Friday, August 26, 2011

Eastern Cree Crooked Canoe

Crooked Canoes
Birch Bark Canoes of the Ungava-Cree, Eastern or Swamp-Cree, Montaganais, & Naskapi

The "Eastern Cree" canoe, as defined by Adney and Chapelle , was used not only by the people who are referred to as the Eastern Cree, but also by the Montagnais and Naskapi. It was, in other words, the canoe common to all the Indians of the Labrador-Ungava peninsula. Some of the distinguishing features of this type of canoe were the external stem battens that were used instead of an internal stem-piece to stiffen the ends, the "peak" created by "breaking" the battens at the top of the stems, the attachment of bark to the main gunwales by means of continuous lashing, and the absence of outwales.

The appearance of the traditional Eastern Cree canoe underwent some modifications with the adoption of two new materials.... iron nails and canvas. When nails were first employed in the construction of bark canoes, they were used mainly to secure thwarts, bark covering and topwales to the main gunwales. In these applications they replaced both continuous lashing of split spruce roots, which had been used to hold the covering in place, and also the wooden pegs, which were used to secure the topwales. 

A. A. Chesterfield has certainly captured in his photographs the freedom and mobility of the Cree. Unique in design, they were regarded by their builders as living things that became animated under their hands. One can almost hear the builder, seeing the canoe come alive before him.

Eastern Cree canoes arriving at the fort at the mouth of the Great Whale River on the eastern side of Hudson Bay in 1903. Here is a dramatic example of people using very different canoes for different purposes. The canoe in the foreground, a crooked canoe, would not have been of much use for carrying heavy loads, but would turn on a dime in rapids. The canoe in the background, with the flatter bottom, could carry substantial loads safely across a windy lake. Observation of canoes built by the Montagnais of these regions demonstrates that the bark used for the hull covers was of excellent quality, with one sheet used for the bottom.

Indians arriving at Fort. G.W.R. 1903

A Cree/Montagnais crooked canoe under construction about 1900. The builder in the middle is holding his crooked knife in his teeth. The bark covering and the gunwales are put in place before the sheathing and ribs are installed. The man in the foreground is standing inside a windbreak which probably protected the fire used to heat the water necessary for bending the wood. In order to achieve the extreme rocker in this canoe, the ends of the building frame have been blocked up to a great height by building up the earth bed at each end with piles of packed earth or sod patches.

The stunted birch trees of Ungava were too small to provide adequate covering for the Cree Canoes. Even so, Chesterfield's photographs reveal how many seams were necessary as the bark was pieced together or gored because of the curvature of the bottom. When canvas came into use a few years after these photos were made, the shape of the canoe was altered by decreasing the rocker so that a single fold of material with a minimum of seams could be used. Because the Eastern Cree ranged over such an extensive area during the winter, they could never be sure in the fall of their departure point for the coast when spring came around, and thus new canoes had to be built each year. Canvas had the advantage of being portable and capable of being reused after the canoe was abandoned in the late fall.

A. P. Low photo, Crooked canoe at Ft. George in 1888

    Crooked canoe photographed at Great Whale River, c. 1903. The following (7) A. A. Chesterfield in the District of Ungava, 1901-4 photos are from "A Fur Trader's Photographs", William C. James, 1985

Four canoes arriving at Great Whale River, By the second week of June, or about a week after the river was last clear of ice, the first canoes of Indians began to arrive at the post. There the cree traded the furs they had acquired the previous winter. They remained around the post for several weeks during summer, and in September left for the interior.

Cree Indian camp, Fort George, 1902

Mending a canoe, Here a canoe is being mended. The fire is used to soften gum or pitch for the repair of seams.

Canoes at the shore, Great Whale River

A family of eight in a crooked canoe at Great Whale River

Canoes departing from the HBC post at Great Whale, heading up river

Cree Encampment, Repairing Canoe

An Eastern Cree encampment at Oxford House, Manitoba, 1890


Cree Indians Traveling

Building canvas covered canoes in a traditional style

Heading into the bush

Note the snowshoes in the middle of this family canoe

These are Naskapi canvas-covered canoes <> Kativik, Quebec, Canada

Contents from my unpublished manuscript...
BARK CANOES  Wiigwaasi-Jiimaan
Vintage Canoe Images From The Past

Cree Crooked Canoe, Mariners Museum, photos by Ted Behne

Naskapi Birch Bark Canoe, Based on a Geological Survey of Canada photograph by A. P. Low in 1912 taken at the Hudson's Bay Company post at Ft. George, Quebec. This is a very good example of the true crooked canoe. Some crooked canoes were even more extreme than this one. The many pieces of bark reflect the small birch trees of the northern location. This is one of Tappan Adney's most refined 1/5 scale models, length...39" width...8"   photo and text adapted from BARK CANOES, The Art and Obsession of Tappan Adney, John Jennings, 2004

Cree-style Crooked Canoe built by Ferdy Goode, August 2011, length...15' 4"  width...34"  depth...13"

Theresa paddling at the Bittersweet Wild Lakes Area

1 comment:

  1. BEAUTIFUL PICTURES. Do you have any of Algonquin canoes around Lake Abitibi? Thanks,