Archaeological Excavation

Tsimshian Society and Culture

Wealth and Rank
Men's Activities
Women's Activities

Tsimshian Villages

Tsimshian Society and Culture

Men's Activities


Household objects were usually made from the wood or bark of the red cedar tree. The wood split easily into boards, from which boxes were made to satisfy every need from cradle to grave. Harder woods, like yellow cedar, spruce and maple, were used for tools and weapons.

Maul - CD96-021-066 - S93-14558 Hafted maul with the stone head carved to represent a bird's head
Collected by Rev. Thomas Crosby, 1874-1897; Fort Simpson

The red cedar, with its remarkable qualities, was essential for houses, canoes, ceremonial screens and masks. Several large planks could be split from standing trees without felling them. They were then split again with wedges and mauls, and planed with stone adzes into the desired size and shape. With jade and shell chisels, and bone drills it was possible to make complex joints and fasten the boards together securely.

Men hollowing out a canoe - 
CD94-631-017 - 72-18064 Men hollowing out a canoe with adzes at Metlakatla, B.C., near Prince Rupert.

The ocean-going war and trading canoes, made of giant red-cedar logs, were a testament to the woodworking skills of the Tsimshian. Only traces of these achievements (like canoe paddles) are preserved in the bog-like deposits adjacent to ancient village sites.

The men felled the trees, then split them into planks for building houses.

Artisans installing facade panels - 
CD94-635-010 - S92-8508 Artisans installing facade panels.

This picture was taken during construction of the Tsimshian House in the Grand Hall of the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Hull, Quebec. All of the work on the house was carried out by Tsimshian artisans.

Master carvers and their apprentices produced beautifully sculpted wooden objects, including masks, rattles, headdresses and boxes.

Bentwood Box - CD97-508-032 - S94-36574 Carved cedar bentwood box with opercula inlay on lid, used for holding objects of wealth and rank
Collected by I.W. Powell, 1879; Fort Simpson