Cover image for The canoe : a living tradition
The canoe : a living tradition
Arima, E. Y. (Eugene Yuji), 1938-
Publication Information:
Toronto Buffalo, N.Y. : Firefly Books, 2002.
Physical Description:
271 pages : illustrations (some color), maps (some color), portraits (some color) ; 28 cm
The realm of the birchbark canoe / John Jennings -- The canoe frontier / John Jennings -- Building birchbark canoes / Rick Nash -- Light craft from the great Northwest / David Finch and Don Gardner -- Vessels of life: Northwest Coast dugouts / Steven C. Brown -- Building dugouts / Eugene Arima -- The kayak and the walrus / Kenneth R. Lister -- Building umiaks / Eugene Arima -- From forest to factory: innovations and mass production / Ted Moores -- Paddling for pleasure in the Northeastern States / Hallie E. Bond -- Fast paddles and fast boats: the origins of canoe racing / C. Fred Johnston -- The scholar: Tappan Adney / John Jennings -- The collector: Kirk Wipper / Gwyneth Hoyle -- The canoe: a living tradition / James Raffan.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
VM353 .C36 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area-Oversize

On Order



The canoe was essential to the early exploration of North America. Today, it is a vital link to the natural environment and vast wilderness, still widely used for recreation, transportation and sport.

The Canoe is the definitive history of the construction and use of the canoe, kayak, dugout and umiak in North America. The book covers the canoe's origins among Native peoples, its quick adoption by European settlers, its development from a working vessel to a recreational craft.

Rare archival images, maps, artwork and stunning photographs of vintage canoes are included. Produced with the support and collaboration of scholars and museums throughout the world, The Canoe also features:

High-tech sport canoes and kayaks used in contemporary Olympic Games 400 beautiful images of canoe craftsmanship Step-by-step photos and explanations for building a traditional bark canoe Profile of the famous model-builder, Tappan Adney Detailed maps, glossary, source list and index.

Author Notes

John Jennings is co-editor of The Canoe in Canadian Cultures and a professor at Trent University. With support from the Canadian Canoe Museum , he brought together 12 experts in canoe and kayak scholarship and culture including Eugene Arima, Hallie E. Bond, Steven C. Brown, David Finch, Don Gardner, Gwenyth Hoyle, Fred Johnston, John Jennings, Kenneth R. Lister, Ted Moores, Rick Nash, and James Raffan to create this book.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

This collection of essays combines history, archaeology, and even a little sociology to create a thoroughly entertaining, beautifully illustrated coffee-table book. The history of the canoe is the history of modern North America in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; the canoe was at once an essential part of business (specifically the fur trade), a pleasure craft for wealthier folk with plenty of leisure time, and a key piece of equipment in the popular sport of racing. This multipurpose craft, seemingly so simple in design, has an old and fascinating history; it was the standard method of transportation for Native people for hundreds of years before Europeans "discovered" North America. Jennings and his coauthors, in conjunction with museums around the world (these museums contributed most of the book's 400-odd photos and drawings), trace the modern evolution of the canoe, from tool to toy, and show how changes in the vessel's function reflected changes in society--for example, the canoe's value as a freight-transporting vessel decreased as larger vessels became more commonplace. An utterly enchanting trip back in time. --David Pitt

Library Journal Review

Canoes are an ancient form of transportation that many have relied on for survival through the centuries. Some are only a few feet long and mere inches in width, and others are behemoths capable of carrying nearly two tons of cargo or 45 people. This tribute is a wonderfully rich volume on their history in North America. Working in association with the staff of the 600-vessel collection of the Candian Canoe Museum of Petersborough, Ontario, 12 experts in the field write text that is primarily concerned with Canada but also details the historical canoes of Alaska, Washington, and the other northern states of the United States. Chapters on kayaks, umiaks (walrus or sealskin outercovering), birchbark, dugout, and construction are adeptly written and wonderfully illustrated with over 400 photographs and maps; 19th-century Native Americans appear plying the waters or building their elegant crafts. This book has a hefty price tag but is highly recommended for northern regional collections and wherever canoeing is popular. Jim Thorsen, Weaverville, NC (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

In this worthy companion to Edwin Tappan Adney and Howard I. Chapelle's The Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America (1964), Jennings has prepared a work suitable for collections in history of pre-European through early Dominion Canada boat-building technologies, or interactions between technology and society, in coffee-table format with more than 350 period and modern photos and design drawings. He details the design and use of bark canoes, dugouts, kayaks, and umiaks of more than 50 pre-European tribes in Canada and the northeastern and northwestern US, including step-by-step photographs of the primitive construction methods for each type. This section is followed by an extensive survey of the development of early patents and manufacturing techniques for commercial dugouts and wooden and wood-and-canvas canoes, primarily in Ontario, New Brunswick, and Maine. The book concludes with descriptions of the development of canoeing clubs in Britain, Canada, and the US, and brief biographies of two men most responsible for preserving examples of and information about early canoe-type craft. Jennings is a professor of history and vice-chair of the Canadian Canoe Museum; some 11 contributors include academics, museum curators, and builders and restorers of primitive watercraft. Excellent bibliography. Some egregious typos. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. General readers; lower-division undergraduates through professionals. G. E. Herrick Maine Maritime Academy



Introduction The canoe is an enduring symbol of wilderness and freedom throughout North America. Hand-made vessels moved people and goods for centuries before Europeans arrived, providing an excellent and practical mode of transportation that developed regionally to serve the needs of the Native peoples. Canoes were used by hunters, travelers, traders and warriors. The canoes of various regions went through many transformations after the Europeans came. In the eighteenth century birchbark canoes grew larger and wider to carry big loads of furs in the exploding fur trade market. Then in 1865 the canoe was made smaller and fitted with decks to become the Rob Roy , a little canoe designed by John MacGregor to carry him on long trips across Europe. In the 1850s the wooden building form was invented, using an overturned dugout as a mold, to create a method of building wooden canoes in quantity to satisfy the growing market of recreational paddlers. Factories sprang up in Peterborough, Ontario, in Maine and in New Brunswick, supplying cedar-strip canoes for surveyors, missionaries, hunters, Mounties and campers. The canoe was made lighter and longer for racing and was sometimes fitted out with a sail. In the latter half of the twentieth century aluminum, Kevlar and fiberglass were used to make canoes and kayaks, and the designs changed once again to accommodate the new materials. But the North American Native canoe went through many transformations long before Samuel de Champlain decided it was the best way to get around in the immense new continent he was exploring. Across North America different Native groups developed the canoe to suit their needs and environment, making their boats from the materials at hand. Birchbark was used in the wide path across the central and northern half of the continent where the tree grew in huge forests that covered the landscape. The inferior elm bark was awkwardly wrapped around a frame further south where birch trees weren't available. In the cold, unforested regions of the Arctic, driftwood, stunted trees and sealskin were used to build kayaks, with the distinctive characteristic of covered decks. Huge red cedars and gigantic spruce were felled to carve dugouts on the wet and rainy west coast. The shape and size of Native watercraft varied according to their environment and purpose. The Mi'kmaqs on the east coast built carefully designed long birchbark canoes with inward sloping upper sides (tumblehome) to maneuver through the swells of the Atlantic Ocean on their fishing expeditions. The Algonquin, Montagnais, Cree and Ojibwa crafted beautiful, featherlight birchbark canoes that were easy to portage over the rough terrain between the rivers of the northeastern and central regions of the birchbark belt. Northwest of Hudson Bay, where trees were stunted, the Dogrib people built small, light canoes, often patching the bark together from birch or spruce trees, because the trees were too small to provide the large sections of bark used in canoe making further south. The Inuit hunted seals in the icy waters of the Arctic in sleek kayaks, boats that were easy to negotiate through the ocean, sturdy enough to carry home heavy loads, but light enough to transport over the ice. Another, lesser-known cousin of the canoe in the north, was the umiak, called the "women's boat": a large, wide boat built on a wooden frame lashed together and covered with sealskin or walrus hide. These were used for whale and big game hunting, war parties and transporting people and their goods over long distances. On the west coast the Native peoples designed their own forms of the ocean-going dugout for whale hunting, fishing and warfare. When the French arrived in the early seventeenth century, they quickly adapted Native canoes to their own use. Soon huge, thirty-six-foot Montreal canoes were being paddled by teams of voyageurs across hundreds of miles, laden with beaver pelts to be made into hats and other products, bound for the European markets. With white settlement the canoe began to have a new role as a recreational vessel, and builders experimented with various methods to produce canoes in quantity. Canoe races were held at local regattas and the American Canoe Association, then the Canadian Canoe Association, were founded, and the classification of boats in races became a science. Many refinements and design innovations were developed to make the boats lighter and faster. The international sport of canoe and kayak racing was born. Anthropologists and historians study canoes to understand the cultures that used them. The materials and building methods and the design of the boats can reveal valuable information about how the Native peoples survived in what was often a very harsh environment. In this book, twelve authors, each an expert in his or her field, write about different canoes, kayaks and umiaks in North America: how they were built, how they were used and how they affected the history of this continent. The design of these boats is described in detail in terms of their function, with the traditional methods of building the craft carefully explained. By their very nature, canoes are transitory. Birchbark and animal skins deteriorate quickly when exposed to the elements. For a long time people did not consider them worthy of preserving, but in the twentieth century a movement began to conserve our history as embodied in the canoe. Two of the contributors to that history are Tappan Adney and Kirk Wipper. Tappan Adney was a scholar who single handedly recorded and saved hundreds of canoe designs. Working with decaying specimens, drawings and oral accounts, he built perfect models. Kirk Wipper, who ran a children's camp in central Ontario, began to rescue canoes from across the continent, and over nearly forty years he built up one of the largest collections of canoes in the world. When it outgrew the log building it was housed in at his camp, the Canadian Canoe Museum was created and a permanent home was found for the collection in Peterborough, Ontario. Many of the vintage canoes from the Canoe Museum grace the pages of this book. Northern birchbarks, Naskapi crooked canoes, Salish dugouts, Greenland kayaks, Peterborough cedar strips and Old Town wood-canvas canoes drift through the chapters, perfect unto themselves, highly functional, energy efficient, lovingly crafted boats that all have a story to tell. Throughout the centuries and its many transformations in North America, the canoe has evolved and endured, a living tradition that continues to serve and delight the people who take it on the water. Excerpted from The Canoe: A Living Tradition by E. Y. Arima All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

The Native Craft
Bark Canoes
The Realm of the Birchbark CanoeJohn Jennings
The Canoe FrontierJohn Jennings
Building Birchbark CanoesRick Nash
Light Craft from the Great NorthwestDavid Finch and Don Gardner
Vessels of Life: Northwest Coast DugoutsSteven C. Brown
Building DugoutsEugene Arima
The Kayak and the WalrusKenneth R. Lister
Building UmiaksEugene Arima
The Recreational Canoe
From Forest to Factory: Innovations and Mass ProductionTed Moores
Paddling for Pleasure in the Northeastern StatesHallie E. Bond
Fast Paddles and Fast Boats: The Origins of Canoe RacingC. Fred Johnston
Preserving the History of the Canoe
The Scholar: Tappan AdneyJohn Jennings
The Collector: Kirk WipperGwyneth Hoyle
The Canoe: A Living TraditionJames Raffan
Sources and Further Reading
Picture Sources
Native Peoples
Growing Area of the Birch Tree in North America
Territory of the Hunter-Gatherer Peoples
The Fur Trade Frontier
Peterborough, Ontario and Surrounding Area
Northeastern United States and Canada