After only one week, a breathtakingly beautiful birchbark canoe made entirely by hand by members of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation will set out on its maiden voyage on Boston Creek today.
The unique project brought hundreds of community members together, from children to elders, to learn about the unique art of building a canoe.
Canoe building hasn’t changed much over the millennia.
The conveyance, used by Indigenous people for thousands of years, is still built using the same technology as their ancestors, only with different materials.
Whether it’s made using birchbark or steel, the physics and technology remain the same, ensuring a leakproof and buoyant ride along most bodies of water.
That’s according to Darren Lentz, an expert canoe builder, who partnered with MCFN elder Mark Sault to conduct the community canoe build.
“A couple years ago, the chief asked me we should have another canoe,” said Sault. “This was just before Covid.”
So he enlisted the help of Lentz, a principal, who learned how to build canoes during his travels in northwestern Ontario.
“I spent the last 25 years learning to build bark canoes, learning off elders, how to harvest materials, how to do wood-working, things like that,” said Lentz. “I go to different communities to build. Mark knew me so he got me to come to this community.”
Lentz is now in high demand.
“I already have him booked for next summer,” said Sault, when they’ll build two more canoes at MCFN.
“It was nice having the community come together,” he said.
Community members both young and old helped with the “lashing” – the process of tying together the birchbark on the hull of the canoe with the cedar planks inside the canoe using a spline made from spruce root.
They sourced a large piece of birch bark from a tree outside the community because there aren’t any birch trees big enough on MCFN, and they used traditional technology, along with modern technology, to shape the canoe pieces and secure it together.
The wooden pegs were shaped by hand and the canoe is decorated with whimsical animal imprints, such as a turtle, bear, eagle and moose.
After the voyage on Boston Creek, community members are hoping to launch it near the Toronto Islands before bringing it back home to be displayed in the community centre.
The whole build encompassed four essential elements: community, culture, language and land.
“Everybody shares and comes together as a community to teach their culture and then the language is shared throughout the building process and everything comes from the land,” said Lentz. “It brings us all together.”
The canoe will be launched at 2452 Second Line Road at 10:30 a.m.