Monday, November 29, 2010

History of the Canoe

I have been asked a few times now why a canoe?  Why not a kayak?  Kayaks are great boats.  I have paddled a variety of these closed boats numerous times, on rivers, lakes, and on the ocean.  They are very efficient in the water, handle wind and waves with ease, and are a joy to paddle.  So why a canoe?

I love that type of boat.  It is reminiscent of the time when I was a hiker/backpacker but then had the second child.  Well what now, that is way to much for two to carry on their backs, kids and all the essentials.  Everything  from child and then children (up to three), extra clothing/cloth diapers, extra toys and small paddles, camping gear and etc... and let us not forget the family dog or two.  You can take an enormous amount of stuff in a canoe.  The water version of the family station wagon.  So I got hooked on this type of craft and I am still hooked.  There is a certain nostalgia, or romance, while trekking in a canoe.  The simple stroke of the paddle, the quiet glide.  I always feel like I am transported back in time, maybe where I was supposed to be from the start?  The modern canoe, except for material, is essentially the same as the earliest described in written record.

Early water craft remains are very limited.  Why?  They were made from raw natural materials that when exposed to the elements quickly returned back to the earth looking much as they would have if not used to build a canoe in the first place.  The most efficient form of the oldest craft known was the bark canoes.  So the earliest reports from white explorers visiting North America lacked detail, but usually give accounts on how this designed impressed them, in both efficiency and speed.  The first reference of a bark canoe was that of a Frenchman named Jacques Cartier in 1535.  The first to describe these magical crafts was Champlain in 1603 where what is now Quebec.  He described them as being 8 to 9 paces long (20 plus feet) and 1 1/2 paces wide (40 plus inches).  They could carry a pipe of wine, that is to say a lot of wine (up to 1000 pounds!)(I will not quite being carrying that much.......just kidding)  What impressed the Europeans even more is that it only took one or two men to carry one of these large vessels, proving to be very easy to move from one water source to the next.

A hundred years or so pass and Europeans adopt this craft from the Native Americans and it is the backbone of North American exploration and the first cargo transport industry, the fur trade.  Thus, the Voyageurs are born.  The first intercontinental passageway is founded utilizing all the lakes and rivers of Canada and northern United States.  If you would look at a map of this Northern Territory and see how much water is there, that is a lot of highways.  This type of craft was in such demand that the world's first canoe factory was built at Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, around 1750.  Mine, built in Old Town, Maine, about 1990.

Since I spoke of why I first got into using a canoe for my wildland experiences.  It only makes sense to include some photos of those why's, my children.  These are a few photos I just found around the house tonight.  They should at least give you an idea of what precious cargo was on board when this particular voyageur, me, was in route.

This is about the age that they would all get loaded up for a trip.

They captained their vessel at a young age, West Branch of the Penobscot River in Maine.

A group shot at one of my favorite places, South Lookout,
Hawk Mountain Sanctuary.  I want to thank Cody, West, and Logan Bauman for bringing me the joys of exploration through the timeless travels by paddle and young hearts.

It comes down to this, I love canoes and how I feel when I am paddling one.  I am in the market for lighter boats as I am growing older (the boats must be getting heavier).  But you will always find me with a canoe stowed somewhere, and sometimes I just like to drive around with one on my roof, just in case!

"What sets a canoeing expedition apart is that it purifies you more rapidly and inescapably than any other."  Pierre Trudeau (1919 - 2000), Canadian Prime Minister

Todd Bauman
(One of the best resources, "Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America" first published in 1868)