In the fall of 2017, canoe builder Chuck Commanda worked at the Canadian Canoe Museum to construct a traditional Kitigan Ziibi-style birch bark canoe.
Just two weeks after they unrolled a six-metre sheet of birch bark in the Museum’s Preserving Skills gallery, Chuck and an enthusiastic team of helpers applied the last coatings of pitch to the seams of a brand-new canoe. As they carried the canoe to the Peterborough Lift Lock for its first paddle, an intoxicating smell of heated spruce gum lingered in the Museum workshop.
Supported by a $5,000 grant from the Community Foundation, the project was open to the public for viewing. For most involved, looking back on the fifteen-day canoe building project would be a blur of guests, groups, media, students and virtual classroom visits from across North America – everyone wanted to witness and share in the project. In total, 545 students engaged learned from the Jiimaan Project either in person or via Skype.
The celebration of Indigenous canoe making traditions has become a potent symbol of cultural survival in the modern age. More than offering simply a means to get around, Indigenous canoe making practices are a celebration of complex and ancient relationships with familiar landscapes and waterways: an environment that is sometimes taken for granted. These rich connections can offer lessons for all Canadians today. And to that end, the completed canoe is now on display in the lobby of the Venture North Building in downtown Peterborough (270 George Street) where it will continue to inspire all Canadians on the path to reconciliation.