After just one week, a beautiful birchbark canoe made entirely by hand by members of the Mississaugas of Credit First Nation will make its maiden voyage down Boston Creek today.
This unique project brought together hundreds of community members, from children to elders, to learn about the unique art of building a canoe.
Canoe building hasn’t changed much over the millennia.
The means of transportation, used by indigenous peoples for thousands of years, is still built using the same technology as their ancestors, but with different materials.
Whether it’s made from birchbark or steel, the physics and technology remain the same, ensuring a tight, buoyant ride along most bodies of water.
So says canoe building expert Darren Lentz, who partnered with MCFN elder Mark Sault to see community canoes built.
“A few years ago the chief asked me that we should have another canoe,” Sault said. “It was just before Covid.”
So he enlisted the help of Lentz, a manager, who learned to build canoes during his travels in northwestern Ontario.
“I’ve spent the last 25 years learning to build bark canoes, learning from elders, harvesting materials, woodworking, things like that,” Lentz said. “I go to different communities to build. Mark knew me so he brought me to this community.
Lentz is now in high demand.
“I’ve already booked it for next summer,” Sault said, when they’ll be building two more canoes at MCFN.
“It was good for the community to come together,” he said.
Community members young and old helped with “tying” – the process of tying together the birch bark on the hull of the canoe with the cedar planks inside the canoe using ‘a flute made of spruce root.
They got a big piece of birch bark from a tree outside the community because there aren’t big enough birch trees on MCFN, and they used traditional technology, as well as the modern technology, to shape the canoe pieces and fix them together.
The wooden dowels have been shaped by hand and the canoe is decorated with whimsical animal prints, such as a turtle, bear, eagle and moose.
After the Boston Creek trip, community members hope to launch it near the Toronto Islands before taking it home to display at the community center.
The whole construction included four essential elements: community, culture, language and land.
“Everyone shares and comes together as a community to teach their culture, and then the language is shared throughout the building process and it all comes from the land,” Lentz said. “It brings us all together.”
The canoe will be launched at 2452 Second Line Road at 10:30 a.m.