How Indians Build Canoes” is a color movie from 1946 that shows an Algonquin man and his wife and son building a birch bark canoe using native methods. At the very beginning, a young man wields a long stick—which becomes his ladder to scale a tall birch tree!

What was interesting to me—the stitching of the pieces of birch bark, a task traditionally done by women, takes the longest of all the tasks in canoe-building. They demonstrate punching each hole with a bone awl and sewing it with basswood strips.

Later his wife collects of spruce gum “lumps” in a bag, for sealing the canoe’s seams. She drops the whole bag into boiling water and the clear gum rises while the dirt and leaves that cling to the gum stay in the bag. She spoons out the gum, drops it into cold water and then pulls it like taffy. It gets a second boiling, but this time she adds a bit of animal tallow, making sure it’s not too much (the gum would soften and melt in the warm weather) or too little (the seals would harden and crack in cold weather).

This video, made by the Canadian Geographic Society, begins and ends with voyageur singing, which I love.


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