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The Canoe Story

past, present, future

The Smoke Signals Canoe


The birchbark canoe featured at Smoke Signals is a traditionally built canoe using all natural materials found in the forest around us.  It was built in the summer of 1984 by Master Canoe Builder and craftsman Stanley Sarazin and his students.


As is the tradition of the Algonquin people, respected Elder Stanley Sarazin was passing on the traditional knowledge and skills of our ancestors by teaching a group of First Nation youth the art of birchbark canoe building, just as his father had done before him.  Several canoes were built that summer and this is the last surviving canoe of that vintage. All in all, this canoe represents the handiwork of six of his students as well as that of Stanley himself.


The birchbark canoe is the single most significant tool used by aboriginal peoples and early European explorers to travel the vast expanses of this part of North America.  A canoe could be fashioned by a skilled craftsman using materials readily available in the forest around him.  The Birch bark was sewn together using roots of the spruce tree and reinforced with a lining and ribbing made of split cedar.  The cross bars were made from ash and gave the canoe its strength and the seams were sealed using the pitch or the gum of the spruce tree.  The result was a very buoyant and durable canoe.


At one time every family in Pikwakanagan had had at least one canoe builder.  Algonquin Elder Stanley Sarazin, 1936 - 2006 was the last of the great canoe builders of Pikwakanagan who crafted his birchbark canoes continuously every year.

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