Most of the bark canoes used by Canada's First Peoples were built in a completely different way from Arctic skin boats. Whereas the kayak and umiak have solid frameworks, the canoe is built by forcing a framing system into an assembled bark "envelope." Since wood sheathing is held in place only by the pressure of ribs against the bark cover, removing the latter would cause the hull to collapse.
In Canada, the most popular bark for canoe construction has come from the paper birch, although spruce, pine, elm and cedar bark have been used where birch trees are small or absent. The bark was removed from large trees early in the summer. It was taken off in a single sheet, which was then rolled and carried back to camp. The construction of an ordinary canoe required the continued labour of a man and a woman for about two weeks. The bark was unrolled and flattened on the ground, and then a wooden "building frame" in the form of an outline of the canoe was weighted in place so that the shaping could begin. The gunwales and ribs, as well as the special stem piece, had to be steamed or soaked, bent into shape, and allowed to dry. The ribs shaped the hull of the canoe while holding the inner lining in position, and also gave the hull considerable strength. The seams were caulked with gum or pitch to make them watertight.
The canoe cover was often ornamented with a scraped design or a drawing indicating ownership. The extreme lightness of the bark canoe was some compensation for its fragility. A damaged canoe could be patched in a few hours with a piece of bark, a few threads of spruce root, and a little spruce gum.
|Algonquin hunting canoe with decorations scraped in bark
Main builder: Jocko Carle
Round Lake, near Maniwaki, Quebec, 1981
|Building a Micmac rough water canoe, 1991|
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