Birchbark and Manomin(wild rice)
On July 24, 2006, Mitchell Shewell, Project Coordinator, began to
oversee the building of a Birchbark canoe with Algonquin craftsman,
Chris Wabie at the MacLaughlin Woodworking Museum. It was Chris's 47th
This bark role will be soaked before it is used on the canoe frame.
The best time to gather the bark was spring up to the month of June.The
bark almost peels itself from the tree. If they need to be stored,
the sheets are laid on the ground and pressed flat. When it comes time
to ready them for the canoe they are soaked in warm water or steamed
over a fire.
Cedar is used to make the ribs and frame of the canoe because it's
pliable when soaked and very hard and durable when dry.Over 3,000 years
ago the native peoples of the Northeastern Forests used bark containers
to collect, store, cook and consume food. It was also used to make
hunting and fishing gear, musical instruments, decorative fans and
These were hand made too from cedar.
Roles of Spruce roots for binding the frame to the gunnels. The
roots of the Spruce tree grow very near the surface and can be pulled
from the ground easily. They are small in diameter, flexible, durable
and tough. A single root can be up to 20 feet long and no thicker than
a lead pencil in diameter. First they are soaked in water and cleaned.
Then it is split into a flat thread to sew canoes, containers and wigwams.
Resin from the Black Spruce is used to seal the seams. It is scraped
from the tree and combined with animal fat to make the seams watertight.
Out of the sun, under the shade of the willow.
The drying bark is weighed down with whatever can be found. To ensure
that burrowing insects or weathering will not destroy a canoe requires
specific knowledge of the nature of birchbark. Because it is resistant
to exposure, and predatory insects, the inside skin of the bark is
used as the outer covering and the papery white outer bark is turned
Spruce roots bind the canoe together. The builder knows how to find
spruce trees that grow in solitude because they yield long straight
roots just under the surface of the soil. After stitching the canoe,
the bindings harden with drying.
To make the canoe watertight traditionally requires a mixture of
spruce or pine pitch, charcoal, and animal fat that is applied to all
of the seams where sheets of bark are stitched together. The sealant
is painstakingly difficult and time consuming to make, but all of the
ingredients work together to produce a long lasting, watertight seal.