THE HISTORY OF THE CANOE
Canoes were developed over the course of thousands of years by
the native peoples of North America. The word 'canoe' originiated from the word 'kenu' - meaning dugout. These seagoing boats were used by the
Carib Indians of the Caribbean islands, and were made of
large tree trunks which were shaped and hollowed, and were strong
enough to travel between the islands.
This painting, entitled Shooting The Rapids,
shows the birchbark canoe which became popular among fur traders and explorers.
Photo from Public Archives of Canada.
North American Indians are responsible for creating the more
well-known version of the canoe - a frame of wooden ribs covered with the lightweight bark of birch trees, and sometimes elm or cedar trees. These boats, which have remained virtually unchanged in design for thousands of years, proved to be ideal for travelling the numerous streams, rivers
and lakes of North America.
Birchbark was the perfect choice to build canoes because, not only was
it lightweight and smooth, but it was also waterproof and resilient. As well,
the birch tree was found in almost every area of Canada, except for the western
subarctic region, where spruce bark had to fill in as a substitute.
The joints of the canoes were held together by the root of the white pine and
then made waterproof by applying hot pine or spruce resin.
As the commerce of early North America grew, so did the need for canoes. The
fur trade became so large, in fact, that the French set up the world's first
known canoe factory at Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, around the year 1750. Many of
the canoes that fur traders used were capable of carrying a crew of up to 12
people and a cargo weighing around 2400 kilograms.
Two Types of Canoes
There are two types of canoes, the K-boat, or kayak, a closed decked
vessel, is generally meant for the use of one person and is propelled by a
single paddle with a blade at either end.
The second type of canoe is
the more traditional C-boat, or Canadian. The C-boat is manufactured from many
different materials, ranging from wood to kevlar. This type of canoe is usually
around 17 feet long, a different weight depending on the material used to build
it, and meant for two people. The canoeists each use a paddle with a single
The history of Canadian wilderness canoeing has a cast of thousands. To many, Bill Mason rightfully stands as the embodiment of everything about canoeing. But before Bill was on the scene there was a group of gentlemen paddlers who were dubbed by the press "The Voyageurs" after the early fur traders. They began their canoeing exploits without much fanfare but by the time they were done they had influenced, directly or indirectly, a whole generation of paddlers.