The Canoe

The leaves are gone, the birds are gone, but the forest still remains...filled with silent sentinels waiting for winter's cloak to envelop the land. It is a good time to go for a walk, to see the bare bones of these woods that we call our back yard.We live beside the Ottawa River in eastern Ontario, a land once ruled by the Algonquin. They are still present, and still play an important role in our community...not the least of which is the preservation of their culture. It is to the Algonquin that we owe our thanks for the ubiquitous Canadian canoe. Originally made of birch bark, the canoe was common on the lakes and rivers of this area.
In our back yard are many birch trees who's botanical grandparents  may have contributed to a canoe or two. On a day like today,with no leaves to block the view, and no birds to distract me, one can easily see why the birch was chosen as a prime building material. It's strong yet pliable, waterproof, light, and readily available.
Former Prime Minister, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, loved the wilderness and being out in it. He was an expert paddler, who was seldom thwarted. He once wrote, "What sets a canoeing expedition apart is that it purifies you more rapidly and inescapably than any other travel. Travel a thousand miles by train and you are a brute; pedal five hundred on a bicycle and you remain basically a bourgeois; paddle a hundred in a canoe and you are already a child of nature."

The canoe is a Canadian icon. Renowned author and historian, the late Pierre Berton, once wrote, "A true Canadian is one who can make love in a canoe without tipping",  to which the clever reparte is, "Anyone can make love in a canoe, it's a Canadian who knows enough to take out the centre thwart!" This is the stuff of culture...and that keeps us from being thought of simply as fur  bearing lumberjacks who yodel.  yodellolaaaadddddyyyywho!     If you would like to learn more about either the Algonquin, or the canoe, visit: http://www.algonquinsofpikwakanagan.com/Culture%20birch%20bark%20canoe%202004.htm


Lorac said...

There is a great canoe museum in Kanata. They have restored many native and antique canoe there. Good write up, good topic!

The Early Birder said...

Did some canoeing as a youngster but not in anything as 'natural' and beautiful as a birch-bark. Interesting post Susan & links admirably to two TV programmes I watched early this week. Love peeling the top layer off our Betula 'Hergest' to reveal the new colours underneath. FAB

Susan said...

Lorac -I knew about the museum in Peterborough, but not Kanata, which is just an hour away..will have to seek it out, thanks!
FAB -I love birch bark and how nicely it peels away from the tree -it's beautiful at this time of year!

Murr Brewster said...

I was always drawn to those little birch-bark canoes in the souvenir stores, but the ones we heard about in school were burned/scooped out of whole logs, I think. You got those too?

Susan said...

Murr my pal, I think the early natives had hollowed out logs, the more modern Algonquin used the logs as a mold to build the canoe and then we came along with dual mold injections et voila! pets de souers and Bob's yer uncle!

Kelly said...

...loved this post. I need to get back out on the water in a canoe. I love the sound of the paddle in the water, and that lovely thud when it hits up against the wall of the canoe. Seeing the shore from the water is always lovely. (Wonderful quote!)

Neil Tasker said...

I'm beginning to learn a bit about the importance of the canoe to Canadian culture, Susan.
There's a pretty good series on the BBC right now with Ray Mears. You familiar with him?
He's following in the footsteps of some of the original explorers who mapped out large chunks of Canada. Last week he met up with some of the First Nations people who showed him how to build a canoe from birch bark and various other cooking utensils. All fascinating stuff.

Susan said...

Neil -I haven't heard of this man, but will watch for him. It occurred to me that just about everyone I know owns either a canoe or a kayak, and often both...indeed, it's considered commonplace..and we generally take it forgranted how lucky we are with all our lakes and rivers! Thanks for the nice comments.

Anonymous said...

Hi Susan
I've just found your blog and am enjoying it very much. I live near Peterborough and the Canoe museum is wonderful, how canoes are integral to the history of Canada.

Neil, I think that Ray Mears programme is old. I remember seeing it back when I lived in England. I think I have seen it here too.