheer was straight to the point where the
rake began, then rose in a easy sweep to the ends. The end decks on
the upper Yukon canoes were short, those on lower Yukon canoes were
much longer; on the latter the bow deck was nearly a third the length
of the canoe, on the former about a fifth. In the Mackenzie Basin,
the kayak-form canoes had a moderate rake, curved in profile, at bow
and stern and a rather low stem-head; the depth at the stern was
noticeably greater than at the bow, and the deck forward was commonly
a little less than a fourth the length of the canoe. In these canoes
the greatest beam in most cases was abaft midlength, and this was also
true of the lower Yukon canoes. On the upper Yukon and in some of these
canoes on the lower Mackenzie, the greatest beam was amidships and the
depth at bow and stern were equal.

[Illustration: Figure 147

foredeck batten-sewn to the gunwales, no afterdeck, and rigid bottom

The variation in depth at bow and stern in some of the kayak-form
canoes seems to have been related to the position of the greatest beam;
when the beam was abaft the midlength, the greatest depth was aft,
whereas when the greatest beam was amidships, the depth at the ends was
equal. With the beam abaft midlength, the weight of the paddler trimmed
the canoe by the stern somewhat, hence greater depth aft than forward
was necessary to make the canoe run easily and turn readily in smooth
water. In the sea kayaks of the eastern Eskimo, on the other hand, the
depth and the draft were greatest forward, to bring them head to the
sea when paddling ceased. The Alaskan sea kayaks were commonly of equal
draft at bow and stern or might have a slightly greater draft aft than

A third variation of the kayak form existed in British Columbia in
early times, and apparently was employed by the Beaver, Nahane, and
Sekani. It was an undecked bateau-shaped canoe having a fair sheer in
a long sweep from end to end, the stem profiles were nearly straight,
the ends were raked rather strongly, and the bow was somewhat higher
than the stern. The beam was greatest slightly abaft midlength. It is
estimated that canoes of this type, which has long been extinct and now
can only be reconstructed from a model, were about 14 feet 8 inches
long and 30 to 36 inches in beam, and probably were built of both
spruce and birch.

The gunwales of the kayak-form canoes were formed by inwales and
outwales; no caps were employed. In the Alaskan types and in the
extinct British Columbia bateau variation, the gunwale lashings were
continuous, but in the Mackenzie models the lashings were in groups.
Inwales and outwales in all the kayak forms ran to the stem-pieces,
which were plank-on-edge of a thickness that varied according to
tribal practice. No headboards were employed. The gunwale members were
rectangular in cross-section and were bent square with the flare of the
sides. The ends sometimes were swelled and rounded, and in the bateau
variation the gunwales, in cross section, appear to have been rounded.
Six thwarts appear in most of the kayak forms but the Loucheux model
had five and the bateau variation seems to have had but three.

[Illustration: Figure 148

hull shape. These canoes were light, handy, and fast.]

Reinforcing bark was placed under the outwales in all Mackenzie Basin
canoes, but not in the Alaskan or in the bateau variation. The ribs in
all these canoes were small, usually about ½ inch square, and widely
spaced, about 9 to 14 inches on centers. No ribs were placed in the
rake of the ends. The ends of the ribs were chisel-pointed and were
forced between the inwale and outwale, against the inside of the bark
cover. In some canoes, however, the ribs near the ends of the canoe
were forced into short splits on the underside of the inwale. The
thwart ends might also be forced into short splits on the inside face
of the inwales or might be tenoned there; in any case a single lashing
was used at the thwart ends. Thwarts were parallel-sided in plan and
slightly tapered toward the ends in elevation; no shoulders were used.
In the bateau variation, a heavy thwart was placed directly under the
middle thwart with its ends against the side battens, apparently to
act as a spreader. Each end was notched over the side battens and was
held by two lashings to the bottom crosspiece below it. This structure
was probably made necessary by the fragile construction of this form
of canoe. In all kayak forms there was no complete sheathing--the one,
two, or three narrow battens to a side above the chine were held in
place only by the sprung ribs (without lashings); in the bateau form,
however, the side batten was lashed to each frame after the manner of
of an Eskimo sea kayak.

The characteristic detail in the structure of the bark kayak-canoe,
including the bateau variation, was the bottom framing. It was
variously formed, according to tribal designation. The bottom framing
was made up of five or six longitudinal battens (four in one extinct
form of canoe). In the Yukon canoes six rectangular battens, all of
about the same cross section, were used with the narrow edge outboard.
These battens were held rigidly to form by thin crosspieces, or
splints, about ¼ by 1 inch forced athwartships through short splits
in the battens and pegged at the ends on the chine battens. The ends
of the four inner longitudinals were cut off on the snye to bear on
the inside face of the chine battens (in some instances they were cut
short of this). The chine ends were beveled together or lashed to the
sides of the stem-pieces. But in the Mackenzie form of canoe, the
longitudinals had no cross-members and, like the side battens, were
held in place by the pressure of the sprung ribs against the bark
cover. There was a difference in the form of midsection: in the Yukon
canoes the bottom athwartships was flat, but in the Mackenzie canoes
there had to be some rounding there. At least one exception existed in
the Mackenzie Basin, where the Loucheux canoe was formed on the Yukon
bottom. Another is to be seen in an old model of an extinct Athabascan
kayak form, which has only four longitudinals and chine members that
are very wide and rounded only on the outboard face. Between the chine
battens are two light rectangular battens. These are all held together
by a few splints and by lashings which pass around each individual
batten, thus serving both as lashing and spreader. This canoe has what
is apparently a very narrow bottom compared to known types. In some of
the Eskimo-built birch kayak forms, the separators between the bottom
battens were rectangular blocks held in place by a thong threaded
through two holes in each batten and block, to make a round turn, and
tied at one chine.

[Illustration: Figure 149

variations in the bottom frame construction and the effects of hull
form. Dimensions are estimated from the sizes of canoes in the area of
each example.]

In some bateau variations of the kayak-form canoe, the longitudinals
were secured by crosspieces, the ends of which were tenoned into the
inside faces of the chine battens. The three inner battens were below
the cross pieces. As a result, their bottoms were slightly below the
bottom of the chine members, so that in this canoe two chine lines show
through the bark cover on each side of the canoe.

From tribe to tribe the method of building the kayak-form canoe varied
somewhat, but generally the following procedure was employed. On a
smooth, level piece of ground the form of the canoe was staked out
in the usual manner, using a building frame, with the stakes sloped
outward at the top to match the desired flare of the sides.

Stem and stern posts were shaped of cedar by charring and scraping.
The gunwales were made in the same manner and were then lashed at the
desired heights on the stakes. Next, the bark cover was formed, usually
of two or more sheets sewn together. This was placed inside the stakes
and the building frame was forced down on it and weighted with stones.
The ends were then trimmed and the sides were gored, sewn, and trimmed
to fit the gunwales, to which the bark was laced. The stem and the
stern post were then placed and lashed to the gunwales and secured to
the bark by lashing, in some instances through holes in the posts. The
bark at this stage was usually quite dry and stiff and the gunwales
could be freed from the side stakes.

The bottom frame, assembled before other construction had started, was
hogged; the middle was placed on a log or block and the ends weighted.
Hot water was often applied to set the bottom frame.

Next, the bark cover was thoroughly wetted with boiling water to make
it pliable and elastic. The building frame and stones were now removed,
the bottom frame was substituted, and its ends fastened or engaged
to the heels of the stem and stern posts. The bottom frame was then
forced flat and held there by stones. This stretched the bottom bark
longitudinally, and increased the sheer slightly toward bow and stern.
The hogged bottom frame was known as a "sliding bottom" by some Indians.

The transverse frames, or ribs, had been prebent in the usual manner
before assembly began; a few of these were now put in place, the ends
being forced under the gunwales between their outer faces and the bark,
or into a groove on the underside of the gunwale. This stretched the
bark transversely and vertically. Once the bark had been forced into
form by this method, the remaining ribs were added, and these now held
the hogged bottom down so that the weights or stones could be removed.
The canoe was then turned over, the seams gummed, and any tears or
rents repaired.

This method of building usually produced a slight hogging in both
bottom and in the sheer amidships, but when the canoe was afloat
and loaded the light, flexible construction caused the hogging to
disappear. The kayak-form canoes of the Dènè tribe appear to be the
most highly developed of all in this type.

The decks of many of the kayak-form canoes were made of a triangular
sheet of bark cut with the grain of the bark running athwartships, so
that it could be held in place by the curl of its edges, which clamped
under the outwales, as well as by three lashings. The edges were curled
by passing a glowing brand along them. One lashing was around the
stem-head and two were at the inboard end of the deck, around inwale
and outwale. If the inboard end of the deck was not on a thwart it was
stiffened by a batten lashed on top of the deck athwartship, at the
deck end, to serve as an exterior deck beam and breakwater in one. If
the deck end was on a thwart, a batten might be pegged athwartship on
top of the deck; sometimes this batten was rolled in a sheet of bark
first. Another method was to use a small sheet of bark tightly rolled,
with its free edge tucked under the deck end and secured at the ends
of the roll by the deck-gunwale lashings there. Some canoes had their
decks lashed over battens for a short distance along the gunwales. In
some Mackenzie Basin kayak forms, the end of the deck at the stem-head
was protected by a small paddle-or leaf-shaped piece of bark placed
under the lashing there and shaped to reach a little over onto the stem
piece so as to seal the seam.

The fitting of the bark cover of the kayak-form canoes was not the same
in all types. In the Mackenzie canoes the bottom, which might be in
three, four, or five pieces sewn together, was alike on both sides; to
it the side pieces were sewn at, or just above, the chines. The sides
were made up of deep panels, five to nine to a side. There were no
horizontal seams other than the one near the chines.

In some Yukon canoes, however, the bottom sheet was often made of three
pieces and covered not only the bottom but also a portion, such as
the after two-thirds, of one side. The forward portion of that side
would then be covered by a single large panel or perhaps two, so that
the horizontal seam on that side would run from the stem aft to the
inboard end of the foredeck and would be just above the chine. On the
opposite side a sheet would cover the bottom there and the bow topside
from the stem aft for a short way. Deep panels would then cover the
rest of that side to the stern, so that the horizontal seam there began
forward at the sheer, some feet abaft the bow, and swept downward in a
gentle curve to near the chine and then ran aft to the stern in a long
sheered line just above the turn of the bilge, rising slightly as it
neared the stern. Hence the foremost of the panels on that side was
nearly triangular and the others were nearly rectangular. Inside, at
the chine, was placed a reinforcing strip of bark wide enough to reach
3 inches beyond both sides of each chine longitudinal and running the
length of the bottom; or if a seam near the chine permitted, the side
and bottom pieces were overlapped. As has been noted, in the Yukon
canoes a reinforcing piece at the outwale was not used, but was in the
Mackenzie canoes; it extended down the side about 3 inches below the
underside of the outwale amidships and ran to the ends of the canoe, or
nearly so, tapering with the outwales to a width of about 1½ inches at
bow and stern. In these canoes much of the lashing at stem and stern
was double-thong; the longitudinal sewing was often over a batten in
the usual spiral stitch, and a simple spiral stitch was also used to
join the panels, although in-and-out stitching might also be seen in
some canoes.

In many of the kayak-form canoes two ribs often stood noticeably close
together amidships, and the rest stood parallel to the rake of the end
on their side, respectively, of the middle ribs. However, not all
these canoes had such double ribs; some were framed out in the usual
manner, with the ribs widely spaced and canted toward their respective
ends of the hull, away from the midship of the canoe.

[Illustration: Figure 150

Indians: chine form of Eskimo birch-bark canoe (above) and the
dish-sectioned form of the Canadian Athabascans.]

In most of these canoes the paddler sat on a sheet of bark secured on
the bottom; this was held in place by one or two false ribs having
their ends under the inner gunwales and their middle forced down
against the bark on the bottom framework. In place of bark, some Eskimo
builders of the type used thin splints of wood laced together by two or
three lines of double-thong stitching athwartships, which was passed
through two holes in each splint. This might be loose or held in place
by a false frame.

The paddle was single-bladed and the same as that used with the second
class of Mackenzie Basin canoe (fig. 151). The blade was parallel-sided
with the point formed in a short straight-sided ~V~-form; The blade
of Yukon paddles was often taper-sided toward the point, which was
a rounded ~V~. Other variations in blade form existed, however, and
the narrow leaf-shaped blade was used in some areas in Alaska. In the
Mackenzie paddles the handle ended in a knob, but in Alaskan versions
it ended in a cross-grip like those of paddles used with some Alaskan
sea kayaks. The Eskimo double-blade paddle was used with the kayak-form
canoe by some paddlers; Hearne mentions its use.

Some of the kayak-form canoes were decorated; in Alaska this decoration
often took the form of a line of colored beads sewn along each side
of the afterdeck at the gunwale, or it consisted of a few oval panels
of red, blue, or black paint along the sides or centerline of the
afterdeck. In some Mackenzie kayak forms the decks were painted in
various designs; a rather common one seems to have been two or more
bands of paint around the deck edges, along the gunwales, ending at bow
and stern with a full round sweep. Painted disk designs appeared on
some of the large Algonkin-Ojibway canoes of the second type.

A number of kayak forms became extinct before any accurate, detailed
records of their shape and construction had been made; models of some
of these canoes exist but are not to scale and are untrustworthy
as to detail, since they are often simplified. One model of the
extinct British Columbia bateau form, for example, showed but three
longitudinals in the bottom, though the probable size of the canoe
undoubtedly would have required a greater number. On the other hand,
the model may have represented a spruce-bark canoe constructed for
temporary use, in which case a simplified construction might have
been employed. One can only speculate which it was. Models of some
kayak-form Yukon canoes show the decks lashed to the gunwales with
a very coarse spiral stitch not recorded for any of the observed
full-size canoes; thus it may be a model-maker's method of securing
the decking firmly rather than an actual practice used on full-size

[Illustration: Figure 151

KAYAK-FORM CANOE OF BRITISH COLUMBIA and upper Yukon valley. Shows
hogged bottom, usual in the type with a rigid bottom frame, which
becomes straight or cambered when canoe is afloat and manned. Original
in the Museum of the American Indian, New York.]

It now remains only to give short descriptions of the various
kayak-form canoes that have been observed.

The ends of the Eskimo-built canoes of the lower Yukon had a short
rake, the heel of the end profile breaking out of the bottom line at
a slight angle and sweeping upward and outward in a gentle curve,
often becoming almost straight near the stem head. The bow and stern
were nearly the same height, the bow being a little higher, about half
the midship depth above the sheer amidships. The sheer at each end
was almost dead straight until within a few inches of the end; thence
it swept up sharply with the inner gunwale ends, broadened, resting
on the inboard side of the stem piece. The extreme ends of the inner
gunwales were thus at the extreme stem-head. The stem-pieces were of
plank, the cutwater portion outside the bark cover being sharpened
the full height of the stems. These lower Yukon canoes had three side
battens above the chine piece, but not all ran the full length in one
piece; some were in two, in which case the ends merely ran past one
another for a few rib-spaces and were neither butted nor lapped. The
forward deck extended nearly one-third the canoe's length and had a
batten across the inboard deck-end; the after deck reached to the after
thwart. Adney's model of such a canoe shows the after deck lashed to
the gunwales with spiral turns over a batten along the deck edges and
finished toward the stern with chain stitching, but no such arrangement
was seen in any full-sized canoe.

The form of these Eskimo-built canoes was nearly that of a double-ended
flat-bottom skiff; the bottom being flat athwartships and without
rocker fore-and-aft. The sides flared and were nearly straight. The
turn of the bilge was quite sharp, the chine having a very short
radius. In plan, the canoe showed no hollow in the ends, which were
convex both at gunwale and on the bottom frame. In some of the
full-sized canoes inspected there appeared to be a slight hog ranging
from ¼ to ⅜ inch in the bottom, but there was no evidence to suggest
that this was a result of the drying and shrinkage of the canoe
structure with age. Hearne's drawing of a kayak-form canoe shows an
impossible amount of hog in the bottom, and he indicates that some hog
was intentional in building. This would disappear when the canoe was
loaded afloat owing to the light and flexible structure, and it is
evident that the builders usually sought to have the bottom slightly

[Illustration: Figure 152

CONSTRUCTION OF KAYAK-FORM CANOE of the lower Yukon, showing rigid
bottom frame. (_Smithsonian Institution photo._)]

The kayak-form canoes of the lower Yukon and neighboring streams all
appear to have been small canoes "tailored" to their owner's weight
and height: 14 to 15 feet in overall length, 2 to 2¼ feet wide, and
10 to 12 inches deep. The bottom frame was from 12 to 14 inches wide

The kayak-form canoes of the upper Yukon Valley and those used in
northern British Columbia and in Yukon Territory had ends with a
long rake that came up in a straight line from an angular break at
the bottom line to the height of the sheer amidships or thereabouts;
there a gradual upward curve continued to the stem-head. The stern was
2 inches or so higher than the bow, and the rake of the latter was
usually about an equal distance longer than that of the stern. The
sheer was nearly straight, with only about 2 inches of sag from the
heel of the stem to that of the stern. Beyond the heels, the sheer
lifted in a fair sweep, becoming sharper toward the ends, where the
broadened inwales were secured on top of the stem and stern pieces.
There was no rocker in the bottom, and some examples showed as much
as ⅜ inch of hog amidships. The bottom was flat athwartships and the
almost straight sides flared a good deal. The turn of the bilge was on
a very small radius and in some canoes appeared angular. The bow deck
was usually just under one-fifth the length of the canoe. Most of the
canoes did not have a stern deck, at least on the Yukon headwaters,
but on those that did, it was about one-ninth the length of the canoe.
The greatest beam was abaft amidships and the canoe was usually about
1½ inches deeper at the heel of the sternpost than at the heel of the
stem. In plan, the ends (at gunwale and bottom frame) were convex; the
gunwale ends alone might appear slightly hollow close to the posts in
some examples. The canoes in Alaska and British Columbia and at the
headwaters of the Yukon had a rigid bottom structure, with the splint
spreaders usually numbering five.

The 1-man hunting canoes were commonly 18 to 19 feet long, 24 to 27
inches beam, and usually 10 to 11 inches deep amidships. The single
example of a family or cargo kayak-form that has been measured from
this area was 20 feet 1 inch overall and 30¼ inches beam over the
gunwales. It was 18 inches wide on the bottom frame, 13 inches deep
amidships, 14 inches deep at heel of stem, and 16 inches at heel of
stem-post. Height of the stem was 29 inches, of the stern 30½ inches,
the after rake was 38 inches, and the fore rake 40½ inches. The canoe
had no decks and was rather sharp-ended.

The kayak-form canoe of the Athabascan Loucheux had a rigid
bottom-frame; the bottom was flat athwartships and it had no
fore-and-aft rocker. The sides were flaring and slightly curved. Both
ends were alike, and the canoe was unusual in having only five thwarts,
with one amidships. The stem was short in rake and curved; the stem
profile came out of the bottom line in a fair, quick curve which became
vertical at a height of little more than two-thirds the depth amidships
of the canoe. The height of the stem was almost twice the midship
depth. Between the end thwarts the sheer was straight, thence it swept
upward in a gradually sharpening curve to the inboard stems; the inwale
ends stood vertical on the face of the stem, with their ends brought
to the top of the stem-head. The stem-pieces were of unusually thick
plank, with the head broadened and the cutwater part outside the bark
cover sharpened until near the head, where it gradually became as wide
as inboard. The gunwales were lashed with continuous turns, as in the
Alaskan canoes. In plan, the gunwales and bottom frame were full-ended
and convex. These canoes were decked equally at both ends. The deck
extended inboard far enough to just cover the end thwart, to which,
in the example seen, it was lashed with four simple in-and-out passes
of rawhide thong. The chine-pieces of the bottom were lashed to the
sides of the stem-pieces. The covering was birch bark. Two battens on
each side were employed with the usual six longitudinals in the bottom
frame. These canoes were well-built and their ends resemble those of
the seagoing kayaks used at the mouth of the Mackenzie, but these
for at least the last 70 years of their use were round-bottomed. The
Loucheux canoes were small, usually about 15 feet long, 30 inches wide,
and about 12 inches deep amidships.

The Chipewyan kayak-form canoe was of loose-batten bottom frame
construction, with its beam well aft of amidships. Its bottom was
slightly rounded athwartships, with a slight rocker fore-and-aft;
the sides flared outward and were nearly straight; and the turn of
the bilge was almost angular. The bow and stern were of the same
general shape; the end profile came out of the bottom line with a
quick hard curve and then fell outboard in a long sweep that gradually
straightened near the head. The rakes were short, however, and the
stem was noticeably lower than the stern, the difference being as much
as 6 inches in some canoes. The sheer was nearly straight to the end
thwarts and thence it curved up in an easy sweep to the ends of the
canoe. The canoes were markedly deeper at the stern than at the bow;
the difference being as much as 1½ inches in some examples.

This kayak-form was very sharp-ended; the gunwales in plan often showed
a slight hollow and the chine members came to the posts in an almost
straight ~V~. As a result, the end ribs were often intentionally
"broken" to form a narrow-based, angular ~U~. In some Eskimo-built
kayak forms, a similar result in hull section was obtained in the
endmost frames by stepping short struts in splits, or tenons, on
top of the chine members and on the underside of the main gunwales.
This construction was occasionally found in some of the lower Yukon
kayak forms. The Chipewyan kayak forms were decked at both ends. The
fore deck was slightly more than one-fourth the length of the canoe
and extended inboard to the second thwart; the after deck was about
one-tenth, and came inboard to the end thwart. No breakwater batten
or bark was employed. There were two battens on the sides, above the

The gunwale wrappings were in groups. The bark cover was not folded
over the top of the inner gunwale but, as usual in the Northwest
canoes, was trimmed evenly with the top of the inwale and outwale.
Reinforcing bark along the gunwales extended downward about 1½ inches
below the bottom of the outwales amidships and about 1 inch at the
ends. Of the bottom longitudinals, the keel and chine-pieces were
roughly rectangular in cross-section, laid on the flat, and the
intermediate two battens were round; the ends of the keel piece were
merely butted against the stems, no lashing being used. The stem piece
was thick plank and was sharpened outside the bark cover to form a
cutwater. The stem lashing was of the usual two-thong form, and a
batten was used in the longitudinal seams of the bark cover. The
thwarts, six in number, were tenoned through both inwale and outwale
and pegged between them. No thwart lashings were used. The decks often
were not lashed into place, being held only by the curling of the edges
of the bark sheets.

This canoe was a very good one; it was light and was fitted to the
owner's build. In size it would be between 12 and 14 feet long and 20
and 24 inches wide over the gunwales, and the width of bottom over the
chine members amidships would be 11 to 12 inches. The greatest beam
would occur 7 to 8¼ feet abaft the stem. The depth at heel of stem
would be 8½ to 9½ inches and at heel of stern, 10 to 11 inches. The
amount of bottom rocker would be between ¾ and 1 inch, with its low
point about amidships. The cover was usually birch bark, but sometimes
spruce bark was used.

[Illustration: Figure 153

British Columbia. In Peabody Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge,
Mass.; entered in the museum catalog as of 1849.]

Another kayak-form canoe of unknown tribal designation from the
Mackenzie Basin was 13 feet 3 inches long, 27 inches beam over the
gunwales, 8½ inches deep amidships, 8¾ inches deep at heel of stem, 10
inches deep at the aftermost thwart, and with about ⅜ inch of rocker in
the forebody, none in the afterbody. The greatest beam occurred 7 feet
2 inches from the stem. The width amidships of the bottom framework of
loose longitudinals was 13 inches. The length of the rake foreward was
12 inches and aft, 12 inches. The fore deck extended inboard to the
second thwart, where a roll of bark formed a breakwater. The after deck
extended inboard to the aftermost thwart. Between the end thwarts the
sheer was practically straight; at the ends it rose gently, becoming
almost a straight line as it came to the stem and stern, and without
the usual upward hook in the ends of the gunwales.

This was a very light and well-built canoe with a birch-bark cover, a
slightly rounded bottom athwartships, slack bilge, and flaring sides
showing some curve in cross-section. The ends were rather sharp, the
gunwales coming in to them almost straight, in plan, as did the chine
members. The stem and stern pieces were of wide plank sharpened along
their outboard edge outside the bark cover, for their whole height,
to form cutwaters. The stem and stern profiles were about the same as
those of the Chipewyan canoes.

An old model in the Peabody Museum of an undecked kayak-form canoe of
Athabascan construction represents a high-ended canoe having ends with
a slight rake and a straight cutwater. This form of canoe has long been
extinct, and no description of an actual canoe of the form exists.
Judging by the model it had a very narrow flat-bottom and rounded
flaring sides.

The extinct bateau variant has already been described (pp. 159-161);
it might be considered a primitive form of the kayak-form bark canoes,
were it not that no intermediate type, between the bateau and the later
and highly developed bark kayak-form, has been found; as a result, any
such statement can be no more than speculation.

_Sturgeon-Nose Canoe_

In southern British Columbia and in northern Washington, the ram-ended
or sturgeon-nose canoes were built. These were the canoes of the
Kutenai, also spelled "Kootenay," and of the Salish tribal groups.
Used on rivers and lakes, they were constructed of the bark of birch,
spruce, fir, white pine, or balsam, whichever was available at the
building site. Wherever possible a panel of birch bark was worked in
along the whole length of the gunwales. The hull form of these canoes
varied somewhat, perhaps by decision of the builder, or perhaps by
local tribal custom. The ends were formed with a marked "ram," the stem
profiles running down and out to the "nose" in a straight or nearly
straight line. In some examples the stem profiles were in a hollow
curve, starting down from the gunwales rather steeply and then curving
outward more gently to the nose. Most examples had a bottom that was
straight or slightly hogged, while those with the hollow curve in
the ram often had a slight rocker. It is believed that the intention
was always to have the bottom straight but that in construction the
center of the canoe lifted somewhat, thus showing a slight hog in the
bottom line. The effects of loading and use on the light and flexible
structure of these canoes would cause the bottom to rocker and the
outboard ends to lift, thus causing the hollow in the ram profiles.
These effects of loading are confirmed by tests with models of this
form of canoe.

The midsection was usually quite round, almost ~U~-shaped, on the
bottom, but some canoes showed the bottom slightly flattened and the
sides flared out somewhat. Toward the ends, the ~U~-shape became
marked, and near the gunwale ends the sides of the ~U~ fell inboard
slightly as they came to the gunwales, the bottom of the ~U~ having a
hard turn. In plan, the gunwales approached the stems without hollow,
being nearly straight or even slightly convex. The ram was long and
sharp in its lower level lines and this, with the form of midsection,
made this model a fast-paddling canoe, though rather unstable. Most of
these canoes had but one thwart, placed at midlength, but some have
been found with three thwarts and a thong tie across the gunwales,
close to the stems, as well.

No stem-pieces were used; the bark ends were closed by two outside
battens, one on each side, whose heads were carried some 3 inches above
the gunwales. A cutwater batten was placed over the edges of the bark
between the battens, and the three were lashed together, with the bark,
by a coarse spiral wrapping or by group ties. The bark cover was not
sheathed inside; instead, six battens, ⅜ by 1½ inches, were placed on
each side of the keel piece, which measured about ½ by 3 inches and
tapered toward the ends. The battens, widely spaced, ran well into the
ram ends, and were held in place, like sheathing, by the pressure of
the ribs. The ribs, spaced 8 to 12 inches on centers, were often split
saplings; sometimes they were shaped to approximately ¼ by ¾ inch. The
batten nearest the gunwale on each side was lashed to every rib. In
some canoes the heads of the ribs were brought up between the inwale
and outwale, inside the bark cover, with their ends against the cap.
The stitching of the longitudinal seam of the topside panel was passed
around these frames and so helped to secure them. In one example, the
ribs were passed through the bark cover just below the horizontal seam
of the topside panel; there a turn of the stitching was passed around
each rib; then the rib was brought inboard again in the seam by being
passed between the edges of the bark cover and the panel. In many
canoes there were no ribs in the ram ends, but this was not universal
practice; small light ribs were sometimes placed there, with their
heads caught in the closure lashing of the end.

[Illustration: Figure 154

BARK CANOE OF THE KUTENAI AND SHUSWAP, about average in size and
proportion. Original in the Museum of the American Indian, New York.]

The canoes had 3-part gunwales consisting of inwale, outwale, and cap,
but in many the arrangement of these was such that this nomenclature is
misleading. In the latter construction, a lower inwale was used, as in
the above drawing; rather small in cross section, it was almost square,
with rounded edges. The rib ends, after passing through slits in the
bark cover below the lower inwale, continued upward past it, outside
the bark cover. Above the lower inwale and inside the bark cover was a
larger upper inwale; this was flat on the outboard and bottom sides,
the top and inboard sides being rounded into one another. The outwale,
roughly rectangular in cross section, clamped the bark cover and heads
of the ribs between it and the upper inwale. The ribs and bark were
trimmed off flush with the tops of the outwale and upper inwale. The
thwart amidships was caught, at the ends, between the lower and upper
inwales. The gunwale members and bark cover were secured by group
lashings of small extent and rather widely spaced.

The methods of fitting the thwarts differed in this class of canoe,
and it cannot be determined with certainty whether this variation was
tribal or the choice of the individual builder. In canoes having the
lower inwale arrangement there was but one thwart amidships. As has
been said, its ends were caught between the upper and lower inwales.
Directly beneath it was a rib whose head was not brought up outside
the bark cover but, after being secured to the uppermost sheathing
batten, was brought around inboard in a quick hard turn and secured
along the underside of the thwart with a close spiral lashing. Under
this rib at the topmost batten was secured a short false rib head by
forcing the beveled foot of the false rib between the batten and the
true rib, after lashing; the head of the false rib was then brought
up through and outside the bark cover in the customary manner, or it
might be forced under the lower inwale, inside the bark cover. In this
construction, the endmost ribs were at the gunwale ends, and the heads
of these were lashed to the stem battens outside the gunwale ends, on
the outside of the bark cover.

[Illustration: Figure 155


Peeling bark.

Staking out bark.

Assembling bark over on building site.

(_Canadian Geological Survey photos._)

Making root thongs.

Setting ribs inside bark cover with a mallet.

Fitting gunwale caps on new canoe.]

In canoes having the usual gunwales of inwale, outwale, and cap, the
inwale and outwale were roughly rectangular, with their top sides
horizontal, and the cap, very small and light, was flat on the bottom
and rounded on top. In this construction, the rib heads usually were
clamped between the inwale and outwale, inside the bark cover.

The ribs of the ends were lighter than those of the main body and
more closely spaced, say 2 or 3 inches apart. These began about 8 or
9 inches inboard of the gunwale ends; the heads did not reach the
gunwales, but instead were caught in the horizontal seam of the side
panel and then cut off. Usually three ribs were so fitted. The rest of
the end ribs, usually eight in number, either had their heads caught in
the stem lashings or were made up as hoops with the heads overlapped
and lashed together, the ribs being placed so that the overlap came to
one side or the other of the canoe. Each hoop was usually caught by a
turn in the end-closure lashing.

To strengthen the ram, the lower ends of the three stem battens were
lashed to the extremities of the inside keel-piece, which was brought
through the bark cover at this point. The opening resulting from this
was sealed with gum or pitch. Minor variations in construction have
been noted in the canoes exhibited in museums; in one, for example,
only every fourth rib was caught in the topside panel stitching.

In canoes having the usual arrangement of gunwale members, with the
cap over the ends of the ribs, the ends of the thwart were sometimes
carried some 6 to 8 inches beyond the gunwales, at each end, and much
reduced in thickness by cutting away about half the depth of the
thwart. This part was then wrapped tightly around the inwale, brought
inboard along the underside of the thwart, and there lashed. Examples
show that the amount of end brought inboard under the thwart varied
with the builder. It should be added that the thwarts were usually no
more than barked saplings and were obviously installed in the canoe
when green and treated with hot water so they would not break when
wrapped around the inwales. In canoes having three thwarts, all were
fitted in this manner, but often the thwarts on each side of the middle
were also wrapped in a long spiral with a thong whose ends were tied
to each gunwale. In 3-thwart canoes, there was commonly a cross tie,
located roughly 12 inches from the gunwale ends and consisting of three
or more turns of cord, or thong, around the gunwale members on each
side and athwartships, secured by turns of the ends around the cross
tie. In one canoe there was a thwart amidships and one at one end,
about halfway between the middle thwart and the gunwale ends; at the
other end were two cross ties, one replacing the thwart and another a
foot inboard of the ends of the gunwales. In this canoe the ribs at the
gunwale ends were hoops and there were only three hoop ribs in the ram

One canoe, from Stevens County, Washington, had a peculiar double
framing. The sheathing battens, instead of being on the inside of the
bark cover, rested on light ribs, spaced about 6 inches apart, that ran
only far enough up the sides to have their ends caught in the stitching
at the bottom of the topside birch-bark panel along the gunwales. The
longitudinal battens were placed inside these, with the batten nearest
the gunwale lashed to the light ribs. Inside these battens and spaced
about a foot apart was another set of ribs whose heads were secured
between the inwale and outwale inside the bark cover; each of these
inside ribs was also lashed to the uppermost batten. Only the keel
batten was under the small ribs. The thwart ends were wrapped around
the main gunwale members, and the stem battens were secured to the
birch topside panels by but one group lashing, near the gunwales. The
bottom cover was stiff pine bark.

The topside panel of birch bark was placed in these canoes so that its
grain was horizontal instead of the usual vertical. Presumably this was
done as a maintenance solution: the panel was much easier to repair or
replace than the bottom bark; and by having the panel placed in this
weak mode, it would split before the bottom bark if too much pressure
were brought on the framework in loading.

These canoes paddled well in strong winds and in smooth water, and
worked quietly in the marshes where they were much used. Canvas canoes
of the same model replaced the bark canoes, indicating that the model
was suitable for its locality and use. These sturgeon-nose canoes were
so different from other North American bark canoes that they have been
the subject of much speculation, particularly since ram-ended canoes,
though of different construction, existed in Asia.

The size of the Kutenai-Salish sturgeon-nose canoes varied; the most
common size appears to have been between 14 and 20 feet over the ends
of the rams, 24 to 28 inches beam, and with a depth ranging from 12
to 13 inches amidships and from 14½ to 17½ inches at the ends of the
gunwales. However, records exist that show rather large canoes were
built on this model, 24 feet over the rams, 48 inches beam and 24
inches depth.

The building methods of this type of canoe have never been reported.
Probably some kind of a rough building frame was used. Perhaps this
was comprised of a couple of the battens and the keel piece, weighted
with stones. The building bed was probably level. The main gunwale
members were apparently made up temporarily and the bark cover shaped
and staked out. From that point the work may have followed the usual
canoe-building practices except that the ends could not be closed until
the framing there was complete, otherwise it would have been impossible
to fasten the small ribs in the rams. The structure of these canoes
appears to have been almost entirely cedar, except for the bark and
lacings which, in some instances, were partly some bark fiber as well
as roots. In general, the construction of this class of canoe did not
match in quality that of the other bark canoes of the Northwest.

[Illustration: Figure 156

INDIANS WITH CANOE at Alert Bay, on Cormorant Island, B.C.]

_Chapter Seven_


                                                    _Howard I. Chapelle_

Among the three primitive watercraft of North America (the others being
the dugout and the bark canoe of the American Indians), the Arctic
skin boats of the Eskimos are remarkable for effective design and
construction obtained under conditions in which building materials are
both scarce and limited in selection. The Arctic skin boat is almost
entirely to be found in the North American Arctic from Bering Sea to
the East Coast of Greenland. In Russian Siberia, only in a small area
of the eastern Arctic lands adjacent to the North American continent
are any employed.

These craft, an important and necessary factor in the hunting lives
of most Eskimo tribal groups, have long attracted the attention of
explorers and ethnologists, and many specimens have been deposited
in American and European museums. Like bark canoes, they have
unfortunately proved difficult to preserve under conditions of museum
exhibit. As a result, examples of once numerous types have become
so damaged that they no longer give an accurate impression of their
original form and appearance, and some have so deteriorated that they
have had to be destroyed. Among the latter may have been examples
of types long since out of use. One such type was represented by a
single kayak, now destroyed; as a result this form has become extinct,
and only a poor scale model remains to give a highly unsatisfactory
representation of it.

In 1946 the late Vilhjalmur Stefansson, who was then projecting his
_Encyclopedia Arctica_, asked me to prepare for it a technical article
on the Arctic skin boat. The decision of the sponsors to discontinue
the publication, after the first volume had appeared, prevented
appearance of the article, but in 1958, through the kindness of Dr.
Stefansson, it was returned to the author for publication by the U.S.
National Museum. I have since revised and added to it, after receiving
criticisms and suggestions from Henry B. Collins, of the Smithsonian's
Bureau of American Ethnology, from John Heath, and from other

[2] For their aid to him the author takes this occasion to extend
particular thanks. He also thanks his Smithsonian Institution
colleagues in the Division of Ethnology, U.S. National Museum; members
of the staffs of The American Museum of Natural History and The Museum
of the American Indian in New York, of the Peabody Museum at Harvard,
and of the Stefansson Library at Dartmouth; and the Washington State
Historical Society and Museum, and others in the Northwest who gave
both aid and encouragement.

The object of the study, as will be seen, was to measure the skin boats
and to make scale drawings that would permit the construction of a
replica exact in details of appearance, form, construction, and also in
working behavior. Special regard was given to the diversity of types
with respect to hull form and construction methods; but questions of
ethnic trends, tribal migrations, and such matters, being outside the
scope of the study, were not considered. Wherever possible, full-size
craft were used as the source, but where only fragments existed, these
had to be supplemented by reference to and interpretation of models of
the same type.

In spite of the difficulty of locating skin boats of some Arctic areas,
examples of most of those mentioned by explorers since 1875 have been
found and recorded, so that, as far as possible, every distinctive
tribal type of Arctic skin boat which in 1946 was represented by museum
exhibits in the eastern United States is represented in plans here.

[Illustration: Figure 157

EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY LINES DRAWING of a kayak, from Labrador or southern
Baffin Island (according to Dr. Kaj Birket-Smith of the Danish National
Museum). Note the long stem that is characteristic of present day
kayaks from Labrador. The lettering apparently reads:

  From Strait's Sⁿᵗ. David
  A Canoe--N.B. The sections are 2 feet asunder from forward
  Length 21'-6"
  Breadth 2'-1½"
  Depth 0'-8¼"

(_Courtesy National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, England._)]

With the material available it was not possible, of course, to explore
all the individual types and forms in full; hence, the geographical
range of a type can be stated only approximately, owing to the
overlapping of tribal groups and the almost constant migratory movement
of the Eskimo. Originally the 2-and 3-cockpit kayaks of Russian
colonial Alaska had been omitted as being probably the results of
Russian influence. John Heath, however, believing attention should be
given to this type, has very kindly prepared for me a fine draught of
such a kayak, or "baidarka" (other spellings of this name are common);
this is shown on page 197.

Although the scale drawings accurately represent the form and details
of construction, they necessarily idealize somewhat the primitive boat
design. Also, in showing the hull-form, the usual method of projecting
the "lines" of the hull was discarded as unsuitable. Instead structural
features have been emphasized, with the result that "round"-bottom
kayaks appear as multi-chine hulls, as they properly are. In view
of the fluid state of design in Eskimo craft it is obvious that the
examples shown represent the stage of development at the given date,
though the alteration in most designs has been so gradual that the
representation could serve to illustrate with reasonable accuracy a
tribal or area type for a decade or more.

The Eskimos have produced two types of skin boats that have proved
remarkably efficient craft for small-boat navigation in Arctic waters:
an open boat ranging from about 15 to approximately 60 feet in length
for carrying cargo and passengers for long distances, and a small
decked canoe developed exclusively for hunting. With few exceptions
these Arctic skin boats are wholly seagoing craft.

The open boat, called the umiak, is propelled by paddles or oars or
sail or, in recent years, by an outboard gasoline engine, or it may be
towed. While fundamentally a cargo carrier the umiak has been employed
by some Eskimo in whaling and in walrus hunting. For these purposes a
faster and more developed design is used than that used only to carry
families, household goods, and cargo in the constant Eskimo search
for new hunting grounds. To a far greater degree than any other boat
of similar size, this Eskimo boat is characterized by great strength
combined with lightness.

The decked hunting canoe, the kayak, is propelled by paddle alone
when used for hunting and fishing, but is occasionally towed by the
umiak when the owner travels. The kayak is perhaps the most efficient
example of a primitive hunting boat; it can be propelled at high
speed by its paddler and maneuvered with ease. These hunting kayaks
are commonly built to hold but one person, though one group of Eskimo
built the kayaks to carry two or three. The kayak, remarkable for its
seaworthiness, lightness and strength, has been perhaps one of the most
important tools in the Eskimo fight for existence. Few tribes have been
unacquainted with its use. Because of its employment, the kayak often
has to be designed to meet very particular requirements and so there is
greater variation in its form and dimensions than in the umiak.

Seagoing skin boats have not been common outside the Arctic in
historical times. In fact only the European Celts are known with
certainty to have used such craft. The Irish, in particular, employed
large seagoing skin boats as late as the reign of Queen Elizabeth
of England; a drawing of one preserved in the Pepysian Library was
reproduced in the _Mariner's Mirror_ (vol. 8, 1922, facing p. 200).
Although there can be little doubt that large seagoing skin craft had
been more widely used in prehistoric times, the perishable nature of
the skin covering and the light framework probably account for the
lack of any archeological remains that would indicate its range. The
availability of the materials required in its construction, however,
suggest that its use could have been very widespread. The long voyages
made by the Irish, in the dawning of recorded history, could well have
made its design and construction known to others.

There are still many skin boats in use by primitive people and even a
few survivals in Europe, but with the exception of the Irish "curragh,"
these craft are designed for inland waters and are either rather
dish-shaped, or oval in plan, like half a walnut shell. In design they
are related to the coracle of ancient Britain rather than to a seagoing
skin boat of the Irish or Eskimo type. Both the Irish curragh and the
British coracle, now, of course, are covered with canvas rather than

Traditions of long voyages by the ancient Irish in the skin-covered
curragh make it apparent that such voyages were relatively common,
and the design and construction of existing models of the curragh and
umiak indicate that these voyages could have been made with reasonable
safety. Compared to the dugout canoe, the skin boat was far lighter
and roomier in proportion to length and so could carry a far greater
load and still retain enough freeboard to be safe. The size of the
early skin boats cannot be established with certainty; the modern Irish
curragh is probably debased in this respect, but early explorers of
Greenland reported umiaks nearly 60 feet in length and there is no
structural reason why the curragh could not have been as large or even

Compared with the curragh, the umiak is lighter, stronger, and more
resistant to shock. The curragh was built with closely spaced bent
frames and longitudinal stringers to support the skin cover, whereas
the umiak has very widely spaced frames and few longitudinals, giving
the skin cover little support. The difference in construction is
undoubtedly a result of the type of covering used, for the curragh
was covered with cattle hides, which were less strong than the seal
or walrus skins used by the Eskimo. The strong and elastic skin cover
of the umiak and the lack of a rigid structural support gives this
boat an advantage in withstanding the shocks of beaching or of working
in floating ice; and because of its relatively light framework and
the method of securing the structural members, its frame is far more
flexible than that of the curragh, adding to this ability.

The skin cover of the curragh was made watertight by rubbing the hides
with animal fat, and the sewn seams were payed with tallow. The Eskimo
soak the skin cover of the umiak with animal oil and pay the seams
with blubber or animal fat. Both treatments produced a cover initially
watertight but requiring drying and reoiling to remain so. Under
most climatic conditions in the North Atlantic or Pacific the oiled
skins remain watertight from four days to a week. This period can be
lengthened by various methods; skin boats travelling in company can be
dried out in turn by unloading one and placing it aboard a companion
craft. There is evidence of other methods of treating the skin
covering; waterproofing it with melted tallow, for example, or with
a vegetable gum or a resin such as pitch, would enable it to remain
watertight for a much longer time, though such treatments would make
the covering less elastic. Pitch was also used at one time in curragh
building, and it would be unwise to assume that the oil treatment used
by the Eskimo was their only method of producing watertight skin covers
in the period before they were first observed by Europeans.

[Illustration: Figure 158

WESTERN ALASKAN UMIAK with eight women paddling, Cape Prince of Wales,
Alaska, 1936. (_Photo by Henry B. Collins._)]

[Illustration: Figure 159

WESTERN ALASKAN UMIAK being beached, Cape Prince of Wales, Alaska,
1936. (_Photo by Henry B. Collins._)]

[Illustration: Figure 160

REPAIRING UMIAK FRAME at St. Lawrence Island, Alaska, 1930. (_Photo by
Henry B. Collins._)]

[Illustration: Figure 161

ESKIMO WOMAN SPLITTING WALRUS HIDE to make umiak cover, St. Lawrence
Island, Alaska, 1930. (_Photo by Henry B. Collins._)]

The fundamental difference between the construction of the curragh and
that of the umiak lies in the type of longitudinal strength members and
the transverse framing used. The curragh, like the birch-bark canoe,
depended entirely upon its gunwales for longitudinal strength, whereas
the umiak has a strong keel, or, properly, a keelson since the keel was
inside the skin cover. The curragh used longitudinal battens to support
the skin cover. The umiak, on the other hand, has in its chine timbers
rather strong longitudinal members that give additional strength to
the bottom. Its transverse frames, unlike those of the curragh which
were continuous from gunwale to gunwale, are in three sections, two
side pieces and a floor, or bottom, member and the frame members are
joined to gunwale, chines and keelson by lashings of sinew, whalebone,
or hide, a method that, together with three-part frames, gives great
flexibility to the framework. The frame of the early curragh may have
been lashed, but because of the other fundamental differences in design
and construction it was less flexible than that of the umiak.

The basic features of the umiak frame are not found in the kayak, the
structure of which in most types approaches that of the curragh. The
gunwale is the strength member in the kayak, and some types have a
rather extensive longitudinal batten system as well. In only a few
types of kayak is the keelson an important strength member, and even
here the gunwales are of primary importance. The hypothesis has been
offered that this indicates a different parentage for the kayak than
for the umiak, and that the umiak represents the earlier type, it being
argued that this type of boat was the one more required in migratory
periods, and so would be first developed. Such theories should be
accepted with caution, however, as the fundamentally different use
requirements for the two types of craft might readily explain the
variation in their principles of construction. Hunting would also have
been necessary during migrations, as existence depended upon food;
the earlier appearance of the umiak cannot be assumed on such limited

[Illustration: Figure 162

FITTING SPLIT WALRUS-HIDE COVER to umiak at St. Lawrence Island,
Alaska, 1930. (_Photo by Henry B. Collins._)]

[Illustration: Figure 163

OUTBOARD MOTOR INSTALLED ON UMIAK, Cape Prince of Wales, Alaska, 1936.
(_Photo by Henry B. Collins._)]

[Illustration: Figure 164

LAUNCHING UMIAK IN LIGHT SURF, with crew of 12 men. (Note outboard
motor attached), Cape Prince of Wales, Alaska, 1936. (_Photo by Henry
B. Collins._)]

Eskimo skin boats possess remarkable advantages for their employment
and conditions of use. Their hulls are light in weight, simple to
build, and relatively easy to repair, yet they are highly shock
resistant. They can carry large loads, yet are fast, they are capable
of being propelled by more than one means, and they are exceptionally

Floating ice is considered a major hazard to craft of all sizes, but
the umiak, for example, can resist the shocks of ramming the ice to a
degree beyond the tensile strength of the skin covering, by reason of
the method of attaching the skin cover to the framework of the hull,
and to some extent the form of the boat itself. The skin cover of the
umiak is not rigidly attached to the frame in a number of places, but
rather is a complete unit secured only at the gunwales and to the heads
of stem and stern. This permits the skin cover to be greatly distorted
by a blow, so that the elasticity of the material at point of impact is
assisted by the movement of the whole skin cover on the frame. Also,
the frame itself is flexible and allows distortion and recovery not
only within the limits of the elasticity of the wooden frame but also
by the movement of the lashed joints in the transverse frames. Some
kayaks have similar characteristics, though their small size and the
light weight of both boat and loading make its resistance to shock of
far less importance than that of the umiak.

Light weight is a highly desirable characteristic for small craft in
the Arctic, since it permits the boat without the aid of skids or
other mechanical contrivances to be removed from the water and carried
over obstructions, and to be transported either by sledge or by manual
portage over long distances. Lightness is obtained in the Eskimo skin
boats by the small number and small size of the wooden structural
members used in their construction. The resulting light weight hull
permits heavy loading in proportion to the size of the boat, and it
allows building with a minimum of material, in a country where such
materials as wood are scarce and hard to obtain.

For all small craft in Arctic waters, where distances between sources
of supply may be great and the time that the water is open to
navigation is relatively short, speed is an important and desirable
attribute that permits movement with a minimum of effort. The
exigencies of Arctic travel make it further desirable that small craft
be capable of propulsion under paddle, oars, sail, or low-powered
gasoline motors. The umiak, because of its form and weight, can be
modified to meet this requirement without loss of other desirable
attributes, and to a slightly lesser degree, the same may be said of
the kayak.

Simplicity in construction and repair are also basic requirements in
the Arctic, where an emergency may make it necessary to repair or
rebuild a damaged boat out of materials available nearby with the
minimum of tools and under adverse weather conditions. The Eskimo
has produced a boat construction that, as will be seen from the
descriptions that follow, to a high degree meets this requirement.

Exceptional seaworthiness is required, as most Arctic waters are
subject to violent storms; the Arctic skin boats have been developed
with forms and proportions to meet this condition. In this matter, the
light and flexible hull structure gives a special advantage. The kayak,
in its highest state of evolution and in skillful hands is perhaps
the most seaworthy of all primitive small craft. The umiak is a close
second, but of the two, the kayak is safer under all conditions of
Arctic travel.

The load-carrying capacity of skin boats has been mentioned. The Eskimo
umiak is notable in this respect, exceeding the curragh and even craft
produced by modern civilization. The umiak possesses this advantage
because of its very light hull weight in combination with a nearly
flat bottom and flaring sides. The resulting hull-form allows heavy
loading with relatively little increase in draft, as the flaring sides
cause the displacement to increase rapidly with the slightest increase
in draft. Though a similar form exists in the lumberman's drive boat,
the greater hull weight of this type makes it inferior to the umiak.
Light draft when loaded has very definite advantages in the Arctic,
for it allows loading and unloading on the beach or afloat, and allows
the boat to be beached at points where this would not be possible with
a deeper hull. The light draft also makes the umiak easy to propel

The imperative need for very efficient watercraft has made the Eskimo
seek improvements, and as his needs altered, so have his skin boats.
Consequently the designs of these craft have gone through numerous
changes since the first of the types were placed in American museums.
It is noticeable that, among other changes, the amount of freeboard of
umiaks has been altered as their owners met new conditions imposed by
longer voyages, heavier cargo, and the outboard motor. The high-sided
umiak, while suited for heavy loads and very seaworthy, was almost
impossible to paddle or even row against a strong gale. When this
condition had to be met, the freeboard and flare were reduced to
minimize the windage. In recent years umiaks have appeared with round
bottoms to give greater speed under paddle, the resulting boat being
an enlarged kayak in construction. These changes to meet differing use
requirements are not necessarily basic improvements, for they result in
the sacrifice of some of the other qualities of the type. Nevertheless,
they indicate the fluid state of primitive boat design in the Arctic,
a condition that has been accentuated in most areas by the increasing
influence of white men, their boats and their motors.

[Illustration: Figure 165

UMIAKS ON RACKS, in front of village on Little Diomede Island, July 30,
1936. (_Photo by Henry B. Collins._)]

_The Umiak_

The umiak was undoubtedly more widely employed by the Eskimo before
the coming of the white man than existing records indicate. It was
a type of boat most necessary for family migration by sea, and with
it the early Eskimos could establish themselves on islands far from
the mainland and could cross large bodies of water. From some areas
where early explorers mention having seen the type, the umiak has
disappeared; this suggests the possibility that tribes now unacquainted
with the umiak had at some time in the past reached a location where
such a boat was no longer necessary.

The umiak was common in open waters and was found from Kodiak Island
through the Aleutians and north and eastward along the west and north
coast of Alaska to the mouth of the Mackenzie River. On the Siberian
coast, opposite Alaska and for a short distance westward, the umiak was
also employed. From the Mackenzie eastward to Hudson Bay the umiak has
not been employed in recent times, though it is highly probable that it
was used in the migrations that populated this part of the Arctic coast
with Eskimo. Early explorers found umiaks in use along the northwestern
coast of Hudson Bay and Foxe Basin; the umiak disappeared from these
areas during the last century, but its use continued in Hudson Strait
and in Greenland, where it became highly developed.

Among the various tribes of Eskimo known to have employed the umiak
in the last century, the form of the hull varied a good deal, as
did its dimensions. In general its form was something like that of
the lumberman's "drive boat," except that most umiaks had a slight
~V~-bottom and were quite different from it in the shape of the
bow and stern. The size of the umiak does not seem to have been
established by a set of measurements as distinct as that used in the
building of kayaks, but rather as the result of utilizing material
available locally, with due regard to the intended use of the craft for
relatively heavy transport. Such matters as the flare of the sides,
rake and shape of bow and stern, and width varied from tribe to tribe.
The Asiatic and Alaskan umiaks were usually rather sharp-ended, with
little spread to the gunwales at bow and stern; one of the Asiatic
types has the gunwales brought round in a full curve at the ends of the
boat. In the East the umiaks have rather upright bows and sterns and
the gunwales are often rather wide apart to form square ends to the
hull. Some of the western umiaks were navigated with paddles only; with
others, before the appearance of the Russians in the area, both oar and
sail may have been used. In the East the umiaks were being paddled,
rowed, and sailed when white men reached the Arctic in the 17th century.

The Greenland umiak frame is much heavier and more rigid than the
Alaskan. In comparing eastern and western umiaks the frame of the
eastern umiak seems to be somewhat better finished, but the models
of the western umiak are undoubtedly the better. The eastern umiak
is not intended for use in hunting but is primarily a cargo carrier;
its use has been confined to women and its chief employment is moving
the family and household effects from one hunting ground to another.
While it is highly probable that this condition is the result of the
disappearance of whaling in this region, the use of the umiak as a
hunting boat ceased so long ago that the eastern umiak model may have
degenerated to a great degree. It has been otherwise in the western
Arctic where the use of the umiak in hunting has continued and the
boats have been managed, to a very great extent, by the men. As a
result, the boats are held in greater respect by their builders and
the better models have survived. The tribal distinctions between the
western umiaks are therefore more marked than in the east; including
Siberia, at least three basic models and a very large variety of tribal
variations, are to be found, as can be proved by existing models. In
the east only two basic and distinct umiak models are known to have
existed, the Baffin Island type used on both the north side and on the
Labrador side of Hudson Strait, and the Greenland type. In the latter,
there were slight tribal distinctions it is true, but these were minor.

The Asiatic umiaks may be classed into two types, the Koryak type of
Eastern Siberia and the Chukchi model of the Siberian side of Bering
Strait. The Koryak umiaks illustrated by Jochelson show a highly
developed boat, rather lightly framed compared to boats on the American
side. In profile the bow has a long raking curve and the stern much
less; as a result the bottom is rather short compared to the length
over the gunwales. Viewed in plan, the gunwales are rounded in at bow
and stern to form almost a semicircle. At the bow the gunwales are bent
around a horizontal headboard tenoned over the stem head but at the
stern there is no headboard. The sheer is moderate and very graceful.
The flare of the sides is great and there appears to be a little ~V~
in the bottom transversely. There is also a slight fore-and-aft rocker
in the bottom. The construction is similar to that of the Alaskan
umiaks except that the Koryak umiaks have double-chine stringers and
also a double riser, or longitudinal stringer, halfway up the sides.
The riser is not backed with a continuous stringer, as is the chine;
instead three short rods are lashed inside the side frame members. The
side stringers do not reach bow and stern. The four thwarts are located
well aft, and between the first and second thwarts is a larger space
than between the others, for cargo. The boats are rowed, two oarsmen
to a thwart. The cover was formerly walrus hides split and scraped
thin but more recently the skin of the bearded seal has come into use.
A rectangular sail of deer skin is sometimes lashed to a yard and set
on a tripod mast about amidships. Two legs of the mast are secured to
the gunwale on one side, the remaining leg is lashed to the opposite
gunwale. Judging by the drawing made by Jochelson[3] this umiak is
perhaps the most graceful of all those known today.

[3] Reproduced in JAMES HORNELL, _Water Transport_ (Cambridge:
University Press, 1946), p. 160.

[Illustration: Figure 166

framework can be seen through the translucent hide cover. (_Photo by
Henry B. Collins._)]

The Asiatic Chukchi umiak is somewhat similar to that used on the
American coast but with less beam in proportion to its length and less
flare to the sides. The skin cover is of bearded seal. Bogoras measured
an example and found her 35 feet 9 inches long, 4 feet 6 inches wide
amidships, 2 feet 6 inches wide on the bottom over the chines. (An
Alaskan umiak measured 34 feet 9 inches long, 8 feet 2 inches wide at
gunwales and 2 feet 8 inches over the chines.) The Chukchi also use a
very small hunting umiak, 15 to 18 feet long and having two or three
thwarts, much like the small hunting umiaks once used in the Aleutians.
The larger Chukchi umiaks have rectangular sails set on a pole mast;
some boats carry a square topsail. The sails are lashed to their yards
and the lower sail, or "course," is controlled by sheets and braces.
The topsail, when used, has braces only. The sails were formerly of
reindeer skins, but now drill is used. These umiaks were formerly
paddled, as indicated by their narrow beam, but since the advent of the
white man oars have come into use, and it is quite certain that the
topsail also is the result of white man's influence, if not the whole

In stormy weather some of these umiaks and also some of those in
Alaska employ weather cloths, 18 or 20 inches high above the gunwales,
raised on short stanchions lashed to the hull frames. The ends of the
stanchions are inserted in slits in the top of the weather cloth, and
in fair weather the cloths are folded down inside the gunwale out of
the way. Also in some of these Asiatic and Alaskan umiaks, inflated
floats, of seal skin, are lashed to the gunwales to prevent capsizing
in a heavy sea.

The Alaskan umiaks varied much in size but are rather similar in form.
The small hunting umiaks used by the Aleuts are about 18 feet long,
while the large cargo carrying umiaks range up to about 40 feet long,
so far as available records show. They are marked by heavily flared
sides and often have a rather strong sheer; a few, however, are rather
straight on the gunwales. Nearly all existing models and boats were
built since 1880; and no information is now available on the forms and
dimensions of earlier craft.

On page 184 is a drawing of a small umiak, used in walrus hunting, from
the Alaskan coast in the neighborhood of the Aleutians. In the U.S.
National Museum are the remains of a similar boat obtained in 1888 from
Northern Alaska. This type of small umiak is also employed in fishing
and is rather widely used as a passage boat for short voyages along
shore. These craft, propelled by paddles, are primarily fast, handy
hunting canoes rather than boats for migration or cargo-carrying. For
this reason they are quite sharp-ended and shallow. The construction of
this example will serve to illustrate the methods common to this type.

The umiak shown is 20 feet 8½ inches over the headboards, 4 feet 9½
inches extreme beam and 17⅜ inches depth--apparently an average-sized
boat of her class. The width of the bottom over the chine members
is 2 feet 7 inches. The keelson is rectangular in section and in two
pieces, hooked-scarphed together; each piece is shaped out of the
trunk of a small tree with the root knees employed to form the bow and
stern posts. The floor timbers are quite heavy and support the chine
members by having the floor ends tenoned into the chine pieces. At bow
and stern the chines are joined to the keelson in a notched scarph; at
these places the keelson is sided rather wide to give good bearing. It
is evident that this portion of the boat's structure is the first built
and forms a rigid bottom to the hull. The floor timbers are lashed to
the keelson by lacings of sinew, whalebone, or hide, passed through
holes bored in both, as indicated in the plan. The ends of the floors
are pegged where they tenon into the chines and the ends of the chines
are pegged to the keelson, but this was evidently not a universal
practice, as there are models showing lashings at floor ends and at
chine ends. The headboards are carved out of blocks in a ~T~-shape and
are stepped on top of the stem and stern posts and lashed. The fit is
extremely accurate. The bow headboard is narrower athwartship than the
stern headboard. The detail of the hook scarph in the drawing shows a
method of lashing that is widely used.

[Illustration: Figure 167

SMALL UMIAK FOR WALRUS HUNTING, west coast of Alaska, 1888-89.
Reconstructed from damaged umiak formerly in U.S. National Museum, and
from models.]

Because of the manner in which the keelson is cambered and the floor
fitted, the bottom of the covered hull shows in cross section a slight
~V~, reducing toward the bow and stern, that is typical of the Alaskan
umiak. The amount of deadrise seems to have been determined by the
manner of fitting the floor timbers and it helps the boat to run
straight under paddle and oars. In present day umiaks the amount of
~V~ in the bottom is slight; too much would make the boat difficult to
sledge overland without employing chocks to steady the hull. Perhaps in
the past, where sledging was not required, the deadrise was greater, as
indicated by some old models.

After the chines and floor are fitted to the keelson, the frames at
the thwarts are made and set up at the desired flare and height, being
held in place by temporary spreaders lashed or braced. These are
sometimes stiffened by thongs from frame head to keelson at each pair,
to steady the frame while the gunwale is being bent. As the lengths of
the thwarts are controlled by the fairing of the gunwales, the thwarts
are not fitted until after the latter are in place. As shown in the
figure above, the gunwales are round poles, slightly flattened on the
lower side at the headboards, where they are secured by lashings. In
building, the gunwales are shaped and secured by lashing them to those
side frames selected to shape the hull. The lashings that secure the
side frames to both gunwale and chine are passed through holes in each
member and are hove taut by means of a short lever with a hole bored
in it to take the end of the lashing, which is also wrapped around the
lever to give temporary purchase. The side frames have saddle notches
to bear on the chine and gunwale. All lashings in the frame, it will be
noted, pass through holes bored in the members and in some cases the
lashings are let in, so that the sinew is flush with the surfaces of
the members, to prevent the lashing from being damaged by chafing.

[Illustration: Figure 168

UMIAKS NEAR CAPE PRINCE OF WALES, ALASKA, showing walrus-hide cover
and lacing. Frame lashings are walrus-hide thongs. (_Photo by Henry B.

With the gunwales faired, the remaining frames are then put in position
and lashed to the gunwales and chines. An outside batten is run along
each side and lashed by turns of sinew over the batten and around the
side frames, with the lashings let into each member to prevent slipping
and chafing. The batten is lashed at bow and stern in some umiaks, but
in many it is stopped just short of coming home on the posts. Next, the
short frames at bow and stern are put in place and the risers secured
inside the side frames, then, with the thwarts fitted and lashed to
the risers, and the ends of the gunwales are lashed together at bow
and stern, the boat is ready to be covered. When ready to cover, the
frame is stiffened by diagonal thong ties, each of which has one end
secured by turns around the gunwale, with the other end passed through
holes in the keelson and secured. These are commonly found in western
umiaks; the small umiak has but one pair placed amidships. The timber
used in such craft is fir, spruce, and willow, and is usually driftwood
obtained at river-mouth.

When this umiak was examined, the skin cover was in such a condition
that the number of hides used could not be determined, but it probably
is comprised of three sea-lion skins sewn together. New skin covers
are made by removing the hair and fat from the skins and then sewing
them together by the method illustrated on page 186, to obtain proper
dimensions. Green skins are generally preferred, since they stretch
into shape better than partly or wholly cured ones. Once stretched
to shape and cured, the cover can be readily removed and replaced,
without resewing. In fitting a new skin cover the skins are first
thoroughly soaked in seawater. The cover is then stretched over the
frame and worked taut by lacings. It is wide enough to reach from
gunwale to gunwale and a little down inside the boat on each side, and
is laced to the rising batten with turns of rope spaced 3 to 5 inches
apart amidships and closer together in the ends of the hull. At the
headboards the cover is laced around the gunwales and through holes
in the headboards, two independent lacings of two turns each being
used on each side. At the extreme bow and stern the cover is laced
to the gunwale lashings. Where the cover will not stretch smooth in
fitting, gores appear to have been cut out and the skin resewn. After
being laced, the cover is allowed to shrink until it becomes smooth
and tight, then it is heavily oiled and the seams rubbed with tallow
or blubber. This treatment is repeated at regular intervals. While the
boat is in service care is taken to dry out the skin cover once a day,
if possible.

[Illustration: Figure 169

UMIAK, WEST COAST OF ALASKA, King Island, 1886. Taken off umiak at
Mariner's Museum.]

[Illustration: Figure 170

MAKING THE BLIND SEAM: two stages of method used by the Eskimo to join
skins together. The edge of the skins are placed flesh side to flesh
side with one overlapping the other about 2 inches. Then, by means of
a thin needle and slender sinew, the skins are sewn together, with an
over-and-over stitch, care being taken not to penetrate through the
lower skin. When this is completed the skins are opened out and the
second seam made on the grain side to complete a double seam without
penetration of either skin. The width of the seam varies somewhat.]

The sequence of construction described is not followed universally;
sometimes spreaders are fixed between the gunwales, which are then
sheered by thongs to the keelson, after which the side frames are put
in and the side and rising battens, and finally the thwarts, are added.
Judging by the numerous models seen, the small hunting umiaks varied a
good deal in the rake and sweep of the bow and stern, even in the same
village. These hunting umiaks worked with kayaks in Aleutian walrus and
sea-lion hunting; a practice that seems to have once been common along
the Western Alaskan coast and among the islands.

[Illustration: Figure 171

NORTH ALASKAN WHALING UMIAK of about 1890. Drawn from damaged frame,
formerly in a private collection, now destroyed.]

The drawing on page 186 represents a large Alaskan umiak from King
Island. Two boats of this model, but with modern metal fastenings, are
in the Mariners' Museum, Newport News, Virginia, but the drawing shows
the methods of fastenings used in 1886. The plan is of a burdensome
model, such as is used for travel or other heavy cargo work. The boat
is 34 feet 2½ inches over the gunwales, 8 feet ½ inch extreme beam, 2
feet 3⅜ inches deep and 2 feet 10 inches beam on the bottom over the
chines. The construction follows the general plan of the small umiak
just described, except that another method of fitting the floor timbers
to the chines is employed. Due to the size and use of the umiak, two
side battens are employed with a single riser. The thwarts are not
notched over the frames, but instead fall between them. As diagonal
thong braces from gunwale to keelson would be ineffective in this
situation, two sets of wooden braces that resist not only tension but
also compression are used to take the thrust off the thwart lashings.
These brace-frames are staggered slightly to allow room to fit them at
the keelson. The drawing, which requires no additional explanation,
shows the plan of construction and the important lashings, and the
method of fitting oars with thong thole loops.

Boats such as these carried a square sail lashed to a yard, the mast
being stepped in a block on the keelson. No mast thwart is used;
instead stays and shrouds of hide rope supported the mast, a method
that made it easy to step or unstep the mast in a seaway. Early umiaks
in this area are said to have had mat sails; later ones used sails of
skin and drill. Modern umiaks of this class often have rudders hung on
iron pintles and gudgeons and the floors fastened to the keelson with
iron bolts or screws. The scarphs are also bolted, but the remaining
fastenings are lashings in the old style, to obtain flexibility in the

A North Alaskan whaling umiak, supposed to have been built about 1890,
is represented in the drawing of figure 171. The remains of the boat
were sufficient to permit reconstruction of the frame. This umiak is
about the size of, and in profile greatly resembles, a New Bedford
whaleboat. However, the model is that of the umiak, rather sharp-ended
and strongly sheered. The boat is 29 feet 4¾ inches over the
headboards, 5 feet 10½ inches extreme beam, and 2 feet 1¾ inches deep.
Umiaks of this model were used at Point Barrow and vicinity in offshore
whaling, and were also used for travel and cargo carrying. Paddles were
used in whaling, but in more recent times sail, oars, and outboard
engines have been employed. The boats of this class appear to have been
marked by a very graceful profile and strongly raking ends. Despite
the resemblances of this type of umiak to the whaleboat, it is highly
doubtful that its model was influenced by the white man's boat. In
fact, it might just as well be claimed that since the whaleboat appears
to have been first employed in the early Greenland whale fishery, the
latter had been influenced by the umiaks found in that area. However,
one might also point to the fact that the model of the early European
whaleboat is much like that of a Viking boat, from which will be seen
the danger in accepting chance similarities in form or detail as
evidence of relationship, particularly when it is not impossible that
similarities in use and other requirements have produced similar boat
types, the users never having come into contact.

[Illustration: Figure 172

BAFFIN ISLAND UMIAK. Drawn from model and detailed measurements of a
single boat.]

The whaling umiak has been much used in the western Arctic by explorers
and Arctic travellers, who regarded highly its lightness and strength,
and its ability to be easily driven. It is much wider than the Chukchi
umiak and has far more flare. From a study of models and numerous
photographs it can be said that the amount of fore-and-aft camber in
the bottom varies greatly between individual umiaks, some of which
are almost straight on the bottom. The light framework and elastic
construction often cause these umiaks to camber a good deal when
heavily loaded; when sledged, they are sometimes fitted amidships with
a support for a line from bow to stern, that forms a "hogging-brace,"
to prevent the boat from losing its camber. It is also apparent
that there is no standard practice in fitting floors to the chines;
Murdock[4] shows a rough sketch that indicates the floor ends are
often tenoned into the chines, as in the small umiak. Tree-nailing of
the floors and chines, and the keelson, is common, and sometimes both
treenails and lashings are used in scarphs. In some umiaks both the
single side batten and the riser are at the same height, but only the
riser has its ends secured to the posts, the side battens being cut
short and their ends lashed to the riser a few inches inside the posts.

[4] See bibliography.

The skin cover of the north Alaskan whaling umiak is made of bearded
seal or of walrus hide, which has to be split, because of its weight.
Occasionally polar-bear skins are used. Lashings of the frame are of
whalebone, sinew, and hide. The skins are treated with seal oil and
caribou fat, and when the whaling umiak is taken ashore it is usually
stored on a stage to keep dogs from destroying the skin cover. In
travelling, however, it is sometimes propped upside down on one edge
and used as a shelter. In winter the skin is removed and stored; when
it is necessary to be replaced on the frame, the skin cover is soaked
in sea water for three to five days, after which it is laced on in
the usual manner, dried, and then thoroughly oiled. Low, rather wide
sledges are sometimes built to carry the umiak overland, or on the
ice, but often the regular sledge is used. The boats cannot be sledged
against a strong gale because of their windage.

The north Alaskan umiak is usually propelled by paddles, like the
Chukchi umiak. These paddles range in length from about 50 to 76
inches, and as a rule have a rather long narrow blade, though a short
and wide blade is occasionally found, particularly at Kotzebue Sound
and Point Hope. Oars for the Alaskan umiaks range in length from 6 feet
3 inches to 8 feet 6 inches, and also have rather long narrow blades, 3
to 4 inches wide.

The three examples of Alaskan umiaks serve to show the features that
are most common in the area. However, models in the U.S. National
Museum suggest that there was a greater variety of form and appearance
in the past. One model shows the gunwale ends lengthened by pieces
shaped very much like the projecting gunwales of the Malay prah. Some
show extreme rake at the bow like that of the Koryak umiak but without
the rounded gunwale ends. It is impossible to estimate how far the
western Alaska umiak model has been affected by the early Russian
traders in this area, but it is quite certain that the use of oars can
be traced to this influence. The full-sized umiaks, and models and
photographs, from the Bering Strait area give no real clues to the
possible parentage or direction of spread of the Alaskan umiak types.
Occasional details in fittings or construction, such as the gunwale
extensions mentioned, seem to duplicate details in primitive Asiatic
craft, but the evidence is too scanty to allow a hypothesis based on
design and construction alone.

[Illustration: Figure 173

EAST GREENLAND UMIAK, drawn from measurements taken off by a U.S. Army
officer in 1945.]

No models or photographs have been found of the extinct types of umiaks
once used in the northern part of Hudson Bay and the sketches of early
explorers are too crude to allow useful discussion. From such slight
evidence it is impossible to say whether the umiaks in this area were
of the western or eastern type.

The drawing of a Baffin Island umiak on page 188 is based on measured
dimensions of a single boat and upon a small model in the U.S. National
Museum. This model conforms in most respects with the drawings and
sketches made by Boas.[5] The umiak is a small one, 24 feet 7¼ inches
long, 5 feet 8⅜ inches extreme beam, 3 feet 10 inches wide over the
chines, and 1 foot 10½ inches deep. These measurements show that the
bottom of this type of umiak is wider than that of western types. The
bottom is flat, and sheer and camber are both slight. The stem and
stern are practically upright and are not formed of knees; rather,
they are made by fitting the post into the keelson with an open tenon.
Instead of the carved block headboards seen in the Alaskan umiaks, the
Baffin Island boat has very wide headboards, and these are tenoned over
the posts as in the Asiatic Koryak umiaks. The details of the rest of
the framing are not dissimilar from those of the Alaskan umiaks, except
that the Baffin Island umiak does not employ any short frames in the
end of the hull. The framework is rather heavy and the square-ended
appearance of this class of umiak makes it appear more clumsy than is
actually the case. The side battens and risers stop short of the posts,
and the risers used in this umiak are notched into the side frames,
whereas in the Alaskan umiak only the lashings of the riser are let
into the frames. The Baffin Island umiaks carry a square sail lashed
to a yard, and the mast is placed right up in the eyes of the boat.
Boas shows that some of these umiaks have rudders hung on metal pintles
and gudgeons, a result of the influence of the white traders, whalers,
and sealers who had operated in these waters long before Boas made his
investigations. The umiak is rowed in the usual manner, using thong
loops as tholes, and is usually steered with an oar or long paddle.

[5] See bibliography.

The ends of the gunwales of the Baffin Island umiak are cut off a
little inside the forward edges of the headboards, making this the
only American type that does not have projecting gunwales at bow and
stern. The projection of the gunwales undoubtedly serve a practical
purpose in lifting the boat out of water, but obviously this is of
minor importance. Probably the real reason for these projections is
that they originally made building easier by providing space for a
retaining lashing when the gunwales were being bent. As the headboards
became wider and the spring of the gunwales, in plain view, became
less acute, less strain was put on the lashings of the gunwales at the
headboards, but by then the projecting gunwales and their retaining
lashings were being utilized in lashing on the skin covering at bow and
stern. Thus, beginning as a practical solution of a building problem,
the projecting gunwales may have eventually become a traditional tribal
feature of the umiak in many localities.

The drawing of an eastern Greenland umiak on page 189 was made from
measurements taken off during World War II and checked against
dimensions, photos, and descriptions of boats from the same territory.
In general design and in construction this umiak differs little from
umiaks of the southwest coast of the same island. The eastern Greenland
boats are, on the average, much smaller than those on the southwest
coast due to the more severe ice conditions met in the east. Some of
the Greenland umiaks have flat bottoms like the Baffin Island boats,
but the ~V~-bottom appears to be more common. The chief characteristics
of the Greenland umiaks are the slight rake in the bow and stern, the
moderate sheer and camber, and the conservative flare of the sides.
The drawing shows the important structural details seen in most of the
Greenland umiaks. The floor timbers are on edge instead of on the flat
as in Alaskan boats and this seems to be characteristic of all eastern
umiak construction, as is the arching of the underside of the floors.
Another common structural detail is the passing of the risers through
the side frames; in some, however, the risers lie in deep notches
fashioned in the inside of the frames. The eastern Greenland umiaks
generally have rather wide headboards and somewhat more projection
to the gunwales. Like the Baffin Island umiaks, the side battens and
risers of the Greenland boats are cut short of the posts, but the ends
of these members are commonly supported by frames placed very far fore
and aft, and often these frames form brace-supports to the headboard,
as in the drawing. The headboards of these umiaks are always tenoned
over the top of the posts. Some of the Greenland umiaks have curved
side frames which cause the side battens to form knuckles in the skin
cover. The eastern Greenland umiaks rarely if ever carry sail, but this
is common on the western and southwestern coasts, where a square-sail
on a yard is popular, with the mast usually well forward. Hans Egede in
1729[6] found Greenland umiaks fitted with sails of seal intestines and
also saw boats about 10 fathoms (60 feet) long; another early writer,
Crantz[6] states that umiaks were commonly 36, 48, and even 54 feet
long. In the larger umiaks two side battens were employed. The thongs
and brace-frames seen in many Alaskan umiaks do not seem to have been
used in eastern waters, the use of bracing-frames from stem or stern
post to the gunwales probably serving the purpose, but it is noticeable
that pictures of Greenland umiaks preserved in some European museums
show that the hulls have a tendency to twist not seen in Alaskan
boats. The old Greenland umiaks were built with lashed joints combined
with pegging, or treenailing. In recent times the use of pegging has
increased and iron fastenings are now quite common. Rigid fastenings
of the peg and metal types are used only in scarphs and in securing
the chines and keelson to the floors timbers, as in the modern Alaskan

[6] See bibliography.

_The Kayak_

The Eskimo hunting boat, the kayak, is more widely employed in the
Arctic than the umiak, and its variations in model, construction, and
appearance are more distinct and numerous. The kayak is a long, usually
narrow, decked canoe and is commonly very well finished. In Alaska a
few undecked skin-covered canoes, used in rivers, are built on kayak
proportions, but the model of these is quite different from that of the
Alaskan sea-kayaks; the river canoes are ~V~ or flat bottomed, much
like the Greenland kayaks. A similar kayak-type canoe, flat bottomed
but birch-bark covered, is used by the Yukon Indians. Undoubtedly a
number of such types once existed but most of these became extinct
before any attempt was made to preserve models or canoes in museums.

Few Eskimo tribes are without kayaks, only those living inland or where
the sea is rarely open are unacquainted with these hunting craft. In
very recent times some tribes have ceased to use kayaks, employing
purchased canoes instead. The kayaks of the Asiatic Eskimos, and those
from the Mackenzie to Hudson Bay, are now crudely built and of inferior
design. Both the Greenland and the Alaskan kayaks are highly developed.
The Greenland kayaks are undoubtedly given more intricate equipment in
the way of weapons and accessories than the Alaskan craft, but it would
be difficult to decide which is superior in construction and design.

[Illustration: Figure 174

FRAME OF KAYAK, Nunivak Island, Alaska, with young owner beneath.
(_Photo by Henry B. Collins._)]

The basic models used in Eskimo kayaks are the multi-chine, the
~V~-bottom and the flat bottom. The multi-chine models, except for the
river kayak-canoe just mentioned, which probably should be classed as
a true open canoe rather than a kayak, are employed throughout Alaskan
waters. The geographic boundaries of each basic hull form are rather
ill-defined. The multi-chine kayak appears as far eastward as the
northwest coast of Hudson's Bay. In this area, however, a ~V~-bottom
kayak, now extinct, seems to have been in use on Southampton Island.
A flat-bottom kayak, with the chines snied off much like a Japanese
sampan, is in use in Hudson Strait, along the shores of Baffin Island
and Labrador; a flat-bottom kayak shaped like a sharpie is used on
the northwest coast of northern Greenland; and a ~V~-bottom hull is
employed on the eastern, southwest, and south coasts of Greenland.

  |                                                                 |
  |     According to the Danish classification of the coasts of     |
  |  Greenland, "Polar" is north of Cape York, "Northern" is above  |
  |    Disko Island, "Central" is from Frederikshaab to north of    |
  |  Disko Bay, "Southern" is from Julianhaab to Cape Farvell, and  |
  |               "East" is Angmagsalik and vicinity.               |
  |                                                                 |

There are variations in each of the basic models, of course, as the
tribal designs used vary a good deal. On the whole, the kayak is very
carefully built to meet the local conditions of hunting, sea, and
land or ice portaging. As a result, some types are far more seaworthy
than others and the weight of hull varies a great deal, even within
a basic model. The appearance of all the kayaks models, by tribal
classifications, show the influence of tradition and, in many cases
display, in either shape or decoration, a tribal totem or mark.

The basic requirements in nearly all kayaks are the same; to paddle
rapidly and easily, to work against strong wind and tide or heavy head
sea, to be maneuverable, and to be light enough to be readily lifted
from the water and carried. The low freeboard required makes decking
a necessity. In general, the kayak is designed to carry one paddler,
but in Alaska are kayaks that can carry two or three paddlers, each in
a manhole or cockpit, or a paddler and one or two passengers. It is
generally conceded that the kayak built to carry three in this fashion
is the result of Russian influence. Nunivak Island kayaks had large
manholes that carried two people back-to-back. Where it is desirable
to portage the kayak over ice or land for a great distance the boat
is very light and is capable of being carried like a large basket, by
inserting one arm under the decking at the manhole or cockpit, but
where such a requirement is not an important factor, the kayaks are
often rather large and heavy. In the majority of types, the degree of
seaworthiness obtained is very great. Some types are built very narrow
and sharp-ended; these usually require a skillful paddler. Others are
wide and more stable, requiring less skill to use. In areas where
severe weather is commonly met, the kayaks are usually very strong and
well-designed. Where ice or other conditions do not allow a heavy sea
to make up, the kayaks are often light, narrow and very low sided--more
like racing shells than working canoes. Most Alaskan kayaks come stern
to the wind when paddling stops, but most of the eastern craft come
head to the wind. Nearly every type has been developed by long periods
of trial and error, to produce the greatest efficiency in meeting the
conditions of use in a given locality. This has made the kayak a more
complicated and more developed instrument of the chase than is to be
found in any other form of hunting canoe, due in part, perhaps, to the
great craftsmanship of the Eskimo.

The construction of the kayak follows a basic plan. In all kayaks the
gunwales are the main strength members, longitudinally. A few designs
employ, in addition, a stiff keel member, but most have rather slender
and light longitudinal batten systems having little longitudinal
strength value, but which in combination with very light frames, give
transverse support to the skin cover. Even in the flat-bottom models,
the kayaks, unlike the umiaks, depend entirely upon the gunwales for
longitudinal strength. The frames are bent and in one piece from
gunwale to gunwale in all but a few flat-bottom kayaks, of the sampan
cross section; these employ bent frames. The longitudinal batten
systems show great variety. The eastern kayaks of the flat-bottom and
V-bottom models have three longitudinal battens (including the keel
or keelson) in addition to the heavy and often deep gunwale members;
these are supported at bow and stern either by stem and stern post
of shaped plank on edge as in the Greenland ~V~-bottom kayaks, or
by light extensions of the keelson and small end-blocks as in the
northern Greenland, Baffin Island, and Labrador types. The multi-chine
types of the western Arctic have from seven to eleven longitudinals
(including the keelson) in addition to the gunwales. In some of these
kayaks there are no stem and stern posts, the battens and keelson
coming together at a blunt point in small head blocks; but many types
have rather intricate stem-pieces, carved from blocks of wood, and
plank-on-edge stern posts. The Asiatic kayaks, curiously enough,
exhibit the construction of both eastern and western Arctic kayaks,
the crude, small Koryak kayak having a 3-batten ~V~-bottom, while the
Chukchi kayak is built like the kayaks on the east side of the Bering
Strait. The decking of kayaks is of very light construction; usually
there are two heavy thwarts to support the manhole and from one to
three light thwarts afore and abaft these. The Alaskan kayaks from
Kotzebue Sound southward have ridged decks supported by fore-and-aft
ridge-battens from the ends of the hull to the manhole. Elsewhere the
deck of the kayak is flat athwartship except at the manhole, where
there is some crown or ridging to increase the depth inside the boat,
particularly forward of the manhole. In the majority of these kayaks
short fore-and-aft battens are laid on the thwarts forward of the
manhole to support the skin cover in its sweep upward to the manhole.
The transverse frames do not come into contact with the skin cover,
to avoid transverse ridges being formed in it; and the longitudinal
battens which support the skin cover form longitudinal ridges, or
chines, in it.

The timber used in the Eskimo kayak building is usually driftwood. Fir
and pine, spruce or willow are available in much of the Arctic for
longitudinals. Bent frames are commonly of willow. Scarphing in the
framework of kayaks was far less common than in umiaks; the scarphs
when found are only in the gunwales. All scarphs are of the hooked type
and are usually quite short (the hooked scarph is the best one when
the fastenings are lashings). Sinew is generally used in all lashings
and for sewing material. The heads of frames are commonly tenoned into
the underside of the gunwales and are then either lashed or pegged
with treenails of wood or bone to hold them in place. In the joining
of frames and longitudinals, the lashings are commonly individual,
but in some types of kayak continuous lashings (connections in series
using one length of sinew) are occasionally found. Where possible,
the lashings are turned in so that the turns cross right and left. In
some parts of the framework two pieces of timber are "sewn" together;
holes are bored along the edges to be joined and a lacing run in with
continuous over-and-over turns. These laced joints are common in the
stems of the Alaskan kayaks. Gunwales and battens are most commonly
lashed through holes bored in them and in the bow and stern members.
Care is taken that all lashings are flush on the outside, so that the
skin cover is smooth and chafing will be avoided. Bone knobs at stem
and stern heads are used in the Coronation Gulf kayaks in the west and
in many Greenland models. Bone stem bands are more widely employed,
however, being in use at Kodiak and Nunivak Islands, in the Aleutians,
at Norton Sound in Alaska, and in Greenland and Baffin Island in the
east. It is probable that these bands were once in wider use than thus
indicated. Strips of bone are also used to prevent chafing at gunwale
in paddling and for strengthening scarphs in the manhole rim.

[Illustration: Figure 175

FRAME OF KAYAK AT NUNIVAK ISLAND, Alaska, 1927. _Photo by Henry B.

It will be noted that all Eskimo skin boats have a complete framing
system, which is first erected and then fitted with the skin cover.
This is a method of construction very different from that of the
birch-bark canoes of the Indians living to the southward of the
American Eskimo. The birch-bark canoe is built by forcing a framing
system into an assembled cover and holding it in place there by a
rigid gunwale structure, to which the bark cover is lashed. This
basic structure is used even in the Alaskan area, where there are
birch-bark canoes that in hull form and proportions strongly resemble
the flat-bottom kayak. The basic difference between the two craft is
illustrated by the fact that whereas the removal of the skin cover of
the kayak leaves the frame intact, the removal of the bark cover of
the kayak-like birch-bark canoes would result in the collapse of the
framework, except for the gunwale-thwart structure or, in a few, the
chine-floor structure. Because of this basic difference the superficial
resemblance of some Indian bark canoes to kayaks has no meaningful
relationship to the possibility of the influence of the kayak on the
bark canoe, or vice-versa. Some Indian tribes have in fact built
skin-covered canoes, as will be seen in chapter 8, but the framework
and structural system used is always that of the bark canoe, never that
of the Eskimo skin boat. Nor is there evidence that the Eskimo ever
used the bark canoe frame-structure in their kayaks or umiaks. Hence,
in spite of contact between these peoples, the watercraft of each
remains basically different in structural design.

The almost universal method of constructing the kayak is first to shape
and fasten together the gunwales and thwarts, with stem and stern
pieces fitted as required, then to fit and place a few transverse
frames to control the shape of the craft. Next the longitudinals are
fitted and, finally, the remaining transverse frames are put in place.
In some types the manhole rim is now fitted but in others the manhole
rim is put on after the skin cover is in place, as some kayaks (the
Alaskan) have the skin cover placed over the manhole rim and others
have it passed under. The skin cover is stretched and sewn over the
frame and is rarely secured to it by lashings except at the manhole.
Due to the shape of bow and stern, in some types, difficult and tedious
sewing is required to stretch the skins over the ends of the hull.
Much of the sewing is completed after the skins are stretched over the
hull and held by temporary lacings. The blind seam is used but in many
kayaks the lap is very short, about ⅜ inch being common.

The covering most widely used in Alaskan kayaks was the bearded seal
skin and with the Aleuts the skin of the sea lion was the most popular.
Throughout the eastern Arctic seal skin was the preferred covering
though caribou skin was occasionally used by the caribou Eskimos in the
central Arctic. The heavy, thick hides were first piled and "sweated,"
until the hair became loose then the skins were scraped until they were
clean. They were thin and light and could be air dried and stored until
ready for use. The skins had to be well soaked before being stretched
over the frame of a kayak or umiak. When dried out on the boat frame
they were oiled in the usual manner. It is claimed by the Eskimos that
walrus skin, though strong, is not as good as the bearded seal or the
sea-lion skin for boat covers, as the latter two held the oil longer
and did not become water soaked as quickly as the walrus hide.

The paddler's seat in most kayaks consists of a portion of heavy skin
with fur attached. Sometimes this is supported by a few short, thin
battens laced loosely together. These, and the fur seat sometimes are
as long as the paddler's legs. No back rest is known to be used. The
seat, and any batten supports, are loosely fitted and are not part of
the permanent kayak structure.

The kayak is usually entered by floating the boat near a stone or low
bank and stepping into it with one foot, which has first been carefully
wiped. With the body steadied by placing the paddle upright on the
shore, or outside the kayak, the other foot is then wiped and placed
in the boat. The paddler then slides downward and works his legs under
the deck until he is seated with his hips jammed into the manhole rim.
Getting out of a kayak is almost the reverse of this process. Great
care is exercised to avoid getting dirt into a kayak, as it might chafe
the hide cover. Hence the care in wiping the feet before entering. The
practice of entering the boat ashore and throwing man and kayak into
the water, undoubtedly very rare, is said to have been practiced not
only at King Island but in some parts of Greenland. Both Alaskan and
Greenland hunters often lashed two kayaks together, in order to rest in
rough weather. Many kayakers using the narrow models laid the paddle
athwartships across the deck to help steady the kayak when resting or
throwing a weapon; this is basically the same as holding the sculls of
a racing shell in the water, to steady the boat. Lashing two kayaks
side by side, or parallel with spacing rods, was commonly done to
enable the craft to ferry persons or cargo across streams. Some Alaskan
Eskimo thus converted kayaks into catamarans and then fitted a mast and
sail, but such an arrangement was never used in rough water.

The methods used by a paddler to right a capsized kayak, without aid
and while he was still in the cockpit, have aroused the interest of
many canoeists. It was used by the King Islanders, some of the Aleuts,
and the Greenlanders, who at times, it is said, would deliberately
capsize their kayak to avoid the blow of a heavy breaking sea, then
right it when the sea had passed. The Eskimo are reported to be
gradually losing this skill, but in late years European and American
kayakers have learned this method, called the "kayak roll," of
righting a decked canoe with paddler in place. It follows in general
the Greenland method. In the Appendix (p. 223) is an illustrated
description of the kayak roll, supplied by John Heath.

Traditionally, the weapons used by kayakers were darts and harpoons,
the bow not being employed, since wetting would damage the weapon.
Various forms were used, and many were thrown with the "throwing-stick"
to increase the range and force. An inflated bladder or skin was
often carried to buoy the harpoon line and tire the game. Bolas and
knives were also carried. All eastern kayaks appear to have been
propelled with the double-blade paddle, but folklore suggests that the
single-blade kayak paddle may have once been used. Greenland kayaks
have been reported as carrying a small square sail, but this was
actually a hunting screen, or camouflage, to hide the paddler and cause
the seal to mistake the canoe for a cake of ice. It was a 19th-century
addition, as was a fin attached to the kayak to counteract the effect
of the screen in a beam wind. Any effect it had as a sail in a kayak
was unintentional, of course: it was dismounted in strong winds or when
not required for hunting.

[Illustration: Figure 176

KORYAK KAYAK, drawn from damaged kayak in the American Museum of
Natural History, 1948.]

Shown above is the plan of an Asiatic Koryak kayak. This type, used
in the Sea of Okhotsk and on the Siberian coast of Bering Sea, is the
only distinctive Asiatic type; the Chukchi of the Siberian side of
Bering Strait uses a kayak that is on the same model as the one found
at Norton Sound, in Alaska. The Chukchi kayak differs only in the ends,
which are wholly functional and without the handgrips that distinguish
the Alaskan type. There is also a crude Chukchi river kayak, covered
with reindeer skin, but its design is not represented in an American

The Koryak kayak is a hunting boat well designed for use in protected
waters, but is rather weakly built. In general form it is much like the
hunting and fowling skiffs formerly used in America. The plan idealizes
the kayak somewhat, for the boat is crude in finish. The only example
available for study, in the American Museum of Natural History, is in
poor condition. The hull is short, wide and shallow, rather ~V~ in
cross section, and there is a slight camber in the deck. The length
of the Koryak kayak rarely exceeds 10 feet, the beam is from 24 to 26
inches, and the depth between 8 and 9½ inches. The manhole rim is of
large diameter, high and without rake. The gunwales, although rather
slight, are the strength members. The keelson, a thin, flat batten,
forms the stem and stern posts; it is stiffened amidships by a short
batten lashed inside the frames. The chine battens are also slight
and do not reach the stem and stern. The frames are widely spaced
and are wide and thin, in one piece from gunwale to gunwale. There
are but two thwarts; these are strong and support the manhole rim,
showing inside the cockpit. Two thin longitudinal battens afore and
abaft the manhole, support the deck, in addition to a light centerline
ridge-batten. On the kayak illustrated the outboard battens appear to
have had additional support at one time from two pairs of stanchions
standing on frames at the chines, with their heads secured to the deck
battens; a pair being placed before and abaft the manhole. A small
plank seat appears to have been used and the boat was propelled by
two short one-hand paddles, secured to the manhole rim by lanyards
made of thongs; these would be only efficient in smooth water. The
cover is made from bearded seal skins and passes under the manhole
rim being sewn to the rim on the inside at the top, by coarse sewing
passed through holes bored in the manhole rim. There are two thong
lifting handles or loops, one at bow and stern. This kayak is the most
primitive of all types and the smallest as well. The Koryaks are not
daring canoemen and do not venture into rough water. Nevertheless, this
type of kayak is said to be fast and highly maneuverable.

Compared to the Koryak, the Alaskan kayak is tremendously advanced.
The Aleuts are daring and accomplished kayakers, and their craft are
among the finest in the Arctic. The Kodiak Island kayak of 1885, shown
above, represents one type used in this area and that from Unalaska,
shown below, the other. The Kodiak boat is rather short and wide,
measuring 15 feet 1 inch in length, 29 inches beam and 14 inches depth
to ridge batten of the deck just forward of the manhole. The boat has
the humped sheer found in many Alaskan kayaks and is intended for use
in stormy waters. Its large manhole, also a feature of the Nunivak
Island kayak, permits two persons to be carried, one facing forward to
paddle and the passenger facing aft, or the space can be used to carry
cargo. The drawing shows the construction and requires no detailed
explanation. Kayaks from the Aleutian Islands eastward to Kodiak use
rod battens; only the gunwales and keelson are rectangular in section.
The frames are thin flat strips bent in one piece from gunwale to
gunwale. The ridge-batten of the deck is laminated, in two pieces. The
deck beams and thwarts are notched into the ridge-batten and lashed.
The bow piece is carved from a block, and the longitudinals are lashed
to it, each in a carefully fitted notch. The sternpost is formed of a
plank. The skin cover passes over the manhole rim and a line passed
outside the rim holds the skin down enough to form a breakwater. The
skin cover is sewn to the inside lower edge of the rim, thus covering
it almost completely.

[Illustration: Figure 177

KODIAK ISLAND KAYAK, 1885, in U.S. National Museum (USNM 76285). The
identification of this kayak has been questioned by Henry B. Collins
and John Heath, but it may represent an old form out of use in the
twentieth century.]

[Illustration: Figure 178

ALEUTIAN KAYAK, Unalaska, 1894, in U.S. National Museum (USNM 76282).]

The Unalaska kayak of 1894 (below) is a better known type. This design
is used throughout the Aleutians and on the adjacent mainland as far
east as Prince William Sound. It was also employed in the Pribilof
Islands and at St. Matthew, having been used by Aleuts engaged in
sealing expeditions there. All kayaks of this type do not have the same
bow and stern profiles as the example; some have the bifid bow built
with the portion above the slit arched upward higher than the outer
stem-piece and so more prominent; there are also minor variations in
the stern. The shape of the hull, however, is consistently maintained
throughout the area in which this type is used. Though the deck is
ridged, it is relatively low compared to that of the Kodiak kayak, and
the thwarts supporting the manhole are heavily arched and in one piece
from gunwale to gunwale. The construction is like that of the Kodiak
kayak, but the gunwales and upper longitudinal battens, instead of
meeting the stern post, end on a crosspiece well inside the stern to
give the effect of a transom stern. However, some Aleut kayaks have the
normal sharp stern after the fashion of the Kodiak kayak, but without
the projecting tail or handgrip, and nearly all have two thwarts
between the after manhole thwart and the stern and three forward of
the fore manhole thwart. The skin cover passes over the manhole rim
as in the Kodiak type. The bow block is sometimes built up of two
blocks sewn or laced together. Strengthening pieces of light plank are
sometimes fitted from the bow block aft; these are laced to the top
inside edge of the gunwales and pinned to the stem block to form long
breast-hooks. In some kayaks with the square stern, only the gunwale is
supported by the crosspiece on the stern, the two battens on each side
being supported by the last frame only, about 6 inches inboard of the

[Illustration: Figure 179

KAYAK FROM RUSSIAN SIBERIA, 2-hole Aleutian type, in Washington State
Historical Society and Museum. Taken off by John Heath, 1962.]

This type of kayak is the only one known to have been built with more
than one manhole. The two-hole kayak is an Aleut development used in
whaling and sea-otter hunting, so far as is known; the paddler sits
in the after manhole. Measurements of a two-hole kayak in the United
States National Museum show it to be 20 feet 7¼ inches long, 23 inches
beam, and 9½ inches deep to top of gunwale. The manholes are about 46
inches apart edge to edge and the foremost is about 8 feet from the bow.

The three-holer, commonly believed to have been introduced by the
Russians, was used by Russian officers, inspectors, and traders in
their explorations and travels on the Alaskan coast. One of these boats
measures 24 feet 8⅜ inches long, 30 inches beam, and 10½ inches deep
to top of gunwale. The center manhole is commonly larger in diameter
than the other two and is used for either a passenger or cargo. The
fore edge of the fore manhole is 8 feet to 8½ feet from the bow and
the other manholes are from 4 to 4½ feet apart edge to edge. A large
example of this class of kayak measures 28 feet 1½ inches long, 38½
inches beam and 12 inches deep to top of gunwale. Probably none exceed
30 feet in length. Both the single-and the double-blade paddle are used
by the Aleuts, but the double blade is preferred in hunting. The paddle
blades are rather narrow and leaf-shaped, with pointed tips.

[Illustration: Figure 180

NUNIVAK ISLAND KAYAK, ALASKA, 1889, in U.S. National Museum (USNM
160345), showing painted decoration of the mythological water monster

[Illustration: Figure 181

KING ISLAND KAYAK, Alaska, 1888, in U.S. National Museum (USNM 160326),
collected by Capt. M. A. Healy, U.S. Revenue Steamer _Bear_.]

[Illustration: Figure 182

NORTON SOUND KAYAK, Alaska, 1889, U.S. National Museum (USNM 160175).]

The plan of a kayak from Nunivak Island (about due north of Unalaska
and roughly halfway to St. Lawrence Island) is shown on page 198
(fig. 180). This type of kayak is obviously related to that of Kodiak
Island, for it has approximately the same lines and proportions. Only
the profiles of bow and stern exhibit marked differences. Perhaps the
most striking feature of the Nunivak kayak is its bow, which might
represent a seal's head; a hole through the whole bow structure forms
the eyes and also serves functionally as a lifting handle. The stern
profile is simpler than that used in the Kodiak kayaks. The example
shows the mythological water monster Palriayuk, a painted totem that
once distinguished the Nunivak kayaks; missionary influence has long
since erased such decorations from Alaskan kayaks. Whereas the Kodiak
kayak has eleven battens (including the keelson) in its frame, the
Nunivak kayak has nine, and all the longitudinals in it are rectangular
in section. Differences in dimensions of Nunivak and Kodiak kayaks are
remarkably slight, the greatest length reported for either type is
about 15 feet 9 inches and the greatest beam is about 32 inches. Both
types have a large manhole and carry a passenger back-to-back with
the paddler. The single-bladed paddle is used. The kayak is sometimes
transported over ice by means of a short sledge, by one man, but it is
otherwise rather heavy to portage. Highly regarded by all who have had
contact with it, this is generally considered one of the safest and
most useful of the Alaskan kayaks.

[Illustration: Figure 183

NUNIVAK ISLAND KAYAK with picture of mythological water monster
Palriayuk painted along gunwale. (Photo by Henry B. Collins.)]

[Illustration: Figure 184

NUNIVAK ISLAND KAYAK in U.S. National Museum (USNM 76283) with cover
partly removed to show framework. Collected by Ivan Petroff, March 30,

King Island, at the entrance to Bering Strait, is the home of the
kayak shown on page 198 (fig. 181). The King Islanders are noted
as skillful kayakers and their kayak generally follows the Nunivak
pattern, but is narrower and more ~V~-shaped in cross section, and
the stem and stern are also distinctly different. The King Island
craft has a bold upturned stem ending in a small birdlike head, with
a small hole through it to represent eyes and to serve for a lifting
grip; the stern is low and without the projections seen in the Nunivak
type. The fitting of the cockpit rim of the U.S. National Museum kayak
is unusual; the rim is not supported by thwarts but rather is made
part of the skin cover and therefore can be moved. This seemed to be
intentional, for there is no evidence of broken or missing members,
but John Heath considers this not typical. A watertight jacket with
the skirt laced to the manhole rim is worn by the kayaker to prevent
swamping. This practice was common among Eskimo working in stormy
waters. A warm-weather alternate was a wide waistband, with its top
supported by straps over the shoulders and the bottom laced to the

[Illustration: Figure 185

WESTERN ALASKAN KAYAK, Cape Prince of Wales, 1936. (_Photo by Henry B.

A somewhat similar but slightly smaller kayak was used at Cape
Espenberg; in these the upturned bow ended in a simple point. The
sterns were alike in both types. The Cape Espenberg kayak had a fixed
cockpit rim however, as in the Nunivak type. Both types employed the
single-bladed paddle.

A little to the South, in Norton Sound, the long narrow kayak shown on
page 198 (fig. 182) is popular. These are somewhat like the Nunivak
kayaks in cross section but with far less beam. They have a slight
reverse, or humped, sheer and are very sharp ended. The peculiar
handgrips at bow and stern are characteristic, though the shape and
size of the grips vary among the villages; the style shown is that of
St. Michaels. A single-bladed paddle is used. This type is very fast
under paddle, but requires a skillful user in rough water. The Norton
Sound kayaks are very well finished and strongly built.

From Kotzebue Sound, at Cape Krusenstern, along the north coast
of Alaska to near the Mackenzie Delta, the kayaks are very low in
the water, long, narrow, and spindle-shaped at the ends. They are
distinguished by a very strong rake in the manhole rim, with an
accompanying prominent swell in the deck forward of the manhole. They
are built with seven longitudinal battens (including the keelson) in
addition to the gunwales. In several examples seen, the latter are
sometimes slightly channelled on the inside, but this may have been the
result of shrinkage in the pith of the timber used and not intentional.
These kayaks are very light and easily carried. Both single-and
double-blade paddles are employed; the single blade is usually used in

On page 201 are shown a kayak from Cape Krusenstern (fig. 186) and one
from Point Barrow (fig. 187). It is reported that these types have
now gone out of use. In these boats no stem or stern posts exist,
these usually being replaced by small end blocks. The only important
difference in the two types shown is in the style of crowning the
deck, which is ridged in the Cape Krusenstern kayak but more rounded
in the Point Barrow kayak. In spite of their narrow beam and obviously
unstable form, these kayaks are said to have been used by rather
unskillful paddlers. In general, they were not employed in rough
weather but were seaworthy in skillful hands.

Though the North Alaska type of kayak, as illustrated by the Point
Barrow model (fig. 187), may be said to represent the structural design
of kayaks to the eastward as far as Foxe Basin, the Mackenzie Delta
kayaks are on an entirely different model. Due to migration of numerous
groups of Eskimo to this area in the last seventy years, the design of
kayaks here has undergone a great change. In figure 188 appears the
plan of a modern Mackenzie Delta kayak.

[Illustration: Figure 186

KOTZEBUE SOUND KAYAK (Cape Krusenstern), Alaska, formerly in U.S.
National Museum, now in Mariner's Museum.]

[Illustration: Figure 187

POINT BARROW KAYAK, Alaska, 1888, in U.S. National Museum (USNM 57773).]

[Illustration: Figure 188

MACKENZIE DELTA KAYAK, in Museum of the American Indian, Heye
Foundation.] The design is marked by a very narrow flat bottom or a
wide keel combined with the ~V~-bottom. These boats are well-built
and are light and graceful. The wide keel is formed by a thick plank
keelson which narrows at bow and stern and is bent up to form the stem
and stern. The chine pieces run fore and aft and are lashed to the
stem and stern thus formed. The gunwales are about ¾ by 1⅛ inches. The
frames are about ¼ by ⅝ inch bent in a strongly ~U~-shaped form, with
their ends tenoned into the bottom of the gunwales. The keelson is
only about ⅜ inch thick and the chines are rather wide thin battens;
about ⁵⁄₁₆ by 1¼ inch. Some kayaks have an additional batten in the
sides above the chines. The deck is slightly ridged for nearly the
length of the boat. The stem and stern are carried up above the sheer
to form prominent posts; some builders carry them higher than shown.
The construction is neat and light and the boat is very easily paddled.
Its narrow beam makes it somewhat treacherous, however, in unskilled
hands. A double-bladed paddle is generally used with this kayak. While
the form appears to vary little among individuals of this class, the
construction varies, particularly in the number and dimensions of the
longitudinals. Frames are spaced rather consistently 5 to 6 inches

[Illustration: Figure 189

KAYAK FROM POINT BARROW, Alaska, in U.S. National Museum (USNM 57773).
Collected by Capt. M. A. Healy, U.S. Revenue Steamer _Bear_, 1888.
(_Smithsonian photo_ MNH-399-A.)]

[Illustration: Figure 190

COCKPIT OF KAYAK from Point Barrow (USNM 57773), showing method of
lashing skin cover to manhole. (_Smithsonian photo_ MNH-399.)]

[Illustration: Figure 191

KAYAK IN U.S. NATIONAL MUSEUM (USNM 160325) cataloged as from Mackenzie
River area, 1885, but apparently an eastern kayak of unidentified

[Illustration: Figure 192

CORONATION GULF KAYAK, Canada, partially reconstructed from a damaged
privately owned kayak (now destroyed).]

[Illustration: Figure 193

CARIBOU ESKIMO KAYAK, Canada, in American Museum of Natural History.]

[Illustration: Figure 194

NETSILIK ESKIMO KAYAK, King William Island, Canada, in the American
Museum of Natural History.]

The foregoing design differs greatly in every respect from the
example in figure 191, collected by the U.S. Fish Commission in 1885
and identified as a Mackenzie River kayak. It is a large heavy boat
compared to the one just described. The model of this old kayak,
and the construction too, is on the eastern pattern, such as is
used in Hudson Strait. The strongly upturned stern and less rising
bow resembles the old Greenland kayaks. The ~V~-bottom and 3-batten
construction combined with heavy deep gunwales is not to be found in
any of the known Alaskan kayaks. There is unfortunately no record of
the exact location where this kayak was found, nor any information
on the builders; if it is from the Mackenzie, the type now appears
to be wholly extinct and there has been nothing in recent times in
the vicinity faintly resembling it. The kayak is a well-built, safe,
strong boat; the high stern would aid it in coming head to sea and wind
when paddling stopped; and it resembles, more than most, the early
explorers' drawings of Arctic kayaks. The very high ends indicate that
it was not used where high winds are common, despite the otherwise
seaworthy design and construction, and regardless of the documentation,
it now seems certain that this kayak came from somewhere in the eastern

To the eastward of the Mackenzie, the kayaks are narrow, spindle-shaped
and very low sided, in the manner of the northern Alaskan boats.
The drawing of figure 192 was made from the remains of a kayak from
Coronation Gulf and to insure accuracy was compared with photographs
and measurements of some Copper Eskimo kayaks. This kayak is
characterized by a rather marked reverse sheer and a strongly raked
manhole rim. The deck forward of the manhole sweeps up very sharply,
but with a different profile than is seen on the north coast of Alaska;
the deck of these eastern kayaks sweeps up in a very short hollow
curve instead of the long convex sweep popular in Alaska. The ends of
the hull finish in small bone buttons; the skin cover passes under
the manhole rim, as in the Cape Krusenstern and Point Barrow types. A
two-bladed paddle is commonly used. The hull design is more stable than
that at Point Barrow and the ends are somewhat fuller, giving the boat
a rather parallel sided appearance; it has longitudinal battens from
the bottom of the hull, one the keelson; the gunwales are channelled
on the inside and are very light and neatly made. The frames are split
willows, round on the inside.

The Caribou Eskimo kayak preserved in the American Museum of Natural
History is the best example of the type found. The drawing of figure
193 shows the features of this particular type; the construction is
about the same as that of the Point Barrow kayak but is much lighter
and weaker. The peculiar projecting stem is formed of a stem block,
scarphed to the gunwales; to it the beak piece is attached with a
lashing. The sharply turned-up stern is formed in a similar manner by
two pieces joined together at the tip and lashed to the stern block;
this stern construction is similar to that of the eastern Arctic kayak
shown in figure 192. Both caribou hides and seal skins are used to
cover the Caribou Eskimo kayak. The seams are rubbed with fish oil and
ochre, a method also used extensively along the north coast of Alaska
to paint the framework of both kayaks and umiaks.

The Netsilik Eskimo kayak is related to the Caribou, but is less stable
and has different bow and stern profiles. The example shown in the
drawing of figure 194 requires little discussion; the cover is of seal
skin. These kayaks are used only in hunting caribou at stream crossings
and are not employed in sealing. The very narrow bottom and narrow beam
make this the most dangerous of all kayaks in the hands of a paddler
unaccustomed to such craft. Neither the Caribou nor the Netsilik
kayaks are very seaworthy and their construction is inferior. They are
characterized by rather heavy gunwales but the other members of their
structures are very slight.

No examples remain of the old kayaks once used on the Gulf of Boothia,
at Fury and Hecla Strait, and on the west side of Foxe Basin. Early
explorers in this area found kayaks, but the types used have been long
extinct. One kayak, supposed to have been built at Southampton Island,
had been preserved by a private collector, but when measured was in
a damaged state. Shown in figure 195, it does not conform with the
old description of kayaks from the Melville Peninsula but does agree
reasonably well with the Boas model of a kayak from Repulse Bay in the
U.S. National Museum (USNM 68126). On this basis it would appear that
in Boas' time this form of kayak was also used on the east side of the
Melville Peninsula. The design resembles to some extent the kayaks
from the southwest coast of Greenland, but the stern is like that
used in some Labrador craft. This old kayak was very light and sharp,
rather slightly built, but very graceful in model so far as could be
determined from the remains of the craft. The foredeck camber is ridged
and carried rather far forward. If the identification of this kayak
should be correct, it is apparent that the eastern model of the kayak
once extended as far west as the west side of Foxe Basin.

The kayak of lower Baffin Island, in figure 196, is flat-bottomed,
long, and rather heavy. The gunwale members are very deep and the
keelson and chine battens are quite heavy. This type has a slight
side-batten between chine and gunwale--in all, five longitudinal
members besides the gunwales--hence this example is the sole exception
to the 3-batten construction that may be said to mark the eastern
kayaks. The Baffin Island kayak is rather roughly built and the
two examples found had many frames cracked at the chines. However,
this kayak has many excellent features, being easily paddled, very
stable, and seaworthy. The double-blade paddle used is like that of
the Labrador kayak, very long with narrow blades. When the paddler
is seated, these kayaks, like many of their eastern sisters, draw
more water forward than the illustration would indicate (it should be
remembered that the trim of the kayaks in the water is not indicated by
the base lines used in the plans). The deeper draft at the bow, which
allows the kayak to hold her course into the wind and to come head
to the wind when at rest, gives a long easy run in the bottom toward
the stern. The slight rocker in the bottom shown in the drawing is
thus misleading. The stem is formed by the extension of the keelson,
producing the "clipper-bow" seen in many eastern boats. The stern is
shaped by a stern block of simple form into which the gunwales, keelson
and chines are notched. The batten between chine and gunwale stops a
little short of both bow and stern.

[Illustration: Figure 195

much damaged kayak, now destroyed, once privately owned.]

A somewhat similar kayak is used on the Labrador side of Hudson Strait
but, as shown in figure 197 on page 207, the appearance of the craft is
distinctive. The kayak is flat-bottomed, with the snied-off chines seen
in the Baffin Island boat, giving a cross section form like that of
many Japanese sampans. The 3-batten system is used in construction, and
the gunwales are very heavy and deep, standing vertical in the sides
of the boat. The sheer is slightly reversed and there is little rocker
in the bottom. One of the most obvious features of the Labrador kayak
is the long "grab" bow, which is formed by a batten attached to the
end of the keelson. The stern is formed with a very small block inside
the gunwales, and to this the keelson is laced or pegged. It will be
noticed that the rake of the manhole is very moderate. These kayaks are
heavy and strong, paddle well, particularly so against wind and sea.
Shown in the drawing is the type of long-and narrow-bladed paddle used.

[Illustration: Figure 196

BAFFIN ISLAND KAYAK, from Cape Dorset, Canada, in the Museum of the
American Indian, Heye Foundation.]

This example illustrates better than the Baffin Island kayak the
combination of deep forefoot and the greatest beam well abaft the
midlength that marks many eastern models. When paddled, the craft
always trims so that the kayak draws most water at the fore end of the
keelson and the bottom of the stern is usually just awash. This makes
the bottom sweep up from the forefoot in a very slight gradual curve
to the stern, when the boat is afloat. As a result, the kayak may be
said to be of the "double-wedge" form that has been popular in fast
low-powered motor boats, since having the beam far aft gives to the
bow a wedge shape in plan, while the deep forefoot and shallow stern
produce an opposite wedge in profile. It would appear that this form
had been found by trial and error to produce a fast, easily paddled
rough-water kayak in an otherwise heavy hull. The North Labrador kayaks
are the largest in the Arctic for a single person; some are reported as
long as 26 feet. The long-and narrow-bladed paddle may be explained by
the fact that the Eskimo never produced a "feathered" double paddle,
with blades set at right angles to one another. To paddle against
strong winds, he developed a blade that was very long and very narrow
for a double-paddle, and therefore offered less resistance to the wind,
yet could be dipped deep so that little propulsion effect was lost.

The kayak used on the northeast coast of Labrador, shown in figure
198, differs slightly from that of Hudson Strait. The northeast-coast
kayak has a very slight ~V~-bottom and a strong concave sheer with
relatively great rocker in the bottom. While the craft trims by the
bow afloat, the rocker probably makes it more maneuverable than the
Hudson Strait kayak, though less easily paddled against strong winds.
The ~V~-bottom is formed by using a keelson that is heavier and deeper
than the chines. The latter are thin, wide battens, on the flat. The
V-bottom appears to help the boat run straight under paddle and may be
said to counteract, to some extent at least, the effect of the strongly
rockered bottom.

The Polar coast of Greenland is the home of sharpie-model kayaks having
flat bottoms and flaring sides; the kayaks in figures 199 and 200 are
representative of those used in the extreme north. These have "clipper"
bows, with sterns of varying depth and shape, concave sheer and varying
degrees of rocker in the bottom. Most have their greatest beam well
aft and draw more water forward, as do the Labrador and Baffin Island
types. The chief characteristic of the construction of this type is
that the transverse frames are in three parts, somewhat as in the
umiak. However, these kayaks depart from umiak construction in having
the frame heads rigidly tenoned into the gunwales. This is done to give
the structure a measure of transverse rigidity which would otherwise
be lacking, since light battens are used for the keelson, stem, and
chines. Figure 199 shows the details of the construction used.

These kayaks are highly developed craft--stable, fast, and
seaworthy--and the construction is light yet strong enough to withstand
the severe abuse sometimes given them. The cap on the fore part of
the manhole is a paddle holder, for resting the paddle across the
deck. Some Eskimos used this as a thole, and when tired, "rowed" the
kayak with the paddle, to maintain control. It will be noted that
oval or circular manholes are seldom found in the eastern types of
kayaks already described; ~U~-shaped manholes, or bent-rim manholes
approaching this form, appear in those very stable types which do not
require to be righted at sea by the paddler and in which the watertight
paddling jacket or waistband is not used.

Farther south, on the northern coast of Greenland, and apparently also
on the opposite coast of Baffin Island, a modified design of kayak is
used. This type, illustrated in figure 205, shows relationship to both
the flat-bottom kayak of northern Greenland and to the northeastern
Labrador type. In this model the "clipper" bow is retained but the
stern and cross section resemble those of the Labrador kayaks. The
construction, however, is fundamentally that employed in northern
Greenland. As in the Labrador type, the deadrise in the bottom is
formed by using in the keelson members that are deeper than those in
the chine. The gunwales do not flare as in the Greenland model, but
stand vertical in the side flaring slightly at bow and extreme stern.
The frame heads are rather loosely tenoned and are commonly secured
to the gunwales with lashings. Transverse stiffness is obtained in
this model by employing a rather heavy, rigid keelson fixed to the
stern block, and by a tripod arrangement forward consisting of the
stem batten and a pair of transverse frames placed at the junction of
stem and keelson with their heads firmly lashed and tenoned into the
gunwales. The construction, though strong, is rather rough compared
to that of other Greenland types. The manhole rim in this type is
not bent, but is made up of short straight pieces, as shown in the
drawing; and the double-bladed paddle shown resembles that used in
Labrador. This is a rather heavy kayak of very good qualities but not
as maneuverable as some of the flat-bottom kayaks found farther north.

[Illustration: Figure 197

KAYAK FROM NORTH LABRADOR, Canada, in the Museum of the American
Indian, Heye Foundation.]

[Illustration: Figure 198

LABRADOR KAYAK, Canada, in the U.S. National Museum (USNM 251693).]

[Illustration: Figure 199

NORTH GREENLAND KAYAK, in the Museum of the American Indian, Heye

[Illustration: Figure 200

NORTH GREENLAND KAYAK, in the Peabody Museum, Salem, Mass. Taken off by
the late Norman L. Skene, 1921.]

[Illustration: Figure 201

PROFILE OF GREENLAND KAYAK from Disko Bay, in the National Museum (USNM
72564). Collected by Maj. Wm. M. Beebe, Jr., 1882. (_Smithsonian photo

Ross found that the Greenland Eskimos north of Cape York had ceased to
use kayaks in 1818. Not until about 1860 was the kayak reintroduced
here, by Eskimos from Pond Inlet, north Baffin Island, who walked over
the sea ice. This fact probably accounts for the various sharpie and
modified sharpie forms used along the northern and Polar coasts of

[Illustration: Figure 202

DECK OF GREENLAND KAYAK from Disko Bay (USNM 72564). (_Smithsonian
photo 15726-C._)]

The model of the kayak used on much of the central and southern coasts
of Greenland has changed rather extensively since 1883, and this
change has apparently affected the kayaks used on the east coast as
well. In this part of the Arctic, the Eskimo are notable kayakers and
the boat is not only well designed but also carries highly developed
equipment and weapons for its work. The basic model used is a graceful
~V~-bottom one, with raking ends and rather strong sheer. In the old
boats represented by the drawings of figures 206 and 207, the sheer
is strong at bow and stern, but this form has been gradually going
out of favor. The kayaks are narrow but their shape gives them much
stability. Pegged to the bow and stern are plates of bone to protect
them from ice; in rare cases these bone stem bands, or bang plates, are
lashed in place. The first drawing shows the construction used: light
strong gunwales and a 3-batten longitudinal system with bent transverse
frames. The keelson and chines--light, rectangular in section and
placed on edge--are shaped slightly to fair the sealskin covering. The
cover passes under the manhole rim. Bow and stern are made of plank
on edge, shaped to the required profile. The gunwales are strongly
tapered in depth fore and aft. Eight to twelve thwarts, or deck beams,
are used in addition to the two heavy thwarts supporting the manhole;
usually there is one more forward of the manhole than there is aft,
and all are very light scantlings. The thwart forward of the manhole
stands slightly inside the cockpit and is strongly arched; the after
one is clear of the cockpit opening and has very little arch. Two
light, short battens, or carlins, 24 to 36 inches long support the
deck, where it sweeps up to the raked manhole, and usually there are
two abaft the manhole as well. Lashings are used as fastenings except
at the ends of the hull, where pegs secure the keelson to the stem and
stern; at this point, on some kayaks examined, sinew lashings are also
found. The whole framework is strong, light, and neatly made. In a few
instances the gunwales do not flare with the sides the whole length
and, thus, near the stern, a knuckle is formed in the skin cover, as
in figure 207, opposite. The exact amount of flare and deadrise varies
village to village. The old kayaks used in eastern Greenland had more
rake in the bow than the examples illustrated, and also were marked
by a sheer almost straight from the bow to within a foot or so of the
stern, where it turned up sharply to a high stern, as in the drawing
(fig. 191, p. 203.) These kayaks also had less flare and deadrise than
most of the southwestern Greenland models. The amount of rocker in the
keelson varies a good deal, that shown in figure 206, opposite, appears
to have been about the maximum; a straight keelson does not seem
ever to have been used. The manholes are fitted to allow use of the
watertight paddling jacket; the projecting rim shown at the after-side
of the manhole in the drawing is primarily to strengthen the manhole
rim, but may also serve to prevent the drawstring holding the skirt
of the jacket to the rim from slipping over the top. This old form of
Greenland kayak, which has been widely described and much admired,
was a fast and handy hunting boat; but it has become obsolete in most
areas, and seems to have gone out of use more rapidly on the east coast
than the west, where the type represented in the drawing was built as
late as 1959 at Umanak Fjord.

[Illustration: Figure 203

COCKPIT of Greenland kayak from Disko Bay. (USNM 72564). (_Smithsonian
photo 15726._)]

[Illustration: Figure 204

BOW VIEW of Greenland kayak from Disko Bay (USNM 72564). (_Smithsonian
photo 15726-A._)]

[Illustration: Figure 205


[Illustration: Figure 206

SOUTHWESTERN GREENLAND KAYAK, 1883, in the U.S. National Museum (USNM

[Illustration: Figure 207

SOUTHWESTERN GREENLAND KAYAK, in the Peabody Museum, Salem, Mass. Taken
off by the late Norman L. Skene, 1921.]

[Illustration: Figure 208

SOUTH GREENLAND KAYAK, in the American Museum of Natural History.]

Since the 1880's it has been gradually replaced by the type shown
above. The modern version has the same construction as the old but,
as can be seen, the model has undergone much alteration. The rake of
the bow and stern have become much greater; the sheer is now almost
straight. The flare of the sides has been increased and the deadrise
in the bottom has been reduced. The new model is undoubtedly an
improvement over the old type, being faster (particularly against a
headwind) and quicker turning. However, it would probably be found
to be somewhat harder than the old model to right when capsized. And
although the new model is more stable than the old, it is not suited
for unskilled users; a few American soldiers drowned during World War
II through rashly venturing into rough water before becoming practiced
in the use of these kayaks.

The intricate arrangement of deck lashings shown are required to hold
weapons and accessories. Just ahead of the paddler a stand or tray on
low legs holds the coiled harpoon line; and under the deck lashings are
held such weapons as the lance, darts, and harpoons. Toggles of bone
or ivory, often carved, are used to tighten and adjust these lines.
The Greenland kayaks carry deck fittings and gear that are far better
developed than those seen in any of the western types.

_Chapter Eight_


Use of temporary craft seems to have been confined to the Indians, who
for the most part built them of bark, although some tribes used skins.
However, very little in the way of information exists on the forms
used by the individual tribes, for early travelers did not always have
opportunities to see these emergency craft, and when they did they
rarely took the trouble to record their construction and design.

_Bark Canoes_

There is ample evidence to support the belief that a great many of
the tribes building birch-bark canoes also used temporary canoes of
other barks such as spruce and elm, as has been mentioned in earlier
chapters. Invariably, the qualities of these other barks, particularly
spruce, were such that their use was often somewhat more laborious and
the results less satisfactory than with birch; but the necessities of
travel and the availability of materials were controlling factors, and
with care spruce bark could be used to build a canoe almost as good as
one of birch bark. The forms of these canoes do not appear to have been
as standardized as the tribal forms of the better-built bark canoes;
rather, the model of the temporary canoe was entirely a matter to be
decided by the individual builder on the basis of the importance of
the temporary canoe to his needs, the limitation on time allowed for
construction, and the material available.

The reasons for using substitute material are fairly obvious. In forest
travel it was not always possible or practical to portage a canoe for
a long distance simply to make a short water passage somewhere along
the route. War parties and hunters, therefore, often found it necessary
to build a temporary canoe, one that could be utilized for a limited
water passage and then abandoned. Since such a limited use did not
warrant expenditure of much time or labor on construction, the canoe
was prepared quickly from readily available material and in order
to meet these requirements many Indian tribes developed canoe forms
and building techniques somewhat different from the more elaborate
construction using birch or spruce bark.

It is obvious that much time and work could be avoided by use of a
single large sheet of bark that was reasonably flexible and strong. But
many of the barks meeting this specification had a coarse longitudinal
grain that split easily, so forming a canoe by cutting gores was out of
the question. This difficulty was avoided by folding, or "crimping,"
the bark cover along the gunwales at two or more places on each side of
the canoe; this permitted the bottom to be flattened athwartships and
the keel line to be rockered, both desirable in a canoe.

The problem of closing the ends also had to be solved. This was done
by clamping the ends of the bark between two battens and, perhaps, a
bark cord as well, and then lashing together the battens, bark ends,
and cord with wrappings of root thongs. Cord made from the inner bark
of the basswood and other trees could also be used for this purpose.
The ends of the canoe could then be made watertight by a liberal
application of gum or tallow, while grass, shavings, moss, or inner
bark mixed with gum or even clay could be used to fill the larger
openings that might appear in hurried construction.

Obviously, a simple wood structure was required by the specifications.
Therefore, the gunwales were usually made of saplings with their butts
roughly secured together or spliced. This allowed length to be obtained
without the necessity of working down large poles to usable dimensions,
a laborious and time-consuming undertaking with primitive tools. The
thwarts were commonly of saplings with the ends cut away so that the
thin remainder could be wrapped around the main gunwales and lashed
underneath the thwarts inboard. Ribs were usually of split saplings,
but there is some evidence that in very hurriedly built canoes the
whole small sapling was used. The kind of sheathing employed in these
canoes during the pre-Columbian era is a mystery. It would be quite
unlikely that time was taken to split splints such as were used in the
late elm-and spruce-bark canoes, when steel tools were available. The
writers believe that for small canoes it may have been the practice
to use a second sheet of stiff bark inside the first and extending
only through the middle two-thirds of the length, across the bottom
and up above the bilge but short of the gunwales. This, with the
ribs and a few poles lashed to each rib along the bottom, would have
given sufficient longitudinal strength and a stiff enough bottom for
practical use. However, in large canoes of the type reputedly employed
by Iroquois warriors, a stronger construction seems necessary, and
these canoes may have had a number of split or whole poles lashed to
the ribs along the bottom.

With small variations in details, the general construction outlined
above was employed by many North American Indians for building
temporary canoes for emergency use. In at least one case, however, it
was also used in canoes of somewhat more permanent status within the
boundaries of the powerful Iroquois Confederation. On large bodies
of water within their territory, the Iroquois used dugouts, but for
navigating streams and for use in raiding their enemies they employed
bark canoes. While some birch bark was available there, it was probably
widely scattered; therefore these great warriors used elm or other bark
for their canoe building.

Early French accounts show that the Iroquois built bark canoes of
greater size than ordinary; Champlain wrote that their canoes were of
oak bark and were large enough to carry up to 18 warriors; later French
accounts, as we shall see, indicate that the Iroquois used even larger
canoes than these. Champlain may have been in error about the Iroquois
use of oak bark, as suggested earlier (p. 7), for experiments have
shown that the inner bark of this tree is too thin and weak for the
purpose; the canoes Champlain saw may have been built of white or red
elm bark. The barks of the butternut, hickory, white pine, and chestnut
might also have been employed, as they were usually suitable.

It was noted by the early French writers that the Iroquois built their
bark canoes very rapidly when these craft were required by a war party
in order to attack their enemies or to escape pursuit. In one case at
least the canoes for a war party were apparently built in a single day.
This was accomplished, it seems, by the excellent organization of their
war parties, in which every man was assigned a duty, even in making

When it was deemed necessary to build a canoe, certain warriors were to
search out and obtain the necessary materials in the order required for
construction. To do this effectively, they had to know the materials in
order of their suitability for a given purpose, for the most desirable
material might not be available at the building site. Other warriors
prepared the materials for construction, scraping the bark, making
thongs, and rough-shaping the wood. Others built the canoe, cutting and
sewing the bark, and shaping and lashing the woodwork. These duties,
too, required intimate knowledge of the different materials that could
be used in canoe construction. It would be natural, of course, to find
that the methods used to construct a temporary craft for a war-party
would also be employed at home by the hunter or fisherman, even when a
rather more permanent canoe was desired. These were smaller craft and
easily built. Only when a long-lasting watercraft was desired would
the bark canoe be unsatisfactory; then the dugout could be built. The
early French observers agree that though the Iroquois occasionally used
birch-bark canoes, these were acquired from their neighbors by barter
or capture and were not built by the tribesmen of the Confederation.

The details of the construction of elm canoes (and of other bark than
birch) by the Iroquois are speculative, since no bark canoe of their
construction has been preserved. This reconstruction of their methods
is, therefore, based upon the incomplete accounts of early writers and
upon what has been discovered about the construction of spruce-and
elm-bark temporary canoes by other Eastern Indians.

In view of what has been reported, it must be kept in mind that the
construction was hasty and that a minimum of labor and time was
employed; hence, the appearance of the elm-bark canoe of an Iroquois
war-party had none of the gracefulness that is supposed to mark the
traditional war canoe of the Indians. The ends are known to have been
"square," that is, straight in profile, and the freeboard low. The
use of saplings for the gunwales would cause an uneven sheer, and
its amount must have been small; the high, graceful ends seen in some
birch-bark canoes did not exist in the Iroquois model. The rocker of
the bottom profile was not a fair curve, but was angular, made of
straight lines breaking under the folds, or "crimps," in the bark cover
at the gunwales. The amount of bark in each crimp and the location
of the crimps fore-and-aft would determine the shape of the bottom
profile and the amount of rocker, as well as the flatness of the bottom
athwartships in the midbody. It appears that two crimps to the side
were employed in most of these canoes, but perhaps more, say four to
a side, might have been employed in a very large canoe. The tendency
in forming these canoes must have been toward an almost semicircular
midsection, a condition which would have produced an unstable craft if
not checked.

[Illustration: Figure 209

canoe, below, is designed to carry ten to twelve warriors.]

The early French writers agree that the canoes of Iroquois war parties
were sluggish under paddle. This was due to the fact that the hull
form of these canoes was not good for speed, and also because the
bulges at the bottom of the crimps caused them to be markedly unfair
at and near the waterline. This handicap in their canoes may have been
an inducement for the Iroquois to waylay their victims at portages
when the travellers were usually spread out and easily cut down while
burdened with goods. The Algonkin tribes countered by moving in very
large numbers when within striking distance of Iroquois raiders. Hence
there were very few recorded instances of battles in canoes; these took
place only when sudden meetings occurred without preparation on either
side, such as when war parties surprised canoemen in narrow waters. The
shortcomings of their canoes did not seriously affect the deadliness of
the Iroquois warriors, for their usual practice was to raid in winter,
when they could travel rapidly on snowshoes and surprise their enemies
in winter camps wholly unprepared for defense, a most pleasing prospect
for the attacking warrior.

It would be a mistake, however, to assume that these factors made the
Iroquois poor canoemen; the French repeatedly stated that they were
capable in handling their craft and ran rapids with great daring and
skill, showing that the apparently crude and weak elm-bark canoes were
far better craft than they first appeared.

The theory that the Iroquois type of canoe was very like the emergency
or temporary elm-and spruce-bark canoes of neighboring tribes is
supported by some statements of the early French writers, as well as by
a comparison of the rather incomplete descriptions of Iroquois canoes
by later travellers with what is known about the spruce and other
temporary bark canoes used in more recent times by the eastern Indians.
M. Bacqueville de la Poterie, writing of the adventures of Nicholas
Perrot in the years 1665 to 1670, tells of an instance in which
Perrot's Potawatomi mistook the emergency canoes of some Outaouais
(Ottawa) for Iroquois canoes.

LaHontan (1700) gives some general information as well as specific
opinions on the speed and seaworthiness of Iroquois canoes, saying

  the canoes with which the Iroquois provide themselves are so
  unwieldy and large that they do not approach the speed of those
  which are made of birch bark. They are made of elm bark, which is
  naturally heavy and the shape they give them is awkward; they are
  so long and so broad that thirty men can row in them, two-by-two,
  seated or standing, fifteen to each rank, but the freeboard is so
  low that when any little wind arises they are sensible enough not
  to navigate the lakes [in them].

LaFiteau, writing before 1724, stated definitely that the Iroquois
did not build any birch-bark canoes, but obtained them from their
neighbors, and that the Iroquois elm-bark canoes were very coarsely
built of a single large sheet of bark, crimped along the gunwales, with
the ends secured between battens of split saplings. He noticed that the
gunwales, ribs, and thwarts were of "tree branches," implying that the
bark was not removed from them. The most detailed description was by a
Swedish traveller, Professor Pher Kalm, who gave extensive information
on the construction of an elm-bark canoe in 1749; this account is
particularly useful when interpreted in relation to the spruce-and
elm-bark canoes of the eastern Indians. It is upon the basis of Kalm's
account that the procedures used to build an Iroquois war canoe have
been reconstructed.

The bark most favored by the Iroquois was that of the white elm.
Next most favored was red elm, and then other barks--certain of the
hickories and chestnut are mentioned in various early references.
It was necessary to find a tree of sufficient girth and height to
the first limbs to give a sound and fairly smooth bark sheet in the
length and breadth required. If possible the bark was stripped from
the standing tree; even after steel tools were available, felling was
avoided for fear of harming the bark. Great care had to be taken in
the operation, to avoid splitting or making holes in the bark, and
often two or more trees had to be stripped before a good sheet of
bark was obtained. In warm weather the bark could be removed without
much difficulty, but in the spring and fall it might be necessary to
apply heat; this was apparently done by means of torches or by the
application of hot water to the tree trunk.

When the bark was removed from the tree, the rough outer bark was
scraped away; if the builder was hurried this scraping was confined to
the areas to be sewn or folded. The bark was then laid on a cleared
piece of ground, the building bed, with the outside of the bark up,
so that it would be inside the finished boat. The building bed does
not appear to have required much preparation; apparently not raised at
midlength, it was merely a plot of reasonably smooth ground, located in
the shade of a large tree if building was to be done in summer.

It is not wholly clear from the descriptions whether the gunwales were
shaped before or after being secured to the bark. However, extensive
experiments in building model canoes show very plainly that it would
be easiest to assemble the main gunwale frame and use it in building,
after the fashion of eastern birch-bark canoe construction. With the
main gunwales assembled, the stakes would be placed on the bed, the
bark replaced, the frame laid on it and weighted, and the stakes then
redriven in the usual way and their heads lashed together in pairs.

Each gunwale was formed either of two small saplings or of split poles,
with the butts scarfed at the canoe's midlength. The canoe of an
Iroquois war party would probably have gunwales of split saplings so
that inwale and outwale for half the length of one side of the canoe
would be from a single pole; this would allow the flat sides to be
placed opposite one another, on each side of the edge of the bark, to
form a firm gunwale structure. However, when a rather permanent craft
was being built, the poles might be split twice, or quartered, to give
pieces to make half of the gunwales of a canoe; these too might be
worked nearly round before assembly.

That the gunwale joints were scarfed is reasonably certain. The
elm-bark canoes of the St. Francis Indians are known only from a
model, as are the spruce-bark hunters' canoes of the Malecite, but the
testimony of old St. Francis and Malecite builders support the evidence
of the models; therefore it is probable that the use of scarfed
gunwales was common in these canoes, and, hence, also in the canoes of
the Iroquois, who dwelt nearby. The manner of scarfing is not certain.
Probably the butts were snied off so that the lap would be flat face,
as was usual in the Malecite spruce-bark canoes of this same class. The
butts were secured together by lashings--apparently let into shallow
grooves around the members. In a very hastily built canoe the butts
might be merely lapped for a short distance, one butt above the other,
and lashed; this, of course, would make a jog in the sheer, but do no
harm, as the jog would occur in both inwale and outwale, and the bark
would lay up between these and be trimmed to suit.

The thwarts were described in old accounts as very small saplings, or
tree branches, with their ends sharply reduced in thickness so that
they were thin and pliable enough to be bent around the gunwales and
brought inboard under the thwart, as done by some Kutenai in the West
(see p. 169). The thwart ends might be lashed or, as in some eastern
spruce-bark canoes, brought up through a hole in the thwarts to the
top where it could be jammed or lashed. In the Iroquois canoe it seems
probable that the thwart ends passed around the main gunwales only and
were secured under the thwarts for, as noted, the evidence strongly
suggests that the main gunwale members were preassembled, a procedure
that requires the thwarts to be in place. In the small hunters' canoes,
however, some eastern builders apparently put in a temporary spreader
in place of a single thwart until the canoe was completed to the point
where the outwales were in place, then the thwarts were added, the ends
passing over and around both inwale and outwale and through the bark
cover below, to the underside of the thwart.

One requirement in building these canoes was to crimp the edges of the
bark at the gunwales in such manner that the bottom of the canoe would
be rockered and at the same time would be moulded athwartships. First
steps in the process were to set into the building bed two heavy stakes
on each side of the stems, a little inboard of the ends, and to tie
the heads of each pair together with a heavy bark cord or a rawhide
thong. Then a sling was made, the bight of which went under the bottom
of the bark cover near its ends, and the ends of the sling were made
fast to the heads of the stakes. By taking up on these slings, the ends
of the bark cover were sharply lifted and then the folding of the bark
along the gunwales could be easily accomplished, as they then formed
naturally, without strain. The crimps were commonly located a fourth to
a fifth the length of the canoe inboard of the ends, about where the
end thwarts would be located. In small hunters' canoes the end thwarts
were often replaced by twisted cords across the gunwales, but in the
large Iroquois canoes there were probably five or seven or perhaps as
many as nine thwarts according to length.

The ends of the gunwales were simply lashed together with cords or
thongs in shallow grooves to prevent slipping. They were raised by a
small inside post, its heel placed on the bark near the stem and its
head brought under the gunwales, so that it served the purpose of a
headboard in sheering the gunwales.

The procedure in building to this point, then, appeared to follow the
general plan used in birch-bark construction. Next, the stakes were
redriven in the bed around the gunwale frame, which was weighted on
the bark with stones, and the sides of the bark cover were brought
upright. Apparently only a few stakes were considered necessary--three
or four to a side and two pairs of end stakes to raise the stems. The
gunwale frame was then lifted to the required height of side and lashed
temporarily to the side stakes, the ends of the bark cover were creased
to form bow and stern, and the headboard posts were inserted to support
the ends of the inwales and to sheer the canoe. Before this, of course,
the ends of the bark cover had been raised by means of the slings to
the end stakes.

The outwales of split saplings were now put into place, with the edges
of the bark cover lashed between the flat surfaces of the inwale and
outwale, the gunwales having been assembled with the flat face of
the longitudinal members outboard. The lashings were in small groups
spaced 5 to 7 inches apart so as not to split the bark, and these not
only secured the bark in place but also held the inwales and outwales
tightly together, to clamp the edges of the bark cover. At the thwarts,
the outwales were notched on their inboard face to allow them to come
up against the bark pressed against the face of the inwales (in some
eastern canoes the bark cover was notched at the thwart ends to lay
up smoothly there, and this may have also been done in the Iroquois
canoes). In placing the outwales, the crimps were carefully formed and
held by the clamping action of the inwale and outwale, and reinforced
by a lashing through the crimp or by two lashings close to the sides of
the fold. The fold of the bark forced the outwale away from the inwale,
and although this was counteracted to some extent by the lashings, the
gunwales were unfair at these points. The crimps were formed so that
the maximum fold in the bark took place at the gunwales; below this the
fold tapered away to nothing, ending low in the side with an irregular
bulge in the bark. Such a bulge could only be avoided by goring, which
is impractical with elm, pine, chestnut, or hickory barks.

[Illustration: Figure 210

HICKORY-BARK CANOE UNDER CONSTRUCTION, showing the sling with which
the ends are elevated and the crimp which takes up the slack in the
sides of the bark. Excess bark above the gunwales to be trimmed off.
Completed model in The Mariners' Museum, Newport News, Va.]

[Illustration: Figure 211

DETAIL OF THWART used in Malecite temporary spruce-bark canoe.]

The ends of the canoe were closed, as has been mentioned, by use of
split-sapling battens on the outside of the bark. The Iroquois and some
other builders also employed at the stems a thong or a twisted cord
made of the inner bark of some such tree as the basswood; this was
wrapped around the ends of the bark cover abreast the headboard posts
inside the canoe, so that the lashing stood vertically. Then the split
battens were placed on each side of the bark cover, just outboard of
the cord, and the whole was secured by a coarse spiral lashing of root
or rawhide, which passed inboard of the cord lashing and the headboard
post, as well as around them and the split battens outside of the bark
cover. Some builders apparently added a split-root batten over the
edges of the bark cover, as a sort of stem-band; this was secured by
the turns of the stem closure lashing, which passed around them as
well as the edges of the bark and the split side battens. It can be
seen that this closure formed a strong stem structure. Watertightness
was insured by merely forcing clay into the stems from the inside,
or by forcing in a wad of the pounded inner bark of a dead red elm
which would swell when damp. Still other methods included the use of
grass or moss impregnated with warm tallow from the cooking pot. If
available, the stems would be liberally smeared with spruce or other
gum, of course.

[Illustration: Figure 212

IROQUOIS ELM-BARK CANOE, after a drawing of 1849, equipped with paddles
for a crew of six, with owners' personal marks on blades. Length
of canoe 25 feet, with capacity for a war party of a dozen or more
men. Note supporting piece of cord tied in with the end battens. Far
gunwales are improperly sketched.]

While the ribs were customarily tree branches or small saplings, in
some canoes the saplings were split and bent so their flat face was
against the bark. In the East, hunters' canoes were often given the
lath-like ribs of the birch-bark canoes, for when steel tools became
available such ribs were easily made during the winter for use in the
spring, when the temporary canoe would be needed.

According to the early reports, the ribs were placed some 6 to 10
inches apart in the bark cover, with the heads forced under the inwales
against the bark, and were supported there by the outwales as well. No
mention is made of any sheathing; Kalm refers to a piece of bark and
some saplings or tree branches laid over the ribs to protect the bottom
inboard. In the large Iroquois canoes it would have been possible and
practical to employ a piece of bark inside the main bark cover, as
noted on page 213; this inside piece needed to be only long enough to
reach to the end thwarts, or abreast the crimps, and wide enough to
cover the bottom and bilges up to 3 or 4 inches short of the inwales.
With the ribs over this inner sheet, a stiff bottom would result. In a
long canoe, split poles could be laid lengthwise inside the bottom of
the canoe and fastened there by lashing them to a few ribs; these would
serve to protect the bottom in loading and to stiffen the bark cover.
However, in a small canoe the stiffness of elm bark when the rough
outside layer was not fully scraped off would make sheathing of any
kind unnecessary, and the bark mat inside the ribs, mentioned by Kalm,
would be sufficient.

The difficulty in reconstructing the building methods of the large
Iroquois canoes on the same basis is that Kalm's description is of a
rather small canoe; the information on the temporary canoes of the
eastern Indians also deals with short craft. It is evident, however,
that poles were not usually placed between the bark and the ribs, as
in temporary skin canoes built by Indians. It is also apparent that
splints were not used by the Iroquois for sheathing large canoes.

The ends of the outwales in the Iroquois canoes seem to have been
secured by snying them off on the outside face and holding these thin
ends by the cord around the ends, as well as by the closure battens
of the stems. In some eastern canoes, notably the elm-bark canoes of
the St. Francis, the outwale ends projected slightly outboard of the
stems and were lashed across them by a simple athwartship lashing which
passed through the bark cover and under and over the lashing at the
inwale ends.

In a drawing of an Iroquois canoe made about 1849, the cord around the
stems is shown together with the outside stem battens and lashing; the
ends of the outwales are apparently under the cord and perhaps under
the stem battens. The stem batten is in one piece sharply bent under
the stems in ~U~-form. The end lashing shown seems to be in groups and
the bottom, for a little distance inboard of the stems, is also shown
as lashed. Three thwarts are shown. It may be that this drawing was
made not from a full-size canoe but from a model, for the proportions
are obviously incorrect. This possibility casts some doubt on the
picture as evidence of the building practices, for in Indian-built
models simplified construction details not used in actual canoe
building are often found.

According to early accounts and the statements of eastern Indians,
these emergency canoes were often heavy and unsuitable for portaging.
By 1750, at least, the Iroquois were using blanket square-sails in
their elm-bark canoes.

_Skin Boats_

Among the other forms of temporary or emergency canoes used by North
American Indians, the most widespread was some form of skin boat.
These would not require description here were it not for the fact
that the Indian skin boats were usually built by bark-canoe methods
of construction rather than by methods such as used by the Eskimo. To
build their skin boats--kayaks and umiaks--the Eskimo first constructed
a complete framework, and this was then covered with skins sewn to fit.
This process of building required a rigid framework capable of not only
standing without a skin covering but also of giving both longitudinal
and transverse strength sufficient to withstand loading, without the
slightest support from the skin covering. Hence, the framework of
the Eskimo craft was made with the members rigidly lashed and pegged
together. The majority of Indian skin canoes, however, required the
covering to hold the framework together, as in a birch-bark canoe.
An example is the Malecite skin-covered hunters' canoe. According to
available information, the Malecite hunter would leave two or three
moose skins on stretchers for use in building a skin canoe in the early
spring. Sometimes the hair was removed from the hides and sometimes it
was not. Spare time during the winter hunt might be spent in preparing
the wooden framework, but if this were not done the delay would not be
very great.

The gunwale frame was first made of four small sapling poles roughly
scarfed at the butts. From a small sapling a middle thwart was made
in the manner of the elm-bark canoe thwarts, the ends tapered enough
to allow them to be wrapped around the gunwales and secured under
the thwart by lashings. The ends of the gunwales were merely crossed
and lashed. Where end thwarts would be placed, it was usual to use a
cross tie made of twisted rawhide or cords of bark fiber. Holes were
then drilled at intervals in the underside of the gunwale to take the
heads of the ribs. Stem-pieces about 3 feet long were prepared of
short saplings and bent to the desired profile; one builder used a
full-length keel-piece, instead of the short stem-pieces. The ribs were
usually of small saplings that could be bent green without the use of
hot water. For sheathing a number of small saplings were also gathered,
and from them were made poles in lengths about equal to three-quarters,
or a little more, of the intended length of the canoe, which would be
determined by the size of the skins available. The average canoe was
about 12½ feet long, roughly 40 inches beam, and 14 to 19 inches in

The skins were sewn together lengthwise, lapped about 6 inches or a
little less, and secured by a double row of stitching. If the hair had
not been removed, it had to be scraped away along the sewn edges. In
such a case the hair would usually be on the outside of the finished
canoe. Also, before work was started on assembling a canoe, the skins
were worked pliable, and tallow and gum were accumulated.

When an emergency canoe was ready to be assembled a smooth place was
prepared; either an open bit of ground or the floor of the hunter's
hut, if large enough, might be used. The outlines of the gunwales were
fixed by a few stakes temporarily driven around it and then pulled
up. The skins were then laid on the bed and the gunwale frame placed
on them and weighted with stones. Then the skins were left to dry for
awhile until they became somewhat stiff; the proper condition was
indicated by the curling of the edges.

When the skin was sufficiently stiff, the gunwale frame was lifted and
temporarily secured to the stakes redriven in the bed, the sides of the
skin were turned up, the skin was gored, and sometimes the ends of the
gunwales were sheered up slightly at the end stakes; this latter was
not always done, for in some canoes the sheer was quite flat.

The skins were now trimmed to the sheer of the gunwales and the edges
lashed to these members with rawhide, the gores also having been
sewn. Next the stem-pieces were put into place and the stem heads
lashed inside the apex formed by the ends of the gunwales. Some ribs
were then bent and forced down on the stiff skin cover, the rib ends
being worked into the holes prepared for them on the underside of the
gunwales. These ribs usually stood approximately square to the curve,
or rocker, of the bottom. Now the skin could be trimmed to the stem
profiles and sewn. The stitching was usually done so as to be outside
the stem-pieces, with an occasional turn going around inside them to
help hold the structure in place. Some builders first put in the stems
temporarily and then trimmed the skins to match; after this was done
the stem-pieces were removed to allow easy sewing. When they were
replaced and secured permanently, a few more stitches were added along
the stems to secure the woodwork.

The next step was to sheath the canoe inside with the small poles;
these were placed a few inches apart transversely and their ends worked
under the most inboard of the ribs on the stem-pieces, then held in
place, while the necessary adjustments were made, by a few temporary
ribs. Then the ribs were forced into place, one by one, each prebent to
the desired section, just as in birch-bark canoe construction. In this
final shaping, the skin cover might have to be wetted again to soften
the material and to allow stretching. The seams were then payed with
gum or tallow, and the canoe was ready for launching.

The description is for canoes of minimum finish; builders often used
split and shaped gunwales, split ribs, and splint sheathing if these
could be prepared during the winter. The construction of a skin canoe
was not a specialized process in which a hunter consistently built
this one type; the selection was determined by natural conditions.
If he were to come out of the woods too early in the spring to make
the construction of a spruce-bark canoe easy, then he would resort to
skin construction; the statements of old Malecite hunters leads to the
conclusion that as emergency craft they used spruce-bark canoes most

Perhaps the most primitive of the skin boats built by the North
American Indian was the so-called bull-boat of the Plains Indians.
These were not canoes but coracles--bowl-shaped and suitable only for
use on streams, where ferrying would be the main requirement. The boats
were covered with buffalo-hides and their framework was usually made of
the willow shoots found along the streams. The framework followed, to
some extent at least, the basketwork principle, a circular gunwale or
rim being used. The ribs were set in two groups, half at right angles
to the other half in very irregular fashion. This construction formed
a sort of rough grating in the bottom. The ribs were lashed together
with rawhide and apparently the craft was built up on the skin as were
the Malecite skin canoes. Battens in circular form were used on the
sides to fair the cover. The form of the bull-boat varied somewhat
among individual builders; sometimes it assumed almost a dish shape
with shallow flaring sides, but more commonly the sides were nearly
upright; the bottom was always flat, or nearly so. These bull-boats
appear always to have been small. Judging by the examples preserved,
a bull-boat 5 feet over the rim or gunwale, or made of more than one
skin, was extremely rare, and most examples are nearer 4 feet and
built on a single skin. Many were too small to carry a person; these
were intended to be loaded with cargo to be kept dry and towed by a
swimmer. When they were large enough to be paddled, the paddler worked
over the "bow," as in a coracle. Probably all the Plains Indians living
near streams once used the bull-boat, but existing records show only
the Mandan, Omaha, Kansas, Hidatsa, and Assiniboin to have used it.
The Blackfoot (Siksika) and Dakota are said to have used some kind of
a skin boat in which their tepee poles were employed as a temporary
frame, but nothing is recorded of their form.

The use of spruce bark as a building material in the Northwest and
throughout the extreme northern range of the birch-bark canoe has been
discussed in earlier chapters (pp. 155 to 158). In these areas, the
emergency canoe was usually built of caribou skin. On the Alaskan coast
seal skin may also have been used, but generally it was used for the
permanent kayak-type canoe and not for a hastily built temporary craft.
The caribou-skin canoe was also built as a permanent type, in either
kayak form or somewhat on the model of the spruce-or birch-bark canoe
of the area. However, although references to temporary craft covered
with caribou skin exist in early accounts of the fur trade, there is
no record of their form or details of their construction. Early in the
present century some of the Indians of the Mackenzie River country
built skin canoes much like the modern canvas-covered freight canoes.
Also, some of these skin canoes were built so that they resembled York
boats or the whaleboats of the white man. No observer has described the
methods used to construct the emergency canoe of the Northwest; we do
not know whether they resemble those used in the Indian bark canoe or
in the Eskimo skin boat.


In view of the inclusion of skin boats in this discussion of bark
canoes, it may be well to emphasize again the fact that the North
American Indian's method of constructing bark canoes and of temporary
skin canoes was on an entirely different principle than that used by
the Eskimo in building their skin boats. This is even true of the
kayak-form bark canoes of the Northwest, despite their superficial
similarity in design and proportions to the Eskimo skin kayak.

As has been stated, the Eskimo construction required a rigid frame,
with all members fastened together with lashings and pegs, the skin
cover being merely the watertight envelope and not a strength member.
This system of construction marks primitive skin-boat design in most
parts of the world. The Indian bark construction, on the other hand,
did not have a rigid frame, and all but a few of the structural members
were held in place by pressure alone: the sheathing was held against
the bark cover by pressure of the ribs; the stem-pieces, in most cases,
were held in place by pressure of the ribs, gunwale sheering, or
headboards. In fact without the bark cover in place, the greater part
of the wooden structure of the bark canoe would collapse. Not only was
the bark cover the fundamental basis of construction, it was to a great
extent a strength member, though by clever design the loading of the
bark was minimized.

This fundamental difference in construction must be recognized in
comparisons of Eskimo and North American Indian watercraft. Here, too,
it might be observed that one should view with skepticism any claim
that widespread similarity of certain structural practices is evidence
of some ancient connection between types of canoes. In most cases
these similarities were imposed by the working characteristics of the
materials employed. Similarly, limitations in materials available for
construction have their effect upon building techniques.

The practice of employing pressure members in bark-canoe construction,
particularly where birch bark was employed, was the result of the need
to stretch this material by gentle and widespread pressure, whereas the
skin cover could be stretched by the concentrated pull of stitching
alone, or by force applied in a small area. Bark canoes built in areas
where skin-kayak construction is carried on nearby show a greater
rigidity of structure. Thus, in the lower Yukon Valley in Alaska the
bottom frame of the canoes built there was a rigidly constructed unit,
even though the side longitudinals were held in place by rib pressure
alone. And it is reasonable to theorize that the Malecite, who through
habit still employed bark-canoe construction practices in building
their skin craft, would have eventually come to the Eskimo method of
construction had conditions required them to use skins exclusively.

[Illustration: Figure 213

LARGE MOOSE-HIDE CANOE of upper Gravel River, Mackenzie valley.
(_Photo, George M. Douglas._)]


  The Kayak Roll                                         _John D. Heath_

The most extraordinary feat of kayak handling is the ability to right
the craft after a capsize. This maneuver, called "rolling," is usually
practiced by capsizing on one side and recovering on the other. Under
emergency conditions, a kayaker will recover on whichever side is
more convenient. When rolling, a kayaker wears a waterproof jacket
having long sleeves and a hood. The waist, face, and wrist openings
are fitted with drawstrings, so that when the waist opening is fitted
over the cockpit rim, the kayak and kayaker become a waterproof unit.
Thus equipped, the kayak is the most seaworthy craft of its size, this
quality being limited only by the skill and stamina of the kayaker.

The art of kayak rolling was highly developed in Alaska and Greenland.
Eskimos in both of these regions depended upon seal hunting by kayak
as a major part of their economy, hence the ability to roll was an
important means of survival. Very little detailed information exists
regarding Alaskan kayakers, but the Greenlanders have been the object
of intensive study by ethnographers and explorers. The earliest
detailed record of rolling was that of David Crantz, a European
missionary, who in 1767 enumerated ten methods of rolling in his
_History of Greenland_.[7] His description follows.

[7] See bibliography.

  1. The Greenlander lays himself first on one side, then on the
  other, with his body flat upon the water, (to imitate the case of
  one who is nearly, but not quite overset) and keeps the balance
  with his _pautik_ or oar, so that he raises himself again.

  2. He overturns himself quite, so that his head hangs perpendicular
  underwater; in this dreadful posture he gives himself a swing with
  a stroke of his paddle, and raises himself aloft again on which
  side he will.

  These are the most common cases of misfortune, which frequently
  occur in storms and high waves; but they still suppose that the
  Greenlander retains the advantage of his _pautik_ in his hand, and
  is disentangled from the seal-leather strap. But it may easily
  happen in the seal-fishery, that the man becomes entangled with
  the string, so that he either cannot rightly use the _pautik_, or
  that he loses it entirely. Therefore they must be prepared for this
  casualty. With this view

  3. They run one end of the _pautik_ under one of the cross-strings
  of the kajak, (to imitate its being entangled) overset, and
  scrabble up again by means of the artful motion of the other end of
  the _pautik_.

  4. They hold one end of it in their mouth, and yet move the other
  end with their hand, so as to rear themselves upright again.

  5. They lay the _pautik_ behind their neck, and hold it there with
  both hands, or,

  6. Hold it fast behind their back; so overturn, and by stirring it
  with both their hands behind them, without bringing it before, rise
  and recover.

  7. They lay it across one shoulder, take hold of it with one hand
  before, and the other behind their back, and thus emerge from the

  These exercises are of service in cases where the _pautik_ is
  entangled with the string; but because they may also quite lose it,
  in which the greatest danger lies, therefore,

  8. Another exercise is, to run the _pautik_ through the water under
  the kajak, hold it fast on both sides with their face lying on the
  kajak, in this position overturn, and rise again by moving the oar
  _secundum artem_ on the top of the water from beneath. This is of
  service when they lose the oar during the oversetting, and yet see
  it swimming over them, to learn to manage it with both hands from

  9. They let the oar go, turn themselves head down, reach their hand
  after it, and from the surface pull it down to them, and so rebound

  10. But if they can't possibly reach it, they take either the
  hand-board off from the harpoon, or a knife, and try by the force
  of these, or even splashing the water with the palm of their hand,
  to swing themselves above water; but this seldom succeeds.

[Illustration: Figure 214


The solid lines represent the starting position for a clockwise
roll (disregard the phantom lines until later). The paddle is held
blade-on-edge along the starboard gunwale, with one end near the right
hip, and the other end toward the bow. The kayaker leans forward and
faces slightly to starboard. His left forearm is against, or near, the
foredeck, and his left hand reaches across the starboard gunwale to
grasp the paddle near, but short of, the middle. The right hand holds
the paddle near the end, about even with the hip. The palms of both
hands pass over the paddle, so that the knuckles are outboard. The
kayaker takes a deep breath, leans to starboard and capsizes.

(Now turn the page upside down)]

[Illustration: Figure 214

The same lines which represented the starting position now represent
a fish-eye view of the fully capsized position. The phantom lines
represent the upright position, or goal. To right himself, the kayaker--

(1) Flicks his wrists to swing his knuckles toward his face, thus
causing the outboard edge of the paddle to assume a slight planing
angle (not shown) with the water surface. The remaining steps
constitute one continuous movement, to be done as quickly as possible.

(2) With his hips and right hand serving as pivot points, he sweeps his
forward paddle blade, and his torso, outward in a 90-degree planing arc
on the water surface, as shown from position (1) to (3), while pulling
down on his left hand and pushing up on his right, thus lifting himself
to the surface.

(3) Completes the roll by flicking his wrists to flatten the blade
angle, then sharply increasing his opposing hand pressures, thus
raising himself in a chinning attitude as the paddle blade sinks and is
drawn inward. The roll is now completed.] Since Crantz's time, various
authors have described kayak rolling. At least 30 methods of rolling
have been known in Greenland. There are possibly many more, because the
variations and combinations are numerous.

[Illustration: Figure 215


The start (solid lines) and finish (phantom lines) of a planing sweep
are shown head-on. Success is almost certain if the kayaker has
surfaced by the time he has completed the 90-degree sweep. Some minor
refinements of rolling are apparent. The left forearm is shown right
against the foredeck (a convenient means of orientation), the leading
shoulder is nearer the surface (to gain lift when the torso is swung
outward), and the hips right the kayak as far as possible while the
torso is still partly submerged (to avoid having to lift torso and
kayak at the same time).]

Although kayaking as a sport first became popular in the 1860's, it was
not until the 1920's that the value of learning to roll began to be
fully realized by the recreational kayaker. Interest has grown steadily
since that time, and rolling instruction has been included as a regular
part of many club training courses. A preliminary step in mastering
the roll consists of using the paddle to prevent a capsize, by turning
the blade parallel to the water surface and pressing down sharply on
the side toward which the kayak is capsizing, while exerting an upward
pressure with the other hand. This produces a rotary movement which
restores the kayak to an even keel. Recreational canoeists call this
maneuver a "paddle brace."

Most kayak rolls are based upon one or more of three basic movements.
These are the paddle brace, the "sculling" stroke, from which lift
is obtained by moving the paddle back and forth through a small arc
with the leading edge of the blade at a slight planing angle, and the
"sweep," from which lift is obtained by sweeping the blade through a
large arc at a slight planing angle. The method of rolling shown in the
sketches is the standard Greenland roll, so called because it is the
most common roll encountered in Greenland. A slightly modified version
of this roll is called by recreational canoeists the Pawlata roll in
honor of the European who introduced it to them. Many skillful kayakers
could not roll, and sometimes a highly skilled roller would fail to
recover. Such men could be rescued by their companions by either of
two common methods. One method was executed by placing the bow of the
rescue craft within reach of the capsized paddler's hand, so that he
could pull himself up by a one-handed chinning motion. The other method
was executed by bringing the rescue kayak alongside the capsized kayak
so that the two craft were parallel and about two feet apart. The
rescuer then laid his paddle across both craft and holding it with
one hand, reached down and grabbed the capsized paddler's arm. He then
pulled him up between the two kayaks. This method enabled an enfeebled
or unconscious kayaker to be rescued.

[Illustration: Figure 216

Hand positions used with the standard roll:

(1) The extended paddle position is the common method, and it gives
maximum leverage. It is similar to the "Pawlata Roll" position used by
recreational kayakers.

(2) The normal paddling position is more convenient, but gives less
leverage. This is called the "Screw Stroke" position.

(3-6) Difficult trick positions demonstrated by Enoch Nielsen of
Igdlorssuit, West Greenland, to Kenneth Taylor, a Scottish canoeist, in

[Illustration: Figure 217

Kayak rescue, bow-grab method]

[Illustration: Figure 218

Kayak rescue, paddle-grab method]

Both of the above methods of rescue were completed with the capsized
victim still in his craft. This prevented his kayak from swamping and
also protected him from exposure, since his waterproof kayak jacket
remained tied to the cockpit hoop. Little detailed information has
been recorded on the methods of rolling known outside of Greenland,
but there are many photographs of Bering Strait kayakers rolling with
the single bladed paddle. A study of Alaskan rolling methods is now in
progress, and it is hoped that much information can be recovered and

[Illustration: Figure 219

PREPARING FOR DEMONSTRATION. Jonas Malakiasen puts on his tuvilik (a
waterproof kayak jacket, pronounced in English "tooey-leek"). When
it is fastened tightly about his face, wrists, and the cockpit hoop,
he can capsize without getting water in the kayak. Igdlorssuit, West
Greenland, summer 1959. (_Photo by Kenneth Taylor._)]

[Illustration: Figure 220

GETTING ABOARD. Enoch Nielsen, best kayak roller in the village of
Igdlorssuit, West Greenland, wriggles into his kayak on the beach
before embarking on a kayak rolling exhibition. Note that he is leaving
the harpoon line stand and gun bag in place. (_Photo by Kenneth

[Illustration: Figure 221

PAUSING ON SURFACE. Kayaker supports himself on the surface of the
water by a sculling stroke before starting the roll. Note that Enoch
Nielsen's body is twisted so that his shoulders are parallel with the
surface, thus submerging as much of the body as possible in order to
gain buoyancy. (_Photo by Kenneth Taylor._)]

[Illustration: Figure 222

FULLY CAPSIZED, view from forward quarter, looking aft. Enoch Nielsen
prepares to roll up by the standard method. Note the planing angle of
his paddle blade as he prepares for the next step, the planing sweep of
the blade across the surface. (_Photo by Kenneth Taylor._)]

[Illustration: Figure 223

EMERGING FROM ROLL, view from forward quarter, looking aft. From the
position of Enoch Nielsen's hands, this appears to be the standard
roll. He has just completed the planing sweep and is halfway up. The
inboard hand is a pivot point for the sweep and a fulcrum for the lift.
(_Photo by Kenneth Taylor._)]

[Illustration: Figure 224

RIGHTING THE KAYAK. Enoch Nielsen emerges from roll with a final
downward thrust of the paddle blade. (_Photo by Kenneth Taylor._)]


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  Abitibi, Lake, Post (Hudson's Bay Company), 151

  Abitibi River, 132

  Abnaki (Indians), 12
    canoe, 88-89;
      dimensions, 89, 114-115

  Admiralty Collection of Draughts, 12, 13

  Adney, Edwin Tappan, 4-5, 57, 100;
    papers, 4, 5, 6;
    parents, 4;
    wife, 4;
    work and career, 4-5

  Adney, Glenn (son of E. T. A.), 4

  Adney, H. H. (father of E. T. A.), 4

  Adney, Minnie Bell Sharp (wife of E. T. A.), 4

  Adney, Ruth Shaw (mother of E. T. A.), 4

  Adney papers, 4, 5, 6

  Alaska, 5, 181, 182

  Alaskan canoe, 55

  Alaskan kayak, 154, 190, 191, 192, 195, 196

  Alaskan umiak, 182, 183, 187 ff.

  Albany boat, 13

  Alberta, 132

  Aleutian Islands, 181, 183, 194 ff.

  Aleutian kayak, 195 ff.

  Algonkian Family, 99

  Algonkin (Indians), 99, 107, 113;
    canoe, 113-122

  _America_ (44-gun ship, RN), 65

  _American Neptune_ (periodical), 74

  American Museum of Natural History, 89, 195, 204

  Androscoggin (Indians), 88

  Anson, Lord, 12

  Art Students' League of New York, 4

  ash, white, 17;
    black, 17;
    splitting qualities, 17

  Asiatic kayak, 192, 195

  Assiniboine (Indian tribe), 132

  Athabaska, Lake, 132, 155

  Athabascan Indians, 154, 156

  awl, bone, 19;
    steel (canoe), 21

  axe, steel, 20, 21;
    cedar, 21

  Baffin Island, 82, 189, 191, 192, 204, 206, 208;
    umiak, 189, 190;
    kayak, 204 ff.

  baidarka (Russian kayak), 175

  bang plate, 208

  bark, basswood, 15
    birch, 9, 55, 60, 63, 96, 120, 132, 147, 148, 154;
      description, 14-15;
      selection and preparation, 24-26;
      handling, 29-31;
      use in building canoes, 41-51
    butternut, 213
    chestnut, 15, 213
    cottonwood, 15
    elm, 15, 212 ff.
    hickory, 15, 213, 217
    spruce, 15, 17, 24, 132, 158, 212, 213, 216
    white pine, 213

  bark cover, piecing, 42, 43, 45, 55;
    Micmac, 63;
    Beothuk, 98;
    Algonkin, 120;
    Western Cree, 132, 133;
    fur-trade, 147, 148;
    kayak-form, 162

  Barrière, Lake, 107, 146

  basket (pack), in fur trade, 143

  basswood, bark, 15

  bateau, 13

  bateau-shape canoe, 159-161

  batten (in skin boat construction), 186, 188 ff., 195 ff., 199,
    204 ff., 208

  Beard, Daniel, 4

  Beaver (Indians), 154;
    kayak-form canoe, 159

  Beothuk (Indian tribe), 6, 94-98
    canoe, 94, 95;
      dimensions, 94, 98;
      form, 96;
      keel, 96, 97, 98;
      reconstruction of, 96 ff.

  Bering Sea, 195

  Bering Strait, 182, 189, 199

  bifid bow, 196, 197

  big river canoe, 58, 65

  birch bark, 9, 55, 60, 63, 96, 120, 132, 147, 148, 154;
    description, 14-15;
    selection and preparation, 24-26;
    handling, 29-31;
    use in building canoes, 41-51

  bladder, skin (float), 194

  Boas, Franz, 189, 204

  boat, Arctic skin, 174-212;
    Viking, 187;
    temporary skin, 219-220;
    bull, 220

  Bogoras, Vladimir, 183

  bola (hunting), 194

  bone fittings, kayak, 193, 204, 208, 211

  Bonshere River, Ontario, 113

  bottom-frame, kayak-form canoe, 160 ff.

  bow drill, 19, 20

  breakwater, canoe, 162, 166, 167;
    kayak, 196

  British Columbia, 5;
    kayak-form canoe, 165;
    sturgeon-nose canoe, 168

  bucksaw, 23

  building bed, locating, 37;
    preparation of, 37;
    stakes, 40, 41, 45 ff., 146, 148;
    repair to, 41;
    of plank, 56, 146, 147;
    Micmac, 62, 63;
    Malecite, 72, 73, 74;
    St. Francis, 91, 92;
    Beothuk, 96, 97;
    Eastern Cree, 101;
    Algonkin, 116;
    Ojibway, 127;
    Western Cree, 132;
    fur-trade, 146, 147;
    narrow-bottom, 158;
    kayak-form, 161;
    sturgeon-nose, 173;
    temporary canoe, 216, 219

  building frame, 26, 37, 54 ff.;
    Eastern Cree, 101;
    Algonkin, 115, 116;
    Ojibway, 127;
    Western Cree, 132;
    fur-trade, 140, 141, 146, 147;
    narrow-bottom, 158;
    kayak-form, 161;
    sturgeon-nose, 173

  bull-boat, 220

  butternut bark, 213

  camber (rocker of bottom), 28, 37, 38, 41 (see also rocker)

  canoe, birch bark, Adney on, 4 ff.;
      scale models of, 4, 5;
      plans of, 5, 6;
      speed of, 7, 29, 137;
      origin of name, 13;
      requirements for, 27;
      types, 27;
      forms discussed, 27-36 ff., 59 (see also under tribal types);
      tribal classification, 27 ff. (see under tribal names);
      effects of bark characteristics on, 29 ff.;
      construction discussed, 36-57 (see also under tribal types);
      compared with Eskimo skin boat, 193
    elm bark, 212, 219
    hickory bark, 213, 217
    skin, 219-221;
      moosehide, 72, 219;
      temporary, 219-221
    spruce bark, 132, 158, 212, 213, 216
    temporary, 219-221

  canoe awl, 21

  canoe birch (see under bark)

  canoe brigade, 152

  canoe building, Trois Rivières factory, 13, 135, 136;
    for fur trade, 135, 136, 146 ff., 148 ff.;
    at Hudson's Bay Company Posts, 151

  canoe ends, details of construction, 34, 35, 36;
    Micmac, 58, 59;
    Malecite, 70, 76, 77, 155, 156;
    Chipewyan, 156, 157;
    Dogrib, 156, 157;
    slave, 157, 158;
    kayak-form, 158, 159;
    sturgeon-nose, 168

  canoe loading, fur-trade, 144, 145, 152, 153

  canoe portaging, 122, 151, 152

  canoe roads, 138

  canoe sails (see sails)

  canoe shoes, Malecite, 79, 80

  canoe types,
    Abnaki, 88-89
    Alaskan, 55
    Algonkin, 113-122
    Beaver, 159
    Beothuk, 94-98
    Big River, 58, 65
    bateau-shape, 159-161
    British Columbia, 165, 168
    Chipewyan, 155-158
    Cree, Central, 34;
      Eastern, 101-106;
      Western, 132-134, 155
    crooked, 99, 100, 106
    Dogrib, 155-158
    express, 137, 141
    fur-trade (see under fur-trade)
    hunting (Micmac), 58, 65, 70
    kayak-form (see under kayak-form)
    light, 137, 141
    long nose, 125, 130, 132
    Loucheux, 161, 166
    Mackenzie Basin, 159, 161, 162
    Montagnais, 34, 99, 100, 106
    Malecite, 34, 36-57, 70-93, 114, 115, 219, 221
    Micmac, 12, 27, 34, 58-69
    Nahane, 159
    narrow-bottom, 113, 114, 135, 154-158
    Northwest, 154, 155-157 (narrow-bottom);
      158-168 (kayak-form)
    Ojibway, 122-131
    one-piece, 212
    open-water, 58, 64, 65
    Passamaquoddy, 74, 75, 82, 83
    Peterborough, 65
    porpoise hunting, 74, 75
    portage, 58, 65, 123
    Restigouche, 65
    river (Malecite), 70-79
    St. Francis, 88-93, 114, 115
    skiff-canoe, 65
    Slave, 155-158
    straight-bottom, 100, 101, 106, 155
    sturgeon-nose, 154, 168-173
    temporary, 212-219
    Têtes de Boule, 34, 107-112, 116, 122
    ~V~-bottom, 74 ff., 89, 96, 98, 100, 107, 113
    war, 10, 58, 65, 70
    wide-bottom, 54
    woods, 58, 65
    Western Cree, 72, 132-134, 155
    Yukon River, 159, 164, 165, 166, 190

  _canot_ (canoe), 13;
    _du maître_ (see fur-trade canoe), 99, 106, 135;
    _du nord_ (see fur-trade canoe), 151, 153;
    _léger_ (see light canoe), 137

  Cape York, 208

  Carib Indians, 13

  Caribou Eskimo kayak, 204

  caribou-skin boat, 220

  Cartier, Jacques, 7, 68

  Cartwright, Lieut. John, 94, 95

  cedar, northern white, roots, 16;
    splitting qualities, 17, 18

  Celts, 176

  Champlain, Samuel de, 7, 10, 213

  Champlain, Lake, 7

  Chatham dockyard, 12

  chestnut bark, 15, 213

  chine, 164, 166, 184, 187, 188, 195, 202, 204, 205, 206

  Chippewa (Chippeway; Indian tribe), 122

  Chipewyan (Indian tribe), 154, 155
    canoe, 155-158;
      ends, 156, 157;
      spreading gunwales, 158;
      dimensions, 158;
      kayak-form, 166, 167

  chisel, 23

  Christopherson, L. A. (Hudson's Bay Company Factor), 145, 146;
    on fur-trade canoe construction, 146, 147, 148, 149, 150, 151

  Chukchi umiak, 182, 183, 188;
    kayak, 195

  cockpit, kayak, 175, 176, 192, 195 ff., 197, 199, 200, 204, 205, 208, 211

  Coffin, Samuel, 95

  Collins, Henry B. (Bureau of American Ethnology), 174

  _Colliers_ (magazine), 4

  construction methods, Malecite, 36-57, 72-74;
    Micmac, 58, 59-64;
    St. Francis, 90-93;
    Beothuk, 96-98;
    Eastern Cree, 104-106;
    Têtes de Boule, 108-112;
    Algonkin, 115-122;
    Ojibway, 125, 127 ff.;
    Western Cree, 132, 133;
    fur-trade, 146-151;
    narrow-bottom, 155 ff.;
    kayak-form, 160 ff.;
    sturgeon-nose, 168-172;
    umiak, 176 ff., 182, 184-187;
    kayak, 192-194;
    temporary canoes, 212-218;
    temporary skin boats, 218-220

  Copper Eskimo kayak, 204

  Coppermine River, 155

  coracle, 176

  Coronation Gulf, 193, 204

  Coronation Gulf kayak, 204

  cottonwood bark, 15

  Cowassek (Coosuc; Indian tribe), 88

  Crantz, David (missionary), 190, 223

  Cree Indians, central, 34;
    eastern, 99, 101-106;
    western, 132-134, 155

  crew, fur-trade canoe, 145

  crimping bark (in canoe building), 29, 30, 212, 214, 216, 217

  crooked canoe, 99, 100, 106

  crooked knife (tool), 21, 23

  curragh, 176, 178;
    waterproofing skins for, 176;
    compared with umiak and kayak, 178

  Coosuc (Indian tribe), 88

  dart (for hunting), 194

  deck, kayak-form canoe, 159, 162, 163, 164, 165, 166, 167;
    kayak, 176, 195 ff., 199, 202, 204, 211

  decorations, 53;
    Micmac, 67, 68;
    Malecite, 82 ff.;
    St. Francis, 90, 91;
    Têtes de Boule, 112;
    Algonkin, 122;
    fur-trade, 146, 150, 151;
    kayak-form, 163;
    kayak, 197, 199

  Dènè (Indian tribe), 162

  Denys, Nicolas, 57, 68, 69

  Dibble, Lt. Col. Herbert, 75

  dimensions, canoe (see under tribal type); old canoes, 7 ff.

  Dogrib Indians, 154, 155;
    canoe, 155-158

  drill (tool), 19

  dugout, 10, 213

  eastern canoe construction, 54

  Eastern Cree Indians, 99, 100, 101-106
    canoe, 101-106;
      dimensions, 106

  Eastport (Maine), 75

  Egede, Hans (missionary), 190

  elm bark, 8, 15, 212, 213, 214, 215

  _Encyclopedia Arctica_, 6

  ends (canoe), 31, 32, 55, 56, 70, 72, 76, 77, 155 ff., 168, 217

  engine, outboard gasoline, 175, 187

  Eskimo, 154, 159, 175, 176, 182, 190, 191, 195

  Eskimo roll, 194, 223-227

  Eskimo skin boat (see kayak, umiak)

  Espenberg, Cape, kayak, 200

  express canoe, 137, 141

  Fort Chimo, 99, 100

  Foxe Basin, 182, 204

  frames (ribs), 19, 32;
    number of, 51;
    making and bending, 51;
    fitting, 51, 52, 56;
    temporary, 51, 52;
    Micmac, 60, 62;
    Malecite, 73, 77;
    St. Francis, 90, 91, 92;
    Eastern Cree, 104, 105, 106;
    Têtes de Boule, 110, 112;
    Algonkin, 122;
    Ojibway, 130;
    Western Cree, 132;
    fur-trade, 148, 149;
    narrow-bottom, 158;
    kayak-form, 160, 162 ff.;
    sturgeon-nose, 168, 172;
    umiak, 184 ff., 189, 190;
    kayak, 192, 194 ff., 202, 204 ff., 211;
    rough construction of, 213;
    for temporary bark canoe, 218;
    for temporary skin canoe, 219

  Franquet, Colonel (French military engineer-in-chief), 13

  froe (steel tool), 20, 21

  "frog" (headboard support), 35, 61

  fur trade, canoe cargoes in, 142, 145, 147, 152, 153;
    handling furs, 142;
    pack loads, 142 ff.;
    bundles and boxes, 142, 143;
    brigades, 152, 153

  fur-trade canoe, 5, 10 ff., 36, 37, 99, 112, 113, 118, 119, 122, 130,
      135-153, 156;
    described, 135, 153;
    names applied to, 135, 147, 150;
    forms and categories, 136;
    dimensions of, 138, 141, 142;
    construction methods, 146 ff.;
    gunwales, 136, 148, 150;
    sheathing, 149;
    stem-pieces, 150;
    headboards, 150;
    paint, 150, 151

  Fury Strait, 204

  Gay, John, 94, 96

  Gilbert, Sir Humphrey, 94

  gimlet (tool), 21

  Golden Lake Algonkin Reserve (Canada), 113

  gores (bark canoes), 30, 31, 41, 42, 48, 50;
    spacing, 57;
    Micmac, 60;
    Eastern Cree, 101;
    Têtes de Boule, 108;
    Algonkin, 117;
    fur-trade, 148;
    in umiak, skin cover, 186

  Grand Victoria Lake, 107, 146

  great canoe (see fur-trade canoe), 135

  Great Lakes, 5, 8, 10, 12

  Great Slave Lake, 155

  Greenland, 176, 181, 187, 191, 194

  Greenland kayak, 190 ff., 195, 202, 205;
    206 (northern coast, Polar coast), 208 (southern coast), 211  (modern)

  Greenland roll, 223 ff.

  Greenland umiak, 182, 190

  Gulf of Boothia, 204

  gum, 17;
    spruce, 17, 24, 25;
    tempering, 24, 25;
    repairs with, 25, 26;
    paying seams with, 50, 53

  gunwale, making, 19, 38;
    profile of, 28, 29;
    plan view of, 29;
    forms of, 31;
    ends of, 31, 38;
    inner, 31;
    outer, 31, 47 ff., 55, 60, 72, 73, 118, 119, 150, 155, 156, 169;
    lashing, 31 ff., 44, 45, 48, 60, 108, 109, 120, 149, 155, 156, 159,
      169 (see also under lashing);
    securing bark to, 31, 33;
    setting up, 37;
    use as building frame, 37, 38, 40, 41;
    size of, 38;
    variations in construction of, 55;
    Micmac, 60, 61;
    hogged, 55, 59, 62, 63;
    Malecite, 72 ff.;
    St. Francis, 89;
    Beothuk, 97, 98;
    Eastern Cree, 101;
    Têtes de Boule, 108, 112;
    spreading, 117, 118, 127, 148, 158;
    Algonkin, 116, 117, 118, 119;
    Ojibway, 127;
    Western Cree, 132;
    fur-trade, 136, 148, 150;
    narrow-bottom, 155, 156;
    kayak-form, 159, 160, 164 ff.;
    sturgeon-nose, 168, 169, 172;
    umiak, 182, 184 ff., 190;
    kayak, 192 ff., 202, 204, 205, 206, 208, 211;
    temporary canoe, 212, 213, 216, 219, 220

  gunwale cap, making and fitting, 52, 53;
    Micmac, 60, 61;
    Malecite, 73;
    Eastern Cree, 104;
    Têtes de Boule, 108, 109;
    Algonkin, 118, 119;
    fur-trade, 136, 150;
    narrow-bottom, 155;
    sturgeon-nose, 172

  handgrip, 197, 199, 200

  Hare (Indian tribe), 154

  _Harper's Weekly_, 4

  _Harper's Young People Magazine_, 4

  harpoon (hunting weapon), 194

  headboard, 35, 36;
    support, 35, 61;
    making and fitting, 52;
    Micmac, 61;
    Malecite, 74, 78, 79;
    St. Francis, 89;
    Eastern Cree, 101;
    Têtes de Boule, 109, 110;
    Algonkin, 113, 119;
    Ojibway, 123, 125, 127;
    fur-trade, 150;
    narrow-bottom, 155, 157;
    umiak, 182, 184, 186, 189, 190;
    post used as, 217

  Hearne, Samuel (explorer), 155, 164

  Heath, John, 174, 175, 194, 199, 223

  Hecla Strait, 204

  Henry, Jr., Alexander, 13

  hickory bark, 15, 213

  Hill, Frederick (Director, Mariners' Museum), 4

  hogged bottom (center upcurved lengthwise), 30, 161, 162, 164, 165, 168

  hogged gunwale, 55, 59, 62, 63

  hogging brace, umiak, 188

  hot water, use of in bending wood, 20, 117

  Howley, James Patrick, 95, 96

  Hudson Bay, 5, 181, 182, 189, 191

  Hudson Strait, 182, 191, 202, 205

  Hudson's Bay Company, 4, 13, 99, 107, 136, 144, 151

  hunting canoe, Micmac, 58, 65, 70;
    kayak-form, 165

  hunting screen, kayak, 195

  Huron Indians, 132

  Huron, Lake, 113

  Indian migrations, 5, 27 (see also under tribal names)

  ice, skin-boats in, 180

  Illinois Indians, 132

  Irish, 176;
    curragh, 176, 178

  "Iroquois canoe," in fur trade, 136 (see fur-trade canoe)

  Iroquois Indians, 7, 10, 99, 114
    canoe (temporary), 213-219

  jack pine roots (for canoe lashings), 16

  jacket, watertight, 199, 211

  James Bay, 99, 132

  Japanese sampan, 191, 192, 205, 211

  Jochelson, Waldemar, 182

  Joliet, Louis, 8

  kayak, 174, 176, 190-211;
    multi-chine hull, 175, 191, 199;
    cockpit, 175, 176, 192, 195 ff., 199, 200, 205, 208, 211;
    deck, 176, 192, 195 ff., 199, 204, 211;
    structure, 178, 180;
    keelson, 178, 192, 195, 200, 204, 206, 211;
    gunwales, 178, 192 ff., 202, 204, 205, 206, 208, 211;
    geographic distribution, 190, 191;
    v-bottom, 190 ff., 195, 202, 206, 208, 211;
    risers, 190;
    flat bottom, 190 ff., 204 ff.;
    Alaskan, 190 ff., 195, 196;
    distribution, 190, 191;
    design, 191, 192;
    handling and use, 191, 194, 195, 199;
    portaging, 191, 199;
    construction, 192-194;
    keel, 192;
    frames, 192, 194 ff., 202, 204 ff., 211;
    bone fittings, 193, 204, 208, 211;
    seat, 194;
    skin cover, 194;
    paddle, 194, 195, 197, 202, 204, 205;
    as catamaran, 194;
    righting, 194, 223-227;
    hunting screen, 195;
    thwarts, 195 ff., 199, 208;
    Koryak, 195;
    Kodiak Island, 195, 196;
    breakwater, 196;
    decorations, 197, 199;
    Aleutian, 196, 197;
    Unalaska, 196, 197;
    two-passenger, 197;
    three-passenger, 197;
    Nunivak Island, 197, 199;
    King Island, 199, 200;
    Cape Krusenstern, 200;
    Cape Espenberg, 200;
    Point Barrow, 200;
    Norton Sound, 200;
    Mackenzie Delta, 200, 202;
    Kotzebue Sound, 200;
    sheer, 200, 204 ff., 208, 211;
    Copper Eskimo, 204;
    Coronation Gulf, 204;
    Caribou, 204;
    Netsilik, 204;
    Baffin Island, 204, 205;
    Labrador, 205, 206;
    rocker (camber) of bottom, 205, 206, 211;
    Greenland, 206, 208, 211;
    flare, 206;
    rake of ends, 208

  kayak-form canoe, 154, 158-168;
    Sekani, 159;
    Nahane, 159;
    bateau-shaped, 159;
    rake of ends, 159, 164;
    Loucheux, 161, 166;
    bottom frame of, 160 ff.;
    paddler's seat, 163;
    hunting, 165;
    British Columbia, 165;
    family, 165, 166;
    keel, 166;
    Chipewyan, 166, 167

  keel, Beothuk canoe, 96, 97, 98;
    kayak-form canoe, 166;
    kayak, 192

  keelson, umiak, 184, 186, 188;
    kayak, 192, 195, 200, 202, 204, 206, 211

  keg (in fur trade), 142

  Kennebec Indians, 70

  King Island kayak, 194, 199, 200

  King Island umiak, 187

  Kipewa Post (Hudson's Bay Company), 151

  knife, stone, 19;
    crooked, 21, 23

  Kodiak Island, 181, 192

  Kodiak Island kayak, 195, 196, 197, 199

  Koryak umiak, 182, 189

  Koryak kayak, 192, 195

  Kotzebue Sound, 188, 200;
    kayak, 200

  Krusenstern, Cape, 200, 204

  Krusenstern kayak, 200, 204

  Kutenai (Kootenay) Indians, 168, 172

  Labrador, 99, 191, 192, 205, 206

  Labrador kayak, 205, 206

  Laet, Joann de, 94

  LaFiteau, 12, 215

  LaHontan, Baron de, 8, 10, 215

  larch, splitting qualities, 17

  La Salle, Robert Cavalier de, 8

  lashing, canoe gunwale, 31 ff., 44, 45, 48;
    Micmac, 60;
    Têtes de Boule, 108, 109;
    Algonkin, 120;
    fur-trade, 149;
    narrow-bottom, 155, 156;
    kayak-form, 159, 160-166;
    sturgeon-nose, 169

  lashing skin cover, 186, 188, 190 (see also sewing, stitching)

  lathing (see sheathing)

  light (express) canoe, 137, 141

  _London Chronicle_, 4

  long-nose canoe, 125, 130, 132

  longitudinal strength (see gunwale, keelson chine, keel, stringers, etc.)

  Loucheux Indians, 154;
    kayak-form canoe, 161, 166

  MacKenzie, Alexander, 13

  MacKenzie Basin canoe, 159, 161, 162

  Mackenzie River, 154, 181, 191

  Mackenzie River kayak, 202, 204

  _maître canot_ (see fur-trade canoe), 99, 106, 122, 135, 138, 151, 153

  Malecite Indians, 4, 10;
    composition of tribe, 70;
    canoe, 114, 115;
    sheathing, 34;
    construction, 36-57;
    bark covers over gunwale ends, 48;
    described, 70-88;
    ends, 70, 76, 77;
    of spruce bark, 72;
    temporary (skin), 219, 221;
    dimensions of, 73 ff., 78, 79

  Manitoba, 99, 132

  maple, hard, splitting qualities, 17

  Marquette, Father Jacques, 8

  Mariners' Museum (Newport News, Va.), 4, 5, 187

  mast, Micmac, 65, 66, 67;
    tripod, 182

  Matachewan Post (Hudson's Bay Company), 151

  Matagama Post (Hudson's Bay Company), 151

  maul, 19, 23

  McGill University Museum, 4

  measurement, of canoes, early, 7, 8, 9;
    units of (French), 8, 36;
    Indian, 36, 37, 50, 51, 92, 93

  Melville Peninsula, 204

  Memphremagog, Lake, 88

  Menominee Indians, 122, 123

  Micmac Indians, 10, 12, 58
    canoe, 12, 27;
      sheathing, 34;
      described, 58-69;
      ends, 58, 59;
      form, 59;
      construction, 62, 63;
      range, 65

  migrations, Indian, 5;
    effect on canoes, 27

  Missinaibi River, 132

  Missinaibi Post (Hudson's Bay Company), 151

  Mohigan Indians, 88

  Montagnais Indian canoe, 34, 99, 100, 106

  Montreal, 8, 10, 13

  Moose Factory (Hudson's Bay Company Post), 132

  moosehide canoe, 72, 219

  multi-chine hull, kayak, 154, 175, 191, 199

  nabiska (rabeska; see fur-trade canoe), 122, 135

  _nadowé chiman_ (see fur-trade canoe), 136

  Nahane Indian kayak-form canoe, 159

  nail, in canoe construction, 66, 69, 117

  narrow-bottom canoe, 113, 114, 135, 154-158;
    Northwest, 155, 157;
    spruce bark, 158

  Nascapee Indians, 99, 100

  National Maritime Museum (Greenwich, England), 12

  Netsilik kayak, 204

  New Bedford whaleboat, 187

  Nipigon, Lake, 123

  North Alaskan whaling umiak, 187, 188

  North Bay (Ontario), 125

  north canoe (see fur-trade canoe), 135

  North West Company, 136, 138, 143, 152

  North West narrow-bottom canoe (see narrow-bottom), 155-157

  Norton Sound kayak, 200

  Nunivak Island kayak, 192, 197, 199, 200

  Oar, umiak, 182, 183, 187 ff.

  Ojibway Indians, 122
    canoe, sheathing, 34;
      construction, 122-131, 171

  Oka, Lake, 113

  one-piece bark canoe, 212

  open-water canoe, 58;
    sails, 64;
    dimensions, 65

  Ossipee Indians, 88

  Ottawa River, 12, 113

  _Outing Magazine_, 4

  outwale (see gunwale)

  owner's mark, 83, 84, 85

  overhang, in ends of kayak-form canoe, 159

  paddle, material and manufacture, 53;
    Micmac, 66, 67, 69;
    Malecite, 80, 81, 82;
    Beothuk, 96;
    Eastern Cree, 116;
    Têtes de Boules, 112;
    Algonkin, 122;
    Ojibway, 130;
    Western Cree, 133;
    fur-trade, 152;
    kayak-form, 163;
    umiak, 182, 183, 187 ff.;
    kayak, 195

  paddle guard, Micmac, 64

  paddler's seat, kayak-form canoe, 163;
    kayak, 194

  paint (on canoes), Malecite, 77;
    fur-trade, 150, 151

  Passamaquoddy Indians, 70
    canoe, 74, 75, 82, 83

  Peabody Museum (Salem, Mass.), 5, 74, 168

  peg, outwale, 48, 117;
    keel, 96

  Peterborough canoe, 65

  Pennacook Indians, 88

  Penobscot Bay, 7

  Penobscot Indians, 70

  Pepysian Library, 176

  Pequawket Indians, 88

  Perrot, Nicholas, 215

  Pillagers (Indian tribe), 122

  pine, white, bark, 213

  plane, smoothing (tool), 21

  planking (see sheathing)

  Plains Indians, 220

  Point Barrow (village), 187

  Point Barrow kayak, 200, 204

  Point Hope (village), 188

  Pond Inlet, 206

  porpoise-hunting canoe, 74, 75

  portage canoe, 58, 65, 123 (Ojibway)

  portaging, canoe, 122, 151, 152;
    Umiak, 188;
    kayak, 191, 199

  Poterie, Bacqueville de la, 12, 215

  prah, Malay, 189

  Pribilof Islands, 196

  Prince William Sound, 196

  quill decoration, Micmac, 68

  rabeska (see fur-trade canoe), 122, 135

  rake of ends, kayak-form canoe, 159, 164;
    umiak, 182, 187, 190;
    kayak, 208

  ram-form, 34, 168

  Ramezay, chateau de, 78

  rawhide, sewing with, 132, 158 (see sewing; stitching; lashing)

  Red Paint People (Indian tribe), 94

  Repulse Bay, 204

  Restigouche canoe, 65

  ribs (see frames)

  risers, umiak, 182, 187 ff.,
    kayak, 190

  river canoe, Malecite, 70-79

  Rivière du Loup, 78

  rocker (camber; convex lengthwise curve of keel), 28, 37, 38, 41;
    effect of gores on, 57;
    Micmac, 59, 63:
    Labrador, 99, 100;
    Eastern Cree, 101;
    Algonkin, 113;
    Ojibway, 125;
    Western Cree, 132;
    fur-trade, 136;
    Northwest, 155;
    kayak-form, 159, 164;
    umiak, 182, 184, 188, 189;
    kayak, 205, 206, 211;
    elm-bark canoe, 214

  roots, for sewing, 15, 16;
    varieties used, 16;
    splitting and peeling, 20

  Ross, Sir James Clark, 208

  rudder, umiak, 187, 189

  Russian influence on skin boat design, 175, 189, 192, 197

  Saginaw (Michigan), 123

  Saguenay River, 99

  sails, canoe, Micmac, 65, 66, 67;
      Passamaquoddy, 75;
      Malecite, 75;
      Eastern Cree, 106;
      fur-trade, 152;
      narrow-bottom, 158;
      blanket (Iroquois), 219;
      umiak, 175, 182, 183, 187, 189
    kayak, 195
    umiak, 175, 182, 183, 187, 189, 190

  St. Croix River, 70

  St. Francis Abnaki Indians, 88
    canoe, 88-93;
      dimensions, 89, 114, 115

  St. John Lake, 99

  St. John River, 70

  St. Joseph Lake, 132

  St. Lawrence Island, 197

  St. Lawrence River, 5, 13, 70, 78

  St. Matthew (Alaska), 196

  St. Maurice River, 107

  St. Michaels kayak, 200

  Salish Indians, 168, 172

  Saltreaux (Indian tribe), 122

  sampan, 191, 192, 205, 211

  scale-model canoe, 4, 5

  Schenectady boat, 13

  scow, 13

  scraper (tool), 19

  sea otter hunting, 197

  seal, bearded, 188, 195

  Sekani Indians, kayak-form canoe, 159

  setting up canoe (on building bed), 37, 38, 40, 44, 45

  Seton, Ernest Thompson, 4

  sewing (stitching, lashing), 15, 29, 30;
    on building bed, 42, 43, 44, 45, 48, 49, 50;
    Micmac, 63;
    Malecite, 79;
    St. Francis Abnaki, 91;
    Eastern Cree, 101;
    Têtes de Boule, 108, 109;
    Algonkin, 120;
    rawhide, 132, 158;
    narrow-bottom, 158;
    kayak-form, 162;
    sturgeon-nose, 168;
    skin cover, 186, 188, 190;
    kayak, 193, 194, 196;
    temporary canoe, 220

  Sharp, Minnie Bell (Mrs. Edwin Tappan Adney), 4

  Sharpie (boat type), 191, 206, 208

  shaving horse (tool), 22

  sheathing, 19, 73, 77;
    fitting of, 32 ff., 51, 52;
    Malecite, 50, 51, 75;
    Micmac, 63, 64;
    St. Francis, 90;
    Eastern Cree, 105;
    Têtes de Boule, 110;
    Algonkin, 121, 122;
    fur-trade, 149;
    narrow-bottom, 158;
    sturgeon-nose, 168, 172;
    temporary canoe, 218, 220

  sheer (rise in lengthwise line of gunwale), 47, 52, 56;
    hogged, 55, 62, 63;
    Micmac, 59;
    Malecite, 70;
    Beothuk, 94, 96 ff.;
    Algonkin, 114, 117;
    fur-trade, 136, 148;
    Northwest, 155, 156;
    kayak-form, 159, 164, 165, 166, 167;
    umiak, 182, 183, 187, 189, 190;
    kayak, 200, 204 ff., 208, 211

  shelter, Malecite canoe as, 71, 72

  Sioux (Dakotas), 122, 130, 133

  skiff-canoe (3-board), 65

  skin boat arctic, 174-211;
    seagoing, 174, 175;
    voyages, 176;
    shape and size, 176;
    in ice, 180;
    loading, 180, 181;
    umiak, 181-189;
    kayak, 190-211;
    compared with bark canoe, 193, 221;
    temporary, 219, 221;
    caribou skin, 220

  skin cover, umiak, 176, 178, 186, 188;
    kayak, 192 ff., 197, 199, 200, 204;
    for temporary canoe, 219

  skin canoe, temporary, construction of, 219-221

  Siberia, 181

  Slave Indians, 154, 155;
    canoe, 155-158

  sledge, for transporting umiak, 188;
    for transporting Nunivak Island kayak, 199

  Sokoki Indians, 88

  Southampton Island, 191, 204

  Spars, Micmac, 65, 66, 67

  Spruce, black, bark, 15, 17, 24, 212, 213;
      roots for sewing, 15, 16;
      splitting qualities, 17, 19;
      in kayaks, 192
    red, 17

  spruce-bark canoe, Malecite, 72;
    Western Cree, 132;
    narrow-bottom, 158

  spruce gum, 17;
    preparation, 24;
    tempering, 24, 25

  stakes, building bed, 40, 41, 45 ff., 146, 148

  stanchion, 195

  Stefansson, Vilhjalmur, v, 174

  stem-piece, 34, 35, 36;
      construction, 48, 49;
      root as, 55, 132;
      Micmac, 60;
      Eastern Cree, 101, 104;
      Têtes de Boule, 109;
      Algonkin, 113, 114, 119
    Ojibway, 123, 125, 127;
      plank, 125, 155, 156, 160, 164;
    Western Cree, 132;
      fur-trade, 150;
      narrow-bottom, 156, 157;
      kayak-form, 164;
      sturgeon-nose, 168, 169;
      temporary skin canoe, 218

  stitching bark cover, 43, 44;
    temporary canoe, 220 (see also sewing, lashing)

  stone tools, 17-20;
    use of, 18;
    cutting edge, 18

  straight-bottom canoe, 100, 101, 106, 155

  Strut (headboard brace), 123, 150

  sturgeon-nose canoe, 154, 168-173;
    British Columbia, 168;
    ends, 168;
    size, 172, 173

  Superior, Lake, 113, 122, 123, 125

  Taconnet Indians, 88

  tamarack (hackmatack), in canoe construction, 16

  Tanana Indians, 154

  tapering wooden members, 19, 118

  tarpaulin (in fur trade), 142, 143

  Temiscaming, Lake, 147

  temporary canoe, 212-219

  Têtes de Boule Indians, 107
    canoe, 107-112, 116, 122;
      sheathing, 34;
      described, 107-112;
      dimensions, 107;
      construction, 108 ff., 112

  Teton Indians, 133

  thong braces, umiak, 186, 187, 190

  throwing stick, 194

  thwarts, 19, 38, 40;
    fitting of ends, 32, 56;
    location, 32, 37, 40;
    supporting on building bed, 46, 47;
    Micmac, 61, 62;
    St. Francis, 90;
    Eastern Cree, 101;
    Têtes de Boule, 110;
    Algonkin, 117, 121;
    Ojibway, 127;
    Western Cree, 132;
    fur-trade, 147, 150;
    narrow-bottom, 158;
    kayak-form, 160, 162, 166, 167;
    sturgeon-nose, 169;
    umiak, 182, 187;
    kayak, 195 ff., 199, 208;
    rough construction of, 213, 216;
    temporary skin canoe, 219

  Timagami (Ontario), Lake, 125, 131, 151

  tomahawk, 21

  tongs, wooden, 20

  topsail, umiak, 183

  Tonti, Chevalier Henri de, 8

  tools, primitive, 17-20;
    modern, 20-24

  tree felling, 18

  treenail, 190, 192

  Trois Rivières, 13

  tumble-home (incurving of upper sides of canoe), Micmac, 60;
    Malecite, 73, 75, 78

  tump line, 122, 143

  Two Mountains, Lake of, 113

  Umiak, Eskimo, 174, 181-190;
    qualities, 175, 176, 178;
    use, 175, 176;
    design, 176, 178, 182-183;
    compared with curragh, 176, 178;
    skin cover, 176, 178, 186, 188;
    construction, 176, 178, 180, 182, 183-187, 188;
    oars and paddles, 182, 183, 187 ff.;
    headboards, 182, 184, 186, 189, 190;
    flare of sides, 182, 183, 188;
    sheer, 182, 183, 187, 189, 190;
    rake of ends, 182, 187, 190;
    rocker of bottom (camber), 182, 184, 188, 189;
    thwarts, 182, 187;
    risers, 182, 187 ff.;
    v-bottom, 182, 184, 189;
    gunwales, 182, 184 ff., 190;
    Alaskan, 182, 183, 187 ff.;
    Chukchi (Asiatic), 182, 183, 188;
    Koryak, 182, 189;
    Greenland, 182, 189;
    frames (ribs), 184 ff., 189, 190;
    keelson, 184, 186, 188;
    thong brace, 186, 187, 190;
    rudder, 187, 189;
    whaling, 187, 188;
    King Island, 187;
    hogging brace, 188;
    portaging, 188;
    Baffin Island, 189, 190

  Unalaska kayak, 196

  United States Fish Commission, 202

  United States National Museum, 183, 188, 189, 197, 199, 204

  ~V~-bottom canoe, Malecite, 74, 75, 76, 77;
      St. Francis, 89;
      Beothuk, 96, 98, 100;
      Têtes de Boule, 107;
      Algonkin, 113
    kayak, 190 ff., 195, 202, 206, 208, 211
    umiak, 182, 184, 189

  ~V~-Form (see ~V~-bottom)

  Viking boat, 187

  voyageur, 143;
    loads carried by, 143, 144;
    number required for a canoe, 145;
    paddle requirement, 152

  wabinaki chiman (Algonkin canoe), 114, 119, 131

  walrus skin, for umiak, 183;
    for kayak, 194

  war canoe, 10;
    Micmac, 58, 65;
    Malecite, 70

  war party, Malecite, 71;
    traveling, 212;
    Iroquois, 214

  Waswanipi, Lake, Post (Hudson's Bay Company), 151

  water, Indian methods of boiling, 20

  weapons, for kayaks, 194, 211

  weather cloth, 183

  wedge, 38, 156

  Western Cree Indians, 132, 155;
    canoe, 72, 132-134, 155

  Wewenoc Indians, 88

  Weymouth, Captain George, 7

  whaleboat, 187

  whaling umiak, 187, 188

  Whitbourne, Captain Richard, 94

  White Fish People (Indian tribe), 107

  wide-bottom canoe, 54

  willow, 17

  Winnipeg, Lake, 132

  wood (for kayaks), 192, 200, 204

  wood bending, by hot water, 20;
    over a fire, 69

  wood splitting, 17, 18, 19

  woods canoe, 58, 65

  Woodstock, New Brunswick, 4, 75

  wulegessis, 72, 73, 77, 82, 90, 120, 121

  York boat, 220

  Yukon Indians, 190

  Yukon River canoe, 159;
    kayak-form, 164, 165, 166, 190

                        U.S. GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE: 1973 O--491-230

      *      *      *      *      *      *

Transcriber's note:

  Silently corrected simple spelling, grammar, and typographical

  Retained anachronistic and non-standard spellings as printed.

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