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Postcast Miramichi Links
Week 11 - Rachel Bernard joins us to talk about Acadian history in Miramichi!
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Postcast Miramichi Liens
Semaine 11 - Rachel Bernard se joint à nous pour parler de l'histoire acadienne à Miramichi!
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As John contiues to make his health a priority, The River Remembers with John English will resume in April with some amazing interviews John had with some amazing people.
Information reposted and shared by Friends of Beaubears Island Inc, Senior Historical Correspondent, John English.
Part 2 of 2 series. For the love of canoe: Mi'Kmaq Natural Resources and Tools
The Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America[selected sections]
Source of all the text and figures, unless otherwise indicated: gutenberg.org, SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION NATIONAL MUSEUM 1964, courtesy Edwin Tappan Adney and Howard Irving Chapelle
[This is part two of “For the love of canoe!” - Mi'kmaq Natural Resources and Tools]
The bark canoes of the North American Indians, particularly those of birch bark, were among the most highly developed of manually propelled primitive watercraft. Built with Stone Age tools from materials available in the areas of their use, their design, size, and appearance were varied so as to create boats suitable to the many and different requirements of their users. The great skill exhibited in their design and construction shows that a long period of development must have taken place before they became known to white men.
The Indian bark canoes were most efficient watercraft for use in forest travel; they were capable of being propelled easily with a single-bladed paddle. This allowed the paddler, unlike the oarsman, to face the direction of travel, a necessity in obstructed or shoal waters and in fast-moving streams. The canoes, being light, could be carried overland for long distances, even where trails were rough or nonexistent. Yet they could carry heavy loads in shallow water and could be repaired in the forest without special tools.
Bark canoes were designed for various conditions: some for use in rapid streams, some for quiet waters, some for the open waters of lakes, some for use along the coast. Most were intended for portage in overland transportation as well. They were built in a variety of sizes, from small one-man hunting and fishing canoes to canoes large enough to carry a ton of cargo and a crew, or a war-party, or one or more families moving to new habitations. Some canoes were designed so that they could be used, turned bottom up, for shelter ashore.
The superior qualities of the bark canoes of North America are indicated by the white man's unqualified adoption of the craft. Almost as soon as he arrived in North America, the white man learned to use the canoe, without alteration, for wilderness travel. Much later, when the original materials used in building were no longer readily available, canvas was substituted for bark, and nails for the lashings and sewing; but as long as manual propulsion was used, the basic models of the bark canoes were retained. Indeed, the models and the proportions used in many of these old bark canoes are retained in the canoes used today in the wildernesses of northern Canada and Alaska, and the same styles may be seen in the canoes used for pleasure in the summer resorts of Europe and America. The bark canoe of North America shares with the Eskimo kayak the distinction of being one of the few primitive craft of which the basic models are retained in the boats of civilized man.
However, as far as the bark canoes of North America are concerned, there was another factor. The student who became sufficiently interested to begin research soon discovered that one man was devoting his lifetime to the study of these craft; that, in a field with few documentary records and fewer artifacts, he had had opportunities for detailed examination not open to younger men; and that it was widely expected that this man would eventually publish his findings. Hence many, who might otherwise have carried on some research and writing, turned to other subjects. Practically, then, the whole field had been left to Edwin Tappan Adney.
Born at Athens, Ohio, in 1868, Edwin Tappan Adney was the son of Professor H. H. Adney, formerly a colonel in a volunteer regiment in the Civil War but then on the faculty of Ohio University. His mother was Ruth Shaw Adney. Edwin Tappan Adney did not receive a college education, but he managed to pursue three years' study of art with The Art Students' League of New York. Apparently, he was interested in ornithology as well as in art, and spent much time in New York museums, where he met Ernest Thompson Seton and other naturalists. Being unable to afford more study in art school, he went on what was intended to be a short vacation, in 1887, to Woodstock, New Brunswick. There he became interested in the woods-life of Peter Joe, a Malecite Indian who lived in a temporary camp nearby. This life so interested the 19-year-old Ohioan that he turned toward the career of an artist-craftsman, recording outdoor scenes of the wilderness in pictures.
He undertook to learn the handicrafts of the Indian, in order to picture him and his works correctly, and lengthened his stay. In 1889, Adney and Peter Joe each built a birch-bark canoe, Adney following and recording every step the Indian made during construction. The result Adney published, with sketches, in Harper's Young People magazine, July 29, 1890, and, in a later version, in Outing, May 1900. These, so far as is known, are the earliest detailed descriptions of a birch-bark canoe, with instructions for building one. Daniel Beard considered them the best, and with Adney's permission used the material in his Boating Book for Boys.
Owing to personal and financial misfortunes, he and his wife (then blind) returned in the early 1930's to her family homestead in Woodstock, where Mrs. Adney died in 1937. Adney continued his work under the greatest difficulties, including ill-health, until his death, October 10, 1950. He did not succeed in completing his research and had not organized his collection of papers and notes for publication when he died.
Through the farsightedness of Frederick Hill, then director of The Mariners' Museum, Newport News, Virginia, Adney had, ten years before his death, deposited in the museum over a hundred of his models and a portion of his papers. After his death his son Glenn Adney cooperated in placing in The Mariners' Museum the remaining papers dealing with bark canoes, thus completing the "Adney Collection."
Adney's papers and drawings dealing with the construction of bark canoes are most complete and valuable. So complete as to be almost a set of "how-to-do-it" instructions, they cover everything from the selection of materials and use of tools to the art of shaping and building the canoe. An understanding of these building instructions is essential to any sound examination of the bark canoes of North America, for they show the limitations of the medium and indicate what was and what was not reasonable to expect from the finished product.
The development of bark canoes in North America before the arrival of the white men cannot satisfactorily be traced. Unlike the dugout, the bark canoe is too perishable to survive in recognizable form buried in a bog or submerged in water, so we have little or no visual evidence of very great age upon which to base sound assumptions.
Records of bark canoes, contained in the reports of the early white explorers of North America, are woefully lacking in detail, but they at least give grounds for believing that the bark canoes even then were highly developed, and were the product of a very long period of existence and improvement prior to the first appearance of Europeans.
The Europeans were most impressed by the fact that the canoes were built of bark reinforced by a light wooden frame. The speed with which they could be propelled by the Indians also caused amazement, as did their light weight and marked strength, combined with a great load-carrying capacity in shallow water. It is remarkable, however, that although bark canoes apparently aroused so much admiration among Europeans, so little of accurate and complete information appears in their writings.
The first known reference by a Frenchman to the bark canoe is that of Jacques Cartier, who reported that he saw two bark canoes in 1535; he said the two carried a total of 17 men. Champlain was the first to record any definite dimensions of the bark canoes; he wrote that in 1603 he saw, near what is now Quebec, bark canoes 8 to 9 paces long and 1½ paces wide, and he added that they might transport as much as a pipe of wine yet were light enough to be carried easily by one man. If a pace is taken as about 30 inches, then the canoes would have been between 20 and 23 feet long, between 40 and 50 inches beam and capable of carrying about half a ton, English measurements. These were apparently Algonkin canoes. Champlain was impressed by the speed of the bark canoes; he reported that his fully manned longboat was passed by two canoes, each with two paddlers. As will be seen, he was perhaps primarily responsible for the rapid adoption of bark canoes by the early French in Canada.
The first English reference that has been found is in the records of Captain George Weymouth's voyage. He and his crew in 1603 saw bark canoes to the westward of Penobscot Bay, on what is now the coast of Maine. The English were impressed, just as Champlain had been, by the speed with which canoes having but three or four paddlers could pass his ship's boat manned with four oarsmen. Weymouth also speaks admiringly of the fine workmanship shown in the structure of the canoes.
The canoes were convenient, he[Champlain] says, because of their great lightness and shallow draft, but they were easily damaged. Hence they had to be loaded and unloaded afloat and usually required repairs to the bark covers at the end of each day. They had to be staked down at night, so that a strong wind might not damage or blow them away; but this light weight permitted them to be carried with ease by two men, one at each end, and this suited them for use on the rivers of Canada, where rapids and falls made carrying frequently necessary. These canoes were of no value on the Lakes, LaHontan states, as they could not be used in windy weather; though in good weather they might cross lakes and might go four or five leagues on open water. The canoes carried small sails, but these could be used only with fair winds of moderate force. The paddlers might kneel, sit, or stand to paddle and pole the canoes. The paddle blade was 20 pouces long, 6 wide, and 4 lignes thick; the handle was of the diameter of a pigeon's egg and three pieds long. The paddlers also had a "setting pole," to pole the canoes in shoal water. The canoes were alike at both ends and cost 80 écus (LaHontan's cost 90), and would last not more than five or six years. The foregoing is but a condensed extract of LaHontan's lively account.
In translating LaHontan's measurements a pied is taken as 12.79 inches, a pouce as about 1⅛ inches. The French fathom, or brasse, as used in colonial Canada, was the length from finger-tip to finger-tip of the arms outstretched and so varied, but may be roughly estimated as about 64 inches; this was the "fathom" used later in classing fur-trade canoes for length. In English measurements his large canoe would have been about 30 feet long over the gunwales and, perhaps, almost 33 feet overall, 57½ inches beam inside the gunwales, or about 60 inches extreme beam. The depth inside would be 21 or 21¾ inches bottom to top of gunwale amidships. LaHontan also described the elm-bark canoes of the Iroquois as being large and wide enough to carry 30 paddlers, 15 on a side, sitting or standing. Here again a canoe about 40 feet long is indicated. He said that these elm-bark canoes were crude, heavy and slow, with low sides, so that once he and his men reached an open lake, he no longer feared pursuit by the Iroquois in these craft.
Beginning as early as 1660, the colonial government of Canada issued congés or trading licenses. These were first granted to the military officers or their families; later the congés were issued to all approved traders, and the fees were used for pensions of the military personnel. Records of these licenses, preserved from about 1700, show that three men commonly made up the crew of a trading canoe in the earliest years, but that by 1725 five men were employed, by 1737 seven men, and by 1747 seven or eight men. However, as LaHontan has stated that in his time three men were sufficient to man a large canoe with cargo, it is evident that the congés offer unreliable data and do not necessarily prove that the size of canoes had increased during this period. The increase in the crews may have been brought about by the greater distances travelled, with an increased number of portages or, perhaps, by heavier items of cargo.
The war canoe does not appear in these early accounts as a special type. According to the traditions of the eastern Micmac and Malecite Indians, their war canoes were only large enough to carry three or four warriors and so must not have exceeded 18 feet in length. These were built for speed, narrow and with very sharp ends; the bottom was made as smooth as was possible. Each canoe carried the insignia of each of its warriors, that is, his personal mark or sign. A canoe carrying a war leader had only his personal mark, none for the rest of the crew. It is possible to regard the large canoes of the Iroquois as "war canoes" since they were used in the pursuit of French raiders in LaHontan's time. However, the Iroquois did not build the canoes primarily for war; in early times these fierce tribesmen preferred to take to the warpath in the dead of winter and to raid overland on snowshoes. In open weather, they used the rough, short-lived and quickly built elm-bark canoes to cross streams and lakes or to follow waterways, discarding them when the immediate purpose was accomplished. Probably it was the French who really produced the bark "war canoes," for they appear to have placed great emphasis on large canoes for use of the military, as indicated by LaHontan's concern with the largest canoes of his time. Perhaps large bark canoes were once used on the Great Lakes for war parties, but, if so, no mention of a special type has been found in the early French accounts. The sparse references suggest that both large and small canoes were used by the war parties but that no special type paralleling the characteristics of the Micmac and Malecite war canoes existed in the West. The huge dugout war canoe of the Indians of the Northwest Coast appears to have had no counterpart in size among the birch or elm bark canoes.
One of the most important elements in the history of the canoe is its early adoption by the French. Champlain was the first to recommend its use by white men.
His illustrations show that his low-ended canoes were of Micmac type but that his high-ended canoes were not of the Ottawa River or Great Lakes types but rather of the eastern Malecite of the lower St. Lawrence valley. This Jesuit missionary also noted that the canoes were alike at the ends and that the paddles were of maple and about 5 feet long, with blades 18 inches long and 6 wide. He observed that bark canoes were unfitted for sailing.
See Fig 1 for Lines of an Old Birch-Bark Canoe, probably Micmac, brought to England in 1749 from New England. This canoe was not alike at both ends, although apparently intended to be so by the builder.
The use of the name "canoe" for bark watercraft does not appear to been taken from a North American Indian usage. The early French explorers and travellers called these craft canau (pl. canaux). As this also meant "canal," the name canot (pl. canots) was soon substituted. But some early writers preferred to call the canoe ecorse de bouleau, or birch-bark, and sometimes the name used was merely the generic petit embarcation, or small boat. The early English term was "canoa," later "canoe." The popular uses of canoe, canoa, canau, and canot are thought to have begun early in the sixteenth century as the adaptation of a Carib Indian word for a dugout canoe.
Materials and Tools
Bark of the paper birch was the material preferred by the North American Indians for the construction of their canoes, although other barks were used where birch was not available. This tree (Betula papyrifera Marsh.), also known as the canoe birch, is found in good soil, often near streams, and where growing conditions are favorable it becomes large, reaching a height of a hundred feet, with a butt diameter of thirty inches or more. Its range forms a wide belt across the continent, with the northern limits in Canada along a line extending westward from Newfoundland to the southern shores of Hudson Bay and thence generally northwestward to Great Bear Lake, the Yukon River, and the Alaskan coast. The southern limits extend roughly westward from Long Island to the southern shores of Lake Erie and through central Michigan to Lake Superior, thence through Wisconsin, northern Nebraska, and northwesterly through the Dakotas, northern Montana, and northern Washington to the Pacific Coast. The trees are both abundant and large in the eastern portion of the belt, particularly in Newfoundland, Quebec, the Maritime Provinces, Ontario, Maine, and New Hampshire, in contrast to the western areas. Near the limits of growth to the north and south the trees are usually small and scattered.
The bark of the tree has an aromatic odor when freshly peeled, and is chalky white marked with black splotches on either side of limbs or where branches have grown at one time. Elsewhere on the bark, dark, or black, horizontal lines of varying lengths also appear. The lower part of the tree, to about the height of winter snows, has bark that is usually rough, blemished and thin; above this level, to the height of the lowest large limbs, the bark is often only slightly blemished and is thick and well formed. The bark is made up of paper-like layers, their color deepens with each layer from the chalky white of the exterior through creamy buff to a light tan on the inner layer. A gelatinous greenish to yellow rind, or cambium layer, lies between the bark and the wood of the trunk; its characteristics are different from those of the rest of the bark. The horizontal lines that appear on each successive paper-like layer do not appear on the rind.
The thickness of the bark cannot be judged from the size of a tree and may vary markedly among trees of the same approximate size in a single grove. The thickness varies from a little less than one-eighth to over three-sixteenths inch; bark with a thickness of one-quarter inch or more is rarely found. For canoe construction, bark must be over one-eighth inch thick, tough, and from a naturally straight trunk of sufficient diameter and length to give reasonably large pieces. The "eyes" must be small and not so closely spaced as to allow the bark to split easily in their vicinity.
The bark can be peeled readily when the sap is flowing. In winter, when the exterior of the tree is frozen, the bark can be removed only when heat is applied. During a prolonged thaw, however, this may be accomplished without the application of heat. Bark peeled from the tree during a winter thaw, and early in the spring or late in the fall, usually adheres strongly to the inner rind, which comes away from the tree with the bark. The act of peeling, however, puts a strain on the bark, so that only tough, well-made bark can be removed under these conditions. This particular characteristic caused Indians in the east to call bark with the rind adhering "winter bark," even though it might have been peeled from a tree during the warm weather of early summer. Since in large trees the flow of sap usually starts later than in small ones, the period in which good bark is obtainable may extend into late June in some localities. Upon exposure to air and moisture, the inner rind first turns orange-red and gradually darkens with age until in a few years it becomes dark brown, or sepia. If it is first moistened, the rind can be scraped off, and this allowed it to be employed in decoration, enough being left to form designs. Hence winter bark was prized.
To the eastern Indians "summer bark" was a poor grade that readily separated into its paper-like layers, a characteristic of bark peeled in hot weather, or of poorly made bark in any season. In the west, however, high-quality bark was often scarce and, therefore, the distinction between winter and summer bark does not seem to have been made. Newfoundland once had excellent canoe bark, as did the Maritime Provinces, Maine, New Hampshire, and Quebec, but the best bark was found back from the seacoast.
The bark of the paper birch was preferred for canoe building because it could be obtained in quite large sheets clear of serious blemishes; because its grain ran around the tree rather than along the line of vertical tree growth, so that sheets could be "sewn" together to obtain length in a canoe; and because the bark was resinous and not only did not stretch and shrink as did other barks, but also had some elasticity when green, or when kept damp. This elasticity, of course, was lost once the bark was allowed to become dry through exposure to air and sunshine, a factor which controlled to some extent the technique of its employment.
Many other barks were employed in bark canoe construction, but in most instances the craft were for temporary or emergency use and were discarded after a short time. Such barks as spruce (Picea), elm (Ulmus), chestnut (Castenea dentata L.), hickory (Carya spp.), basswood (Tilia spp.), and cottonwood (Populus spp.) are said to have been used in bark canoe construction in some parts of North America. Birches other than the paper birch could be used, but most of them produced bark that was thin and otherwise poor and was considered unsuitable for the better types of canoes. Barks other than birch usually had rough surfaces that had to be scraped away, in order to make the material flexible enough for canoe construction. Spruce bark had some of the good qualities of the paper birch bark, but to a far less degree, and was considered at best a mere substitute. Non-resinous barks, because of their structure could not be joined together to gain length, and their characteristic shrinkage and swelling made it virtually impossible to keep them attached to a solid framework for any great length of time.
The material used for "sewing" together pieces of birch bark was most commonly the root of the black spruce (Picea mariana (Mill.) B.S.P.), which grows in much of the area where the paper birch exists. The root of this particular spruce is long but of small diameter; it is tough, durable, and flexible enough for the purpose. The tree usually grows in soft, moist ground, so that the long roots are commonly very close to the surface, where they could easily be dug up with a sharp stick or with the hands. In some areas of favorable growing conditions, the roots of the black spruce could be obtained in lengths up to 20 feet, yet with a maximum diameter no larger than that of a lead pencil.
Other roots could be used in an emergency, such as those of the other spruces, as well as of the northern white-cedar (Thuja occidentalis L.), tamarack (hackmatack or eastern larch) (Laris laricina (Du Roi) K. Koch) and jack pine (pinus banksiana Lamb.), the last named being used extensively by some of the western tribes. Although inferior to the black spruce for sewing, these and other materials were used for sewing bark; even rawhide was employed for some purposes in canoe construction by certain tribes.
Canoes built of non resinous barks were usually lashed, instead of sewn, by thongs of such material as the inner bark of the northern white cedar, basswood, elm, or hickory, for the reason stated earlier. Spruce root was also used for lashings, if readily available. Since sheets of birch bark were joined without employing a needle, the sewing actually could more correctly be termed lacing, rather than stitching. But for the non resinous barks, which could stand little sewing or lacing, perhaps lashing is the better term.
Before steel tools became available to the Indians, the woodwork required in constructing a birch-bark canoe represented great labor, since stone tools having poor cutting characteristics were used. Selection of the proper wood was therefore a vital consideration. In most sections of the bark canoe area, the northern white cedar was the most sought-for wood for canoe construction. This timber had the excellent characteristic of splitting cleanly and readily when dry and well-seasoned. As a result, the Indian could either utilize fallen timber of this species, windblown or torn up in spring floods; with the crude means available he could fell a suitable tree well in advance of his needs; or he could girdle the tree so that it would die and season on the stump and then fell it at his convenience. If split properly, ribs of white cedar could be bent and set in shape by the use of hot water. In many areas the ribs, sheathing, and the gunwale members of bark canoes were made of this wood, as were also the headboards and stem pieces.
See Fig 2 for wood-splitting techniques.
Black spruce was also employed, as it too would split well, although only when green. This wood also required a different direction in splitting than the white cedar. Ribs of black spruce could be bent and set in shape when this was done while the wood was green. In some areas black spruce was used in place of white cedar for all parts of a bark canoe structure.
Hard maple (usually either Acer saccharum Marsh. or A. nigrum Michx.), can be split rather easily while green; this wood was used for the crosspieces or thwarts that hold the gunwales apart and for paddles. Larch, particularly western larch (Larix occidentalis Nutt.), was used in some areas for canoe members. White and black ash (Fraxinus americana L. and F. nigra Marsh.), were also used where suitable wood of these species was available. In the northwest, spruce and various pines were employed, as was also willow (Salix). It should be noted that the use of many woods in bark canoe construction can be identified only in the period after steel tools became available; it must be assumed that the range of selection was much narrower in prehistoric times.
To make a bark cover watertight, it is necessary to coat all seams and to cover all "sewing" with a waterproof material, of which the most favored by the Indians was "spruce gum," the resin obtained from black or white spruce (Picea mariana or P. glauca (Moench) Voss). The resin of the red spruce (Picea rubens Sarg.) was not used, so far as has been discovered. The soft resin was scraped from a fallen tree or from one damaged in summer. Spruce gum could be accumulated by stripping a narrow length of bark from trees early in the spring and then, during warm weather, gathering the resin that appeared at the bottoms of the scars thus made. It was melted or heated in various ways to make it workable and certain materials were usually added to make it durable in use.
See Fig 3 for the stone axed used.
The most important aids to the Indian in canoe construction were his patience, knowledge of the working qualities of materials, his manual skill with the crude cutting, scraping, and boring instruments known to him, and of course fire; time was, perforce, of less importance. The canoe builder had to learn by experience and close observation how to work the material available. The wood-working tools of the stone age were relatively inefficient, but with care and skill could be used with remarkable precision and neatness.
Felling of trees was accomplished by use of a stone axe, hatchet, or adze, combined with the use of fire. The method almost universally employed by primitive people was followed. The tree was first girdled by striking it with the stone tool to loosen and raise the wood fibers and remove the soft green bark. Above this girdle the trunk was daubed all around with wet earth, or preferably clay. A large, hot fire was then built around the base of the tree and, after the loose fibers were burned away and the wood well charred, the char was removed by blows from the stone tool. The process was repeated until the trunk was cut through enough for the tree to fall. The fallen trunk could be cut into sections by employing the same methods, mud being laid on each side of the "cut" to prevent the fire from spreading along the trunk. Fire could also be used to cut down poles and small trees, to cut them into sections, and to sharpen the ends into points to form crude wedges or stakes.
Stone tools were formed by chipping flint, jasper, or other forms of quartz, such as chalcedony, into flakes with sharp edges. This was done by striking the nodule of stone a sharp blow with another stone held in the hand or mounted in a handle of hide or wood to form a stone hammer. The flakes were then shaped by pressing the edges with a horn point—say, part of a deer antler—to force a chip from the flake. The chipping tool was sometimes fitted with a hide or wood handle set at right angles to the tool, so that its head could be hit with a stone or horn hammer. The flake being worked upon, if small, was often held in the hand, which was protected from the slipping of a chipping tool by a pad of rawhide. Heat was not used in chipping, and some Indians took care to keep the flake damp while working it, occasionally burying the flake for a while in moist soil. The cutting edge of a stone tool could be ground by abrasion on a hard piece of granite or on sandstone, but the final degree of sharpness depended upon the qualities of the stone being used as a tool. Slate could be used in tools in spite of its brittleness. In general, stone tools were unsuitable for chopping or whittling wood.
See Fig 4 for a stone hammer, wedge, and knife.
Splitting was done by starting the split at the upper, or small end, of a balk of timber with a maul and a stone wedge or the blade of a stone axe, hatchet, or knife. The stone knives used for this work were not finished tools with wood handles, but rather, as the blade was often damaged in use, selected flakes fitted with hide pads that served as a handle. The tool was usually driven into the wood with blows from a wooden club or maul, the brittle stone tool being protected from damage by a pad of rawhide secured to the top, or head, of the tool. Once the split was started, it could be continued by driving more wedges, or pointed sticks, into the split; this process was continued until the whole balk was divided. White cedar was split into quarters by this method and then the heartwood was split away, the latter being used for canoe structural members. From short balks of the length of the longest rib or perhaps a little more, were split battens equal in thickness to two ribs and in width also equal to two, so that by splitting one batten two ways four finished ribs were produced. The broad faces of the ribs were as nearly parallel to the bark side of the wood as possible, as the ribs would bend satisfactorily toward or away from the bark side only. Black spruce, however, was split in line with the wood rays, from the heart outward toward the bark, so that one of the rib's narrow edges faced the bark side; only in this direction would the wood split readily and only when made this way would the ribs bend without great breakage.
See Fig 5 for wooden mauls, and driving sticks.
Long pieces for sheathing and for the gunwale members were split from white cedar or black spruce. The splitting of such long pieces as these required not only proper selection of clear wood, but also careful manipulation of wood and tools in the operation. Splitting of this kind—say, for ribs in the finish cut—was usually done by first splitting out a batten large enough to form two members. To split it again, a stone knife was tapped into the end grain to start the split at the desired point, which, as has been noted, was always at the upper end of the stick, not at the root end. Once the split was opened, it was continued by use of a sharp-pointed stick and the stone knife; if the split showed a tendency to run off the grain as it opened, it could be controlled by bending the batten, or one of the halves, away from the direction the split was taking. The first rough split usually served to show the worker the splitting characteristics of a piece of wood. This method of finishing frame members in bark canoes accounts for the uneven surfaces that often mark some parts, a wavy grain producing a wave in the surface of the wood when it was finished. If it were desired to produce a partially split piece of wood, such as some tribal groups used for the stems, or in order to allow greater curvature at the ends of the gunwale, the splitting was stopped at the desired point and a tight lashing of rawhide or bark was placed there to form a stop.
The tapering of frames, gunwales, and thwarts and the shaping of paddles were accomplished by splitting away surplus wood along the thin edges and by abrasion and scraping on all edges. Stone scrapers were widely employed; shell could be employed in some areas. Rubbing with an abrasive such as soft sandstone was used when the wood became thoroughly dry; hardwood could often be polished by rubbing it with a large piece of wood, or by use of fine sand held in a rawhide pad. By these means the sharp edges could be rounded off and the final shaping accomplished. Some stone knives could be used to cut wood slowly, saw fashion, and this process appears to have been used to form the thwart ends that in many canoes were tenoned into the gunwales. A stone knife used saw fashion would also cut a bent sapling easily, though slowly. To cut and trim bark a stone knife was employed; to peel bark from a tree, a hatchet, axe, or chisel could be used.
See Fig 6 for a stone scrapper.
Drilling was done by means of a bone awl made from a splinter of the shank-bone of a deer; the blade of this awl had a roughly triangular cross-section. The splinter was held in a wooden handle or in a rawhide grip string with handgrips at each end. The top of the drill was steadied by a block held in the worker's mouth, the top rotating in a hole in the underside of the block. With the bow-drill, however, the block was held in one hand.. The awl was used not only to make holes in wood, but also as the punch to make holes for "sewing" in bark. Large holes were drilled by means of the bow-drill, in which a stone drill-point was rotated back and forth by the bowstring. Some Indians rotated the drill between the palms of their hands.
See Fig 7 for a bow drill.
Peeling the bark from roots and splitting them was done by use of the thumbnail, a stone knife, or a clamshell. Biting was also resorted to. The end of a root could also be split by first pounding it with a stone, using a log or another stone as an anvil, to open the fibers at one end. Splitting a root was usually done by biting to start the split. Once this was done, half was held in the mouth and the other half between the thumb and forefinger of the right hand. Then the two parts were gradually pulled apart with the right hand, while the thumbnail of the left was used to guide the split. If the split showed a tendency to "run off," bending the root away from the direction of the run while continuing the splitting usually served to change the course of the split. If a root was hard to split, the stone knife came into play instead of the thumbnail. When the split reached arm's length, the ends were shifted in hand and mouth and the operation continued.
The use of hot water as an aid in bending wood was well known to some tribal groups before the white man came. Water was placed in a wooden trough, or in a bark basin, and heated to boiling by dropping hot stones into it. Some Indians boiled water in bark utensils by placing them over a fire of hot coals surrounded by stones and earth so that the flame could not reach the highly inflammable bark above the water-level in the dish. Stones were lifted from the fire with wooden tongs made of green saplings bent into a U-shape or made into a spoon-like outline. A straight stick and a forked one, used together, formed another type of tongs. The straight stick was placed in and under the fork; then, by forcing the latter under the stone and bringing the end of the straight stick hard against its top, the stone was held firmly, pincer-fashion.
The wood to be bent was first soaked in the boiling water, or the water was poured over it by means of a birch-bark or other dipper. When the wood was thoroughly soaked with boiling water, bending began, and as it progressed boiling water was almost continuously poured on the wood. When the wood had been bent to a desired form, it was secured in shape by thongs and allowed to cool and dry out, during which it would take a permanent set. Hard bends, as in gunwale ends and stem-pieces, were made by this means, usually after the wood had been split into a number of laminations in the area of the greatest bend. When the piece had been boiled and bent to its required form, the laminations were secured by wrapping them spirally with a thong of inner bark (such as basswood), of roots, or of rawhide.
Flat stones were used to weigh down bark in order to flatten it and prevent curling. Picked up about the canoe-building site, they had one smooth and fairly flat surface so that no harm came to the bark, and were of such size and weight as could be handled easily by the builder. Smooth stones from a stream appear to have been preferred. In preparation for building a canoe, the pins, stakes, and poles which were of only temporary use were cut or burned down in the manner mentioned and stored ready for use. Bark containers were made and filled with spruce gum, and the materials used in making it hard and durable were gathered. The building site was selected in the shade, to prevent the bark from becoming hard and brittle, and on ground that was smooth, clear of outcroppings of stone, and roots, or other obstructions, and firm enough to hold the stakes driven into it. The location was, of course, usually near the water where the canoe was to be launched.
When steel tools became available, the work of the Indian in cutting and shaping wood became much easier but it is doubtful that better workmanship resulted. The steel axe and hatchet made more rapid and far easier than before the felling and cutting up of trees, poles, and sticks; they could also be used in peeling bark.
See Fig 8 for crooked knifes.
The "canoe awl" of the fur trade was a steel awl with a blade triangular or square in cross-section and was sometimes made of an old triangular file of small size. Its blade was locked into a hardwood handle, and it was a modern version of the old bone awl of the bark canoe builders, hence its name.
The plane was also used by modern Indians, but not in white man's fashion, in which the wood is held in a vise and smoothed by sliding the tool forward over the work. The Indian usually fixed the plane upside down on a bench or timber and slid the work over the sole, much as would be done with a power-driven joiner. However, the plane was not very popular among any of the canoe-building Indians.
See Fig 9 for steel canoe awls.
The boring tool most favored by the Indians was the common steel gimlet; if a larger boring tool was desired, an auger of the required diameter was bought and fitted with a removable cross-handle rather than a brace.
One steel tool having much popularity among canoe-building Indians was the pioneer's splitting tool known as the "froe." This was a heavy steel blade, fifteen to twenty inches long, about two inches wide, and nearly a quarter inch thick along its back. One end of the blade ended in a tight loop into which a heavy hardwood handle, about a foot long, was set at right angles to the back edge of the blade, so that, when held in the hand, the blade was cutting edge down, with the handle upright. The froe was driven into the end of a balk of timber to be split by blows from a wooden maul on the back of its blade. Once the split was started, the maul was dropped and the hand that had held it was placed at the end of the blade away from the handle. By twisting the blade with the two hands the split could be forced open. The froe was a most powerful and efficient splitting tool when narrow, short plank, or battens, were required. The balk to be split was usually placed more or less end-up, as its length permitted, in the crotch of a felled tree, so as to hold it steady during the splitting. The pioneer used this tool to make clapboards and riven shingles; the Indian canoe builder found it handy for all splitting.
See Fig 10 for a froe.
Another pioneer tool that became useful to the Indian canoe builder was the "shaving horse." A sort of bench and vise, it was used by Indians in a variety of forms, all based on the same principle of construction. Usually a seven-foot-long bench made of a large log flattened on top was supported by two or four legs, one pair being high enough to raise that end of the bench several feet off the ground to provide a seat for the operator. To the top of the bench was secured a shorter, wedge-shaped piece flattened top and bottom, with one end beveled and fastened to the bench and the other held about 12 inches above it by a support tenoned into the bench about thirty inches from the high end. Through the bench and the shorter piece were cut slots, about four feet from the high end of the bench and aligned to receive an arm pivoted on the bench and extending from the ground to above the upper slot. The arm was shaped to overhang the slot on the front, toward the operator's end of the bench, and on each side. The lower portion of the arm was squared to fit the slot, and a crosspiece was secured to, or through, its lower end.
See Fig 11 for a shaving horse.
The worker sat astraddle the high end of the bench, facing the low end, with his feet on the crosspiece of the pivoted arm. Placing a piece of wood on top of the wedge-shaped piece, close to the head of the pivoted arm, he pushed forward on the crosspiece with his feet, thus forcing the head down hard upon the wood, so that it was held as in a vise. The wood could then be shaved down to a required shape with a drawknife or crooked knife without the necessity of holding the work. A long piece was canted on top of the bench so that the finished part would pass by the body of the worker, and, if it were necessary to shape the full length, it could be reversed.
Nails and tacks eventually came into use, though they were never used in all phases of the construction of a particular canoe. In the last days of bark canoe construction, the bark was tacked to the gunwales and, in areas where a gunwale cap was customarily employed, the cap was often nailed to the top of the gunwales.
The "bucksaw" also came into the hands of the Indians, but the frame of this saw was too awkward to carry, so the Indian usually bought only the blade. With a couple of nails and a bent sapling he could make a very good frame in the woods, when the saw was required. The ends of the sapling were slotted to take the ends of the blade and then drilled crosswise to the slot, so a nail could be inserted to hold the ends of blade and sapling together. With the end of the nail bent over, the frame was locked together and the tension was given to the blade by the bent sapling handle.
See Fig 12 for a buck saw.
The "crooked knife" was the most important and popular steel tool found among the Indians building bark canoes. It was made from a flat steel file with one side worked down to a cutting-edge. The back of the blade thus formed was usually a little less than an eighth of an inch thick. The cutting edge was bevel-form, like that of a drawknife or chisel, with the back face quite flat. The tang of the file was fitted into a handle made of a crotched stick, to one arm of which the tang was attached, while the other projected at a slightly obtuse angle away from the back of the blade. The tang was usually held in place by being bent at its end into a slight hook and let into the handle, where it was secured with sinew lashing; wire later came into use for this lashing. The knife, held with the cutting edge toward the user, was grasped fingers-up with the thumb of the holding hand laid along the part of the handle projecting away from the user. This steadied the knife in cutting. Unlike a jackknife, the crooked knife was not used to whittle but to cut toward the user, and was, in effect, a one-hand drawknife. This form of knife is so satisfactory that it is to this day employed instead of a drawknife by many boat-builders in New Brunswick and Quebec. A variation in the crooked knife has the tip of the blade turned upward on the flat, so that it can be used in hollowing out a wooden bowl or dish. The blades of crooked knives seen are usually about five-eighths inch wide and perhaps five or six inches long. Some are only slightly beveled along the cutting edge; others show this feature very markedly.
Awls, as well as chisels and other stone or bone blades, often had handles on their sides to allow them to be held safely when hit with a hammer. Some of the stone blades and chisels thus took the form of adzes and could be used like them, but only, of course, to cut charred or very soft wood. The sharpening of stone tools followed the same methods used in their original manufacture and was a slow undertaking.
To some Indians an efficient wood-cutting chisel was available in the teeth of the beaver. Each tooth was nearly a quarter inch wide, so two teeth would give a cut of nearly half an inch. The usual practice appears to have been to employ the skull as a handle, though some beaver tooth chisels had wooden handles. As used in making tenons in the gunwales, two holes, of a diameter equal to the desired width, were first drilled close enough together to make the length of the desired tenon, after which the intervening wood, especially if it was white cedar or black spruce, could be readily split out by means of either a beaver tooth or narrow stone chisel.
The maul was merely some form of wooden club; the most common type was made by cutting away part of the length of a small balk to form a handle, the remainder being left to form the head. The swelling of the trunk of a small tree at the ground, where the roots form, was also utilized to give weight and bulk to the head of a maul. It could be hardened by scorching the head in a fire. Another method of pounding and driving was to employ a stone held in one hand or both. Stone hammers were rarely employed, since the maul or a stone held in the hand would serve the purpose.
The birch tree that was to supply the bark was usually selected far in advance of the time of construction. By exploring the birch groves, the builder located a number of trees from which a suitable quantity of bark of the desired quality could be obtained. Samples of the bark of each tree were stripped from the trunk and carefully inspected and tested. If they separated into layers when bent back and forth, the bark was poor. If the "eyes" inside the bark were lumpy, the bark in their vicinity would split too easily; this was also true if they were too close together, but if the eyes on the inside of the bark appeared hollow there was no objection. Bark that was dead white, or the outer surface of which was marked by small strips partly peeled away from the layer below, would be rejected as poor in quality.
Preferably, bark was stripped from the selected trees during a prolonged thaw in winter, particularly one accompanied by rain, or as soon as the sap in the trees had begun to flow in early spring. If this was not possible, "winter" bark, as described on page 14, was used as long as it was obtainable. Only dire necessity forced the Indian to use bark of a poor quality. Fall peeling, after the first frosts, was also practiced in some areas. The work on the tree was done from stages made of small trees whose branches could be used in climbing, or from rough ladders constructed of short rungs lashed to two poles. When steel axes and hatchets were available the tree could be felled, provided care was taken to have it fall on poles laid on the ground to prevent damage to the bark in the fall and to keep the trunk high enough to allow it to be peeled. Felling permitted use of hot water to heat the bark, and thus made peeling possible in colder weather than would permit stripping a standing tree. Felling by burning, however, sometimes resulted in an uncontrolled fall in which the bark could be damaged.
Whether stone or steel knives were used, the bark was cut in the same manner, with the blade held at an angle to make a slashing cut; holding a sharp knife upright, so as to cut square to the surface of the bark, makes the tool stick and jump, and a ragged cut result. A stone or steel axe blade could also very readily be used in cutting bark; with such tools, it was customary to tap the head with a maul to make the cut. It was necessary to make only the longitudinal cut on the trunk of the birch tree, as the bark would split around the tree with the grain at the ends of this cut. Spruce and other barks, however, required both vertical and horizontal cuts.
Once the vertical cut was made to the desired length, one edge of the bark was carefully pried away from the wood with the blade of a knife. Then the removal of the bark could proceed more rapidly. Instead of starting the bark with a knife blade, some Indians used a small stick, one end of which was slightly bent and made into a chisel shape about three-quarters of an inch wide. This was used to pry the bark away, not only along the edge of the vertical cut, but throughout the operation of peeling. Another tool, useful in obtaining "winter" bark, which was difficult to strip from the tree, was a piece of dry, thick birch bark, about a foot square, with one edge cut in a slight round and beveled to a sharp edge. The beveled side was inserted beneath the bark and rocked on its curved cutting edge, thus separating the bark from the wood with less danger of splitting the bark. Spruce and other barks were removed from the tree with the same tools.
After the bark had been removed from the tree, it was handled with great care to avoid splitting it along the grain. Even in quite warm weather, the bark was usually heated slightly with a bark torch to make it flexible; sometimes hot water was applied if the inner rind was not to be used for decoration. Then the sheets were rolled up tightly in the direction of growth of the tree. This made a roll convenient for transporting and also helped to prevent the bark from curling. If the bark was not to be used immediately, it was carefully submerged in water so that it would not dry out before it was fitted to the canoe. Spruce and other resinous barks, which could not be stored, were used as soon as possible after they were stripped from the tree, the rough exterior surface being removed by scraping.
Roots for "sewing" were also gathered, split, and rolled up, then placed in water so they would remain flexible. Sometimes they were boiled as well, just before being used.
The spruce gum was gathered and tempered. Before metal kettles and frying pans became available to the Indians, it was heated in a number of ways. One method was to heat it in a wooden trough with hot stones. As the spruce gum melted easily, great temperature was not required. Stone and pottery containers were also used. Another method was to boil water in a bark container and drop in the spruce gum, which melted and floated on top of the water in such a consistency that it could be skimmed off with a bark spoon or dipper. Chips and dirt were skimmed off the hot gum with a strip of bark or a flat stick.
If stored bark or bark from fallen trees is used, the bark should be heated by soaking in warm water, or by steaming over a fire. Heat warm the sap retained in birch bark even after several months in storage and will render even old bark pliable and flexible to be cut and bent (source: nativetech.org).
See Fig 13 for peeling, rolling, and transporting bark.
Tempering, done after the gum was melted, consisted of adding animal fat and a little finely powdered charcoal. The mixture was then tested by dipping a strip of bark into it and then into cold water. The strip was bent to see if it cracked the spruce gum; if it did, too much tempering material had been added and more gum was required. If no cracking occurred, the gum on the strip was held in the hand for a few moments to see if it became tacky or could be rubbed off the strip; if either occurred, more tempering was needed. The method of tempering had many variations. One was to remelt the gum a number of times; this darkened it and made it harder. Red ochre or vermillion were sometimes added, often together with charcoal made from the willow. Instead of spruce gum, in some areas, pine resin was used, tempered with tallow and sometimes charcoal. The Indians in the East sometimes used remelted spruce gum to which a little tallow had been added, making a light brown or almost transparent mixture. Most tribal groups used gum that was black, or nearly so.
For repair work, when melted spruce gum could not be procured in the usual manner, hard globules and flakes of gum scraped from a fallen spruce tree were used. These could not be easily melted, so they were first chewed thoroughly until soft; then the gum was spread over a seam. This type of gum would not stick well unless it were smoothed with a glowing stick, and hence was used only in emergencies.
It is believed that before steel tools were available birch-bark canoes were commonly built of a number of sheets of bark rather than, as quite often occurred in later times, of only one or two sheets. The greater number of sheets in the early canoes resulted from the difficulty in obtaining large sheets from a standing tree. Comparison of surviving birch-bark canoes suggests that those built of a number of sheets would have contained the better bark, as large sheets often included bark taken from low on the trunk, and this, as has been mentioned, is usually of poorer quality than that higher on the trunk.
It is known that the early Indians carried on some trade in bark canoe building materials, as they did in stone for weapons and tools. Areas in which some materials were scarce or of poor quality might thus obtain replacements from more fortunate areas. Fine quality bark, "sewing" roots, and good spruce gum had trade value, and these items were sold by some of the early fur traders. Paint does not appear to have been used on early canoes, except, in some instances, on the woodwork. This use occurred mostly in the East, particularly among the Beothuks in Newfoundland. Paint was apparently not used on birch bark until it was introduced by white men in the fur trade.
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Graduate Anthropology Society Open Lab Day is back!! Join us March 15th at the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick to learn about archaeological materials and skeletal remains from 2 of UNB’s anthropology field schools! We hope to see you there. #anthropology #AnthropologyDay #provincialarchives #provincialarchivesnb
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La journée " Open Lab " est de retour ! Rejoignez la Société d'Anthropologie des diplômés le 15 mars aux Archives provinciales du Nouveau-Brunswick pour découvrir des matériaux archéologiques et des squelettes qui provenant de deux écoles d'anthropologie de l'UNB ! Nous espérons vous y voir. ... See MoreSee Less
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Postcast Miramichi Links
Week 10 - Joe Ward joins to talk about giants!
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Postcast Miramichi Liens
Semaine 10 - Joe Ward se joint pour parler des géants !
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As John contiues to make his health a priority, The River Remembers with John English will resume in April with some amazing interviews John had with some amazing people.
Information reposted and shared by Friends of Beaubears Island Inc, Senior Historical Correspondent, John English.
Part 1 of a 2 part series
For the love of canoe.
For The Love of Canoe!
Canoes have been part of the Miramichi rural way of life for many centuries, starting with ancient First Nation societies. It is closely synonymous with salmon fishing on our Miramichi rivers and even for basic transportation many years ago. I will explore our collective history of the canoe from very long ago to more recent times. Those that love them, love them a lot.
Early Use of Canoe-like Structures
After 9000 BP, the earth’s crust began isostatic subsidence, a reaction to the isostatic rebound that had
occurred between 12,000 and 9000 BP after the enormous mass of glacial ice had melted. As the shoreline began to be submerged, a great deal of vegetable matter would have been absorbed into the marine ecosystem. Warming began to accelerate as the mid-Holocene climatic optimum approached.
Warm, nutrient-enriched benthic zones could have developed in this scenario. Inevitably abundant marine resources undoubtedly attracted the attention of remnant Late Paleo-Indian populations.
See Fig 1 for the Maritimes at 6000 BP (ca. 6900 calendar years ago) (Shaw 2002).
The more southerly latitude[southern Gulf shores] and connection with New England meant a greater diversity of terrestrial flora and fauna, in conjunction with the riches of the sea shared with their cohorts along the northern Gulf. New tools and technology were devised to exploit these resources, most notably ground stone axes, adzes and gouges used for cutting and shaping wood from the emerging forests. Tuck (1973) suggests that the abundance of such tools in Archaic period sites equates with
production of dugout canoes. These, in turn, facilitated the circulation of goods and ideas around the Gulf.
One of the key factors distinguishing the Archaic period from the subsequent Woodland period (The term used through northeastern North America for the period beginning in the Maritimes about 2700 BP and ending with arrival of Europeans. It is interchangeable with the terms Maritime Woodland period and Ceramic period in the Maritime Peninsula) is the abandonment of the ground and polished gouge (Bourque 2001:61). Ground stone axes and adzes are also more abundant (and often larger) in Late Archaic period sites than in subsequent Woodland sites. None were found at the Enclosure.
One explanation for the decrease in ground-stone tool use is the switch from dugout canoes to birch bark canoes (Snow 1980:209).
The ecology of the Late Archaic period Maritimes was similarto what now prevails in southern New England. When Champlain sailed from the Bay of Fundy to Cape Cod in 1603, he noted the distinctions in watercraft: birch bark canoes in the Maritimes, dugouts in Massachusetts (Biggar 1922:338). The warmer climate there encourages trees suitable for making dugouts to grow to adequate proportions; conversely, it is too warm for the birch used for canoes (Betula papyrifera Marsh.). As the climate
cooled during the Terminal Archaic, the large hickory, elms and chestnuts would have been replaced by birch, beech, and hemlock. Sometime after this, the birch bark canoe appears to replace the dugout.
Early Woodland period
The adoption of the birch bark canoe in the Transitional period helps to explain the subsequent shift in cultural links. Archaic connections with Newfoundland and Labrador dwindle and links are established with peoples to the southwest… The lightweight birch bark canoe is easily carried over portage routes.
This facilitated overland travel and the establishment of trade contacts with interior peoples far to the south and west of the Maritimes.
Links between the Miramichi and points west seem to strengthen with the next pan-Northeastern archaeological complex, Middlesex. In 1908, about a kilometer upstream from the Tozer site, James McKinlay found two shallowly buried skeletons in the sitting position, shrouded in birch bark and accompanied by an array of pre-contact artifacts (Wallis and Wallis 1955:259). Subsequent examination of the artifacts, curated at the British Museum of Mankind, showed similarities with finds at the Middlesex complex Augustine mound (Turnbull 1976, 1986). Lithic artifacts from both sites, including blocked-end tubular pipes, are believed to originate in the Ohio Valley. Copper artifacts probably
originated in the Great Lakes region.
The McKinlay site and Augustine mound point to Miramichi involvement in a far-flung interaction sphere characterized by the circulation of exotic mortuary goods and mound burial practice symbolizing participation in a shared belief system. However, the question is what, if anything, were the people of the Miramichi contributing to the interaction sphere? One possibility is the vehicle that may have enabled the vast trade network: the birch bark canoe.
Late Woodland lithics
As noted earlier, the birch bark canoe enabled establishment of overland transportation routes during the Woodland period. These form a province-wide network that was traveled and mapped over a century ago by W. F. Ganong (1899:212).
Ganong’s map (see Fig 2) shows that the Enclosure is a transportation nexus for the routes up both main branches of the Miramichi as well as the north-south route from the Nepisiguit River to Grand Lake and the lower St. John River. These routes allowed for the acquisition and transport of commodities such as chert for making arrowheads, scrapers and other flaked stone implements. Several types of chert exist among the flaked stone tools recovered at the Enclosure. These would have been brought to the site via the transportation routes mapped by Ganong. Late Woodland sites show an increase in the use of nonlocal cherts (Burke 2001:159; Bourque 2001:92). This can be attributed to the existence of canoe portage routes and an expanding population traveling them.
Fig 2 - important First Nations canoe portage routes, shown by red lines. (Ganong 1899:212).
Source: all of the above text, unless otherwise indicated, is taken from First Nations Archaeology at the Enclosure, Miramichi, NB by Kevin Leonard, Ph.D.
Indian Routes of Travel in New Brunswick
The Indians of New Brunswick, like others of North America, were, within certain limits, great wanderers. For hunting, war, or treaty making, they passed incessantly not only throughout their own territory but over that limit into the lands of other tribes. The Indian tribes of Acadia have never, within historic times, been at war with one another, but they joined in war against other tribes and mingled often with one another for that and other reasons. In facilities for such travel our Indians were exceptionally fortunate, for the province is everywhere intersected by rivers readily navigable by their light canoes. Indeed, I doubt if anywhere else in the world is an equal extent of territory so completely watered by navigable streams, or whether in any other country canoe navigation was ever brought to such a pitch of perfection, or so exclusively relied upon for locomotion. The principal streams of the province head together curiously in pairs, the country is almost invariably easy to travel between their sources, and a route may be found in almost any desired direction. But it was not only this fortunate arrangement of the rivers which made travel easy, but also the way in which the Indian adapted himself to it by the construction of his exquisite birch canoe, a craft which has excited the admiration of all writers from Champlain to our own day, and which is a constant delight to all of us who know it well. A Maliseet [or Mi'kmaq] canoe, which will carry four persons, weighs less than a hundred pounds, and draws but a few inches of water. On the shallow rivers it is used but partly loaded, and then it draws not over three or four inches, and needs a channel of less than two feet in breadth. A skilled canoe man, with a light pole of nine feet in length, can force such a craft up the swiftest of rivers, surmounting rapids and even low falls, guiding it with the greatest nicety among rocks and with exactness into the deepest places. If the water is too shallow in places for even it to float, the Indian covers its bottom with “shoes” or splints of cedar, and thus drags it unharmed over the wet stones. Finally, when the head of the river is reached, he turns it upside down over his head, allowing the middle bar, on which it exactly balances, to rest across his shoulders, and then trots off over the portage path.
The rate at which the Indians could travel upon the rivers depended upon the character of the river channel, its amount of descent, and whether smooth or broken by falls, upon the height of the water, and especially upon whether they went with or against the current. Up such a river as the Tobique they can go but twenty miles a day, though more on a spurt, but they can descend it at the rate of sixty or more miles a day. When the St. John is at freshet height, they could descend a hundred or more miles a day, but could ascend only a fraction of that distance against it. The Indian couriers employed to carry dispatches between Quebec and Nova Scotia in the last century often made remarkable speed. Thus Morris, on his map of 1749, states that they passed from Chignecto to Quebec by the St. John and Ouelle in seven days, a statement almost incredible. Dénonville states that they went by the Riviere du Sud to Port Royal in eight days, which is easier to believe when we recall the swift current of the St. John in spring.
The different rivers of the province differ considerably in the amount of descent from their heads to the sea, and in the freedom of their channels from falls and rapids. Thus the St. John, from every point of view the most important of our ancient routes of travel, although it has a considerable descent, and hence usually a rapid current, is remarkably free from obstructions, the Grand Falls and some rapids above the Allagash being the only real impediments to continuous canoe navigation. Of the other rivers, all of those in the more level parts of the province, particularly those in the great central and eastern carboniferous area, have but little descent and have cut smooth channels from the soft sandstone rock. Such are the Kennebecasis, Petitcodiac, Washademoak, Salmon River, Oromocto, Richibucto, and the Lower Miramichi. Again, the Restigouche, though flowing in a hilly country, has not a great descent, less than 500 feet, and has cut for itself a smooth channel in the soft limestone rocks. On the other hand, the rivers of Charlotte, flowing with considerable descent over hard rocks in shallow valleys obstructed by glacial drift, have rough channels, with many rapids and falls. This is yet better marked in the south branch of Tobique, the Nepisiguit, Upsalquitch, and Little South West Miramichi, which rise in an elevated region of hard rocks, and thus have a large descent usually much obstructed by falls and rapids. In these respects the hardest of all of our rivers for navigation is the Little South West Miramichi, which falls twelve hundred feet, and has several bad falls and very numerous rapids. The Nepisiguit is also a rough river. Green River is continuously rapid, though with a few small falls, while the Madawaska is very smooth and the St. Francis is intermediate. It is clear that in selecting their routes of travel, other things being equal, the rivers of least descent and fewest obstructions would be chosen, even in preference to those somewhat shorter. For this reason, no doubt, the Restigouche has been a favourite from early times.
Another difficulty which the canoemen [or canoewomen] on all of these rivers must face is the low level to which they often fall in summer. Low water, when it cannot be avoided, is met by the Indian in the way already mentioned; he protects the bottom of his canoe by wooden splints and drags it unhurt over the wet stones. But this method is not only slow and laborious, but there are times in exceptionally dry seasons when some of our rivers usually navigable become quite impassable. We cannot, however, judge of these conditions in this respect in prehistoric times by the present, for, as a result of clearing away the forest, many of our rivers in the best settled districts no doubt fall now much below the level they maintained when their valleys were wooded. This is not only confirmed by analogy with other countries, but is illustrated by a comparison of the levels of those rivers flowing today from the wooded parts of the province with those in the settled districts. The former will carry abundant water, while the latter are nearly dry. There are differences in this respect, too, according as the rivers have lakes upon them, storing water, or not. Of course, the degree to which a river held its water up in summer, was an important factor in determining its value as a route of travel. It would be true also that the freshet season in spring, or occasional times in summer and autumn, would allow streams to be navigated which at ordinary times would be impassable, and probably there were portage routes used at such times which could not be ordinarily reached. When the water was low, too, the seacoasts could in some cases be made part of such a route, as from the St. John to Petitcodiac, or from near Bathurst to the St. John, via the Restigouche.
No doubt, an Indian in selecting his route of travel to a given point, where more than one offered, would average up, as a white man would do, the advantages and drawbacks of each for that particular season, taking account of the length of the routes, amount of falls and portaging, the height of the water, etc., and his decision would be a resultant of all the conditions and would be different in different seasons. It is not easy to understand why so many routes from the St. John to Quebec were in use, unless some offered advantages at one time, others at another.
Between the heads of the principal rivers were portage paths. Some of these are but a mile or two long—others longer. Some of these portages are still in use and uninfluenced by civilization. A good type is that between Nictor Lake and Nepisiguit Lake, which I have recently seen. The path is but wide enough to allow a man and canoe to pass. Where it is crossed by newly fallen trees the first passer either cuts them out, steps over them, or goes round, as may be easiest, and his example is followed by the next. In this way the exact line of the path is constantly changing, though in the main its course is kept. No doubt some of those paths are of great antiquity. Gesner states that one of the most used, that between Eel River Lake and North Lake, on the route from the St. John to the Penobscot, had been used so long that the solid rocks had been worn into furrows by the tread of moccasined feet; and Kidder quotes this and comments upon it as probably the most ancient evidence of mankind in New England. A somewhat similar statement is made by Monro as to the Misseguash—Baie Verte portage. I have seen something very similar on the old portage path around Indian Falls on the Nepisiguit, but I am inclined to think it is the hob-nailed and spiked shoes of the lumbermen which have scored these rocks, and not Indian moccasins; and it is altogether likely that this explanation will apply also to the case mentioned by Gesner, whose over-enthusiastic temperament led him into exaggerated statements. In New Brunswick, the lines of regular travel seem to have involved exclusively the rivers and the portage paths between their heads, and there is no evidence whatever of former extensive trails leading from one locality to another through the woods, such as are well known to have existed in Massachusetts. The difference in the distribution and navigability of the rivers amply explain this difference. It is not, of course, to be supposed that the Indians never departed from these routes; in their hunting expeditions they undoubtedly wandered far and wide, and especially in the valleys of the smaller and navigable brooks. Moreover, they undoubtedly had portages used only on rare occasions, and also at times forced their way over between streams where there was no regular route, but in general the main rivers gave them ample facilities for through travel from one part of the province to another, and they had no other method. The birch canoe was the universal vehicle of locomotion to the New Brunswick Indian; it was to him what the pony is to the Indian of the West.
The labour of crossing the portages was always severe, but the Indians took, and take, it philosophically, as they do everything that cannot be helped. While canoe travel in good weather, on full and easy rivers, is altogether charming, it becomes otherwise when low water, long portages and bad weather prevail. We obtain vivid pictures of its hardships from the narratives of St. Valier, and from several of the Jesuit missionaries.
Since many of the portage paths are still in use by Indians, hunters, and lumbermen, their positions are easy to identify, and many of them are marked upon the excellent maps of the Geological Survey. Many others, however, have been long disused, and have been more or less obliterated by settlement, or by roads which follow them, and these are not marked upon our recent maps.
Many of the most ancient portages had distinct names, but I have not recovered any of these. Kidder gives as the ancient Indian name of the Eel River-North Lake Portage, the name Metagmouchchesh (variously spelled by him), and I have heard that more than one was called simply “The Hunters Portage” by the Indians, possibly to distinguish the less important ones used only in hunting from those of the through routes. When Portages are spoken of at this day they are usually given the name of the place towards which they lead; thus, a person on the Tobique would refer to the portage at the head of that river as the Nepisiguit, or the Bathurst Portage, and on the Nepisiguit, he would speak of it as the Tobique Portage. This usage seems to be old, and perhaps is widespread. Thus Bishop Plessis, in his journal of 1812, speaking of the portage between Tracadie and Tabusintac Rivers (the latter leading to Neguac) says (page 169): “We reached a portage of two miles which the people of Tracadie call the Nigauek Portage, and those of Nigauek the Tracadie Portage.”
The situations of many of the old portages are preserved to us in place names. Thus we have Portage Bridge, at the head of the Misseguash; Portage Bank, on the Miramichi, near Boiestown (not on the maps); Portage River, on the Northwest Miramichi, also as a branch of the Tracadie, also west of Point Escuminac, and also south of it; Portage Brook, on the Nepisiguit, leading to the Upsalquitch; Portage Lake, between Long and Serpentine Lakes; Portage Station, on the Intercolonial Railway, Kingston Creek, at the mouth of the Belleisle, was formerly called Portage Creek. Anagance is the Maliseet word for Portage; and Wagan and Wagansis, on the Restigouche and Grand River, are the Micmac for Portage, and a diminutive of it. Portage Island has probably a different origin, as I have elsewhere shown. The word Portage, as applied to a road, however, by no means implies that there was formerly a portage path in that vicinity; for it has been adopted by lumbermen, and is applied by them to the roads over which they haul their supplies to the lumber camps, and in this sense it occurs several times upon our best maps, and is thus used in some books. Moreover, the first roads built by the whites between rivers were called Portages; thus we have the Avery portage from Nashwaak to the Miramichi, and the Brown portage, from Shikatehawk to Miramichi.
Very important testimony upon the location of ancient portage routes is given us not only in the works of Champlain, Lescarbot, Denys and others, but especially by the, (for its time) very fine map of Franquelin-DeMeulles of 1686, reproduced in the preceding monograph of this series, page 364. In many cases, it shows portage-routes by connecting the rivers by a continuous line, as may readily be seen by comparing it with a modern map.
The most important of the Indian routes of travel were along the sea-coasts and along the St. John River, and the latter was even more important than the former. I shall accordingly treat it first in detail, and then pass to consider its communication through its branches with the important inhabited basins, the Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, Petitcodiac, Miramichi, Restigouche, St. Lawrence, at the same time considering the communication of these basins with one another. I have tried to make the following list complete, and think I have missed very few, if any, of the portage routes. [This blog posting does not include this list and other commentaries.]
(Source for the above text: William F. Ganong’s A monograph of historic sites in the province of New Brunswick, as found in the Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada, second series, 1899-1900, johnwood1946.wordpress.com/?s=William+F.+Ganong%E2%80%99s+A+monograph+of+historic+sites+in+the+pr...)
A HISTORY OF NEW BRUNSWICK, For Use in Public Schools in the Year 1903
We can see from a school textbook from 1903 that canoes were presented to primary school New Brunswick students (Figs 3, 4, 5, 6).
Fig 3 – canoe image from NB 1903 schoolbook.
Fig 4 – canoe image from NB 1903 schoolbook.
Fig 5 – canoe image from NB 1903 schoolbook.
Fig 6 – canoe image from NB 1903 schoolbook.
In 1912 canoe-making was practised by a few experts at Burnt Church. Fifteen birch bark canoes were in use there, although there were few on other Reserves (source: CULTURE LOSS AND CULTURE CHANGE AMONG THE MICMAC OF THE CANADIAN MARITIME PROVINCES 1912-1950 Wilson Do Wallis and Ruth Sawtell Wallis)
Photographs of Old NB Canoes
See Fig 7 for Maliseet Men and Canoe, ca. 1863
See Figs 8, 9, 10 of pictures Dr. William Francis Ganong took about 120 years ago.
Fig 8 - Beaver Lodge, with guide and canoe, Portage Brook, Northumberland County.
Fig 9 - Dr. William Francis Ganong, after a Portage, Walkemik Stream, Northumberland County.
Fig 10 - Poling Up Rapids on Miramichi Just Above Mouth of Portage River, Northumberland County
See Fig 11 for a Edwin Tappan Adney Mi’kmaq Restigouche Rough Water Birchbark Canoe.
Canada’s oldest known birchbark canoe (see Fig 12) went to Ireland with a British officer almost 200 years ago. The canoe currently on loan [at the time of writing loaned to the Beaverbrook Art Gallery] from the New Brunswick Museum in St. John was one of 3 built by the Maliseets First Nation people for British Lt. Governor Howard Douglas who took this one to Ireland. The canoe was donated by the National University of Ireland in Galaway in 1847(source: Doug Mackey, pastforward.ca).
Accepting the Governorship of New Brunswick he visited the most remote portions of the colony, laying out roads, raising public buildings, founding agricultural societies, building lighthouses, establishing schools and founding the University of New Brunswick(source: unb.ca).
He was governor during the Miramichi fire of 1825, and his actions during that crisis increased his popularity with the people of the province(source: wikipedia.org).
See Fig 12.5 for a picture of a canoe that was (still is?) displayed at Kings Landing.
Six key Ancient Portage Trails
In 2008, Canoe Kayak New Brunswick -- in collaboration with numerous stakeholders -- set out to awaken this part of our provincial history and re-establish six key Ancient Portage Trails.
The Circuit is the term employed to describe the 800 km canoe route that circumnavigates the interior of the province of New Brunswick. The route uses three of the Ancient Portage Trails restored by Canoe Kayak New Brunswick: the Little Nictau Lake – Bathurst Lake portage trail in Mount Carleton Park, the McKay Brook-Gordon Meadow Brook portage, and the Cains River – Gaspereau River portage.
Completion of the full "Circuit" will take approximately 4 - 6 weeks. However, there are many access points along the route, so it can easily be broken up into many smaller trips. The canoe route is described below in two sections, the section travelling westward from Mount Carlton Provincial Park, and the section travelling eastward from Mount Carlton Provincial Park.
Travelling West from Mount Carlton Provincial Park:
Starting on Little Nictau Lake, paddle down the Little Tobique River to the Tobique River. From here, follow the Tobique River to its confluence with the Saint John River. The route continues down the Saint John, past Fredericton and Oromocto, to the Jemseg River. Upstream travel begins at the Jemseg River where paddlers must travel to its source, Grand Lake. After crossing Grand Lake upstream travel resumes via the Salmon and Gaspereau Rivers. An 8.5 km ancient portage trail connects the Gaspereau and Cains Rivers – or the Saint John and Miramichi River watersheds. Downstream travel resumes on the Cains River, which merges with the Southwest Miramichi River near Blackville, N.B. Travel on the Southwest Miramichi ends at Beaubears Island or the confluence of the Southwest and Northwest Miramichi Rivers.
Westward travel is not uninterrupted, paddlers must portage around three NB Power managed dams – the Tobique Narrows, Beechwood, and Mactaquac Dams.
Travelling East from Mount Carlton Provincial Park:
Paddle across Bathurst Lake, through the Nepisiguit Lakes, and descend the Nepisiguit River to the mouth of Gordon Meadow Brook. Upstream travel begins at Gordon Meadow Brook. Travel 23 km up Gordon Meadow Brook, to an Ancient Portage Trail -- see map above. Cross the 3 km portage trail to McKay Brook, and paddle down McKay Brook to Portage River. Continue down Portage River to the Northwest Miramichi River. Travel down the Northwest Miramichi River to Beaubears Island at the junction of the Northwest Miramichi and Southwest Miramichi Rivers.
Travelling in this direction requires portaging one NB Power managed dam at Nepisiguit Falls. From Mount Carleton Park to Beaubears Island is estimated to take approximately 8 - 10 days.
(source for the above text is: canoekayaknb.com)
See Figs 14 & 15 for maps of the six key ancient portage trails
Fig 14 - six key ancient portage trails.
Fig 15 - six key ancient portage trails. Investigate The Main Southwest Miramichi: A Classic New Brunswick Canoe Trip maritimeoutofdoors.com/2016/08/16/mainsouthwest/
See Fig 16 for mileage on the Main SW Miramichi.
Chestnut Canoes and Canoe Restoration
The Chestnut Canoe Company in Fredericton
See Fig 17 for the Chestnut Canoe Company emblem.
In 1904, the J.C. Risteen Company, a sash and door business owned by a group of local businessmen, began the building of canvas-covered canoes in Fredericton, NB. One year later, the canoe-making section moved to separate quarters where canoes were manufactured under the name of R. Chestnut and Sons. At this time, R. Chestnut and Sons was an established hardware store operated by Henry Chestnut and his sons Harry and Bill Chestnut, descendants of the original Robert Chestnut. In 1907, the Chestnut Canoe Co. was incorporated, and a new brick factory was constructed on York St. In 1909, Henry Chestnut died, leaving control of the company in the hands of his son, Harry G. Chestnut. Maggie Jean Chestnut, the daughter of Harry G. Chestnut, was the last family member to run the business. After her father's death in 1941, she became much more involved in the company, becoming managing director (and later president) in 1943. She ran the business until her death in 1949 (source: canbarchives.ca).
To see additional information on the Chestnut Canoe Company at the Wooden Canoe Museum, an online museum of all things related to wooden canoes:
See also: mynewbrunswick.ca/chestnut-canoe-factory/
See Fig 17.5 for Henry Chestnut, founder of Chestnut Canoe in his roadster with his canoe on top in the early 1930’s.
Restoring a canoe
This canoe (Figs 18, 19, 20) was one of two lightweight pleasure canoes built by Chestnut (the other was an 11’ solo canoe called the Featherweight that weighed about 38 pounds). Before I talk about the canoe, I’d like to clarify the name. According to Roger MacGregor in his book When the Chestnut was in Flower, Henry and William Chestnut were real history buffs. The telegraph code for the 15’ 50-Lb. Special was BOBS and made reference to Lord Roberts, a major figure during the Second Boer War in South Africa. Over the years, as this wide, light-weight canoe became more difficult to keep under the weight limit of 50 lbs. (the average weight was 58 pounds while the carrying capacity was 700 pounds), they changed the name. I have seen a variety of Chestnut catalogues call it Bob’s Special, Bob Special and Bobs Special. So, feel free to take your pick.
If you happen to have a Bobs or have been lucky enough to come across one in need of some TLC, you will notice what a sweet little canoe this is. It paddles like a dream which is surprising for a canoe that is 37” (94 cm) wide. Its bottom has a shallow-arch that reduces the waterline width when paddled with a light load. There is a fair amount of rocker in the ends which adds to its maneuverability. At the same time, it is not difficult to stand up in a Bobs – making it ideal for fly-fishing or general recreational paddling for a less experienced paddler.
One little note here: I am listing all of the dimensions in inches. I apologize to all of you who are working in metric. The canoes were built with imperial measurements originally, so I find it easier and more accurate to stick with this measurement scale.
Inwales –The inwale (see Fig 21) is a length of White Ash or Douglas Fir 15/16” high with the edge grain visible on the top surface. It is fashioned to fit the tumblehome present on most Chestnut canoes. Therefore, the top surface is 9/16” wide while the bottom width is 11/16”. The last 18” or so at each end is tapered down to about ½” wide (top and bottom) along the sides of the decks. All of the transverse components (centre thwart and seats) are attached to the inwales with 10-24 (3/16”) galvanized steel carriage bolts. I replace these with 10-24 silicon-bronze carriage bolts.
The gunwales (see Fig 22) (both inwales and outwales) are pre-bent about 18” from the ends. If you are replacing these components, the wood will have to be soaked for 3 days, heated by pouring boiling water over them and bent onto custom-built forms in order to get a proper fit.
Outwales – The outwales (see Fig 23) are also made of White Ash or Douglas Fir. Depending on when the canoe was built, the outwales may have a chamfered edge on the bottom of the outside surface. Water often gets trapped under the outwales and results in rot on the inside surface of the originals because they assembled the canoe first and then applied paint and varnish. Consequently, the inside surfaces of the outwales are bare wood. Therefore, I usually end up replacing this component. Prior to installation, I seal the wood on all surfaces with a couple of coats of spar varnish. Unlike the original builders, I do all of the painting and varnishing first and then assemble the canoe.
Decks – The decks the Bobs Special (see Fig 24) were made of hardwood – usually maple, white ash or white oak. Sometimes, they used mahogany to help reduce the overall weight. By the time you start restoring your canoe, the decks are often rotted along with the stem-tops (see Fig 25) and inwale-ends. They are attached to the inwales with six 1¾” #8 bronze wood screws. As with the outwales, I help prevent future rot by sealing the decks on all surfaces with a couple of coats of spar varnish. The deck extends about 18” into the canoe from the end.
Stem-Top – You will rarely if ever have to replace the entire stem. However, I rarely see an original stem-top that is not partially or completely rotted away. Because the top 6” or so of the stem is straight, you can usually make the repair without having to pre-bend the wood to fit the original stem-profile.
Keel – The Bob Special had a regular (tapered) keel (see Fig 26) installed. Use a piece of hardwood (the original was ash) and taper each end to 3/8” wide. The overall length is about 13’. It will accept the brass stem-band which is 3/8” wide.
Ribs – The Bobs Special was constructed with so-called “regular” ribs (see Fig 27) (2-3/8” wide) that were ¼” thick instead of the normal 3/8”. They create a light-weight canoe but are not as robust as the regular ribs. You will probably encounter several broken ribs in your canoe restoration.
The edges of the ribs are chamfered in most Bobs Specials. Replicate the angles found in your canoe. Often, the edge closest to the centre of the canoe has tapered ends (11° chamfer) while the edge closest to one end of the canoe is chamfered about 25°.
Planking – The planking (see Fig 28) in Chestnut Canoes was made of either Eastern White Cedar or Western Red Cedar. Although the planks started out at 5/32” thick, you will probably be shaving replacement planks down to match the original planks. Again, this results in a lighter, less robust canoe. You will probably encounter many broken planks in your canoe.
Seats – The seat frames (see Fig 29) are made of ¾” ash, oak or maple that is 1½” wide. Both seats are suspended under the inwales with 10-24 carriage bolts and held in position with 5/8” hardwood dowel. The rear stern seat dowels are 1¾” long while the front dowels are ¾” long. All of the bow seat dowels are ¾” long. The forward edge of the bow seat is about 51½” from the bow-end of the canoe while the forward edge of the stern seat is about 39½” from the stern-end of the canoe.
Centre Thwart – The thwart (see Fig 30) is made of ¾” ash that is 2½” wide. It tapers from the centre to create handle grips on either side that are 2” wide. They were attached directly under the inwales with galvanized steel 10-24 carriage bolts. As with every component in the canoe, I seal the entire thwart with a couple of coats of spar varnish prior to installation and replace the original galvanized steel bolts with silicon bronze bolts.
Source for all of the above text and pictures is: Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes, canoeguybc.wordpress.com
Norman Betts in Doaktown has a shop that restores canoes, and most of them are Chestnut Canoes: www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/chestnut-canoe-restoring-1.6474186
Further information can be found on the shop’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/MiramichiCanoes ... See MoreSee Less
Beaubears Sugarbush Fun
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Amusement de l'érablière Beaubears
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