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Alberta Online Encyclopedia


Canoes — Fact Sheet

  • The canoe is regarded as one of the most ingenious inventions. It was developed out of necessity as Aboriginal people used Canada's many waterways for transportation.
  • The canoe was not used nearly as much on the plains as it was throughout the rest of Canada.
  • The birchbark canoe is probably the most well known of the canoe types.
  • The birchbark canoe was not made solely out of birch; white cedar and spruce trees were also used in construction.
  • The birchbark canoe came in many shapes and sizes that reflecting the styles incorporated by the various Aboriginal groups who constructing them.
  • It is said that Champlain was the first European to recognize the ingenuity of the canoe around 1603. The Algonquin crafted canoes were the first that he encountered.
  • The Algonquin canoes were very light and speedy. They often ranged in size from one man canoes to transport canoes that were about 5 meters long.
  • From the design of the Algonquin canoes, the French fur traders developed their own style of canoes known as Canot du Maitre meaning Montreal Canoe. This was a large canoe used on larger waterways. They also developed the smaller Canot du Nord, meaning North Canoe, which was used on smaller waterways.
  • The Canot du Maitre could carry a crew of 8-12 men and their provisions, not to mention more than 4 tonnes of cargo. Paddling this canoe at 45 strokes per minute equates into a speed of 9 km/hour.
  • The Canot du Nord was a smaller yet more manageable canoe as it carried 4-6 men and 1 ½ tonnes of cargo.
  • The onset of the fur trade era introduced the canoe to a new role. Canoes became the primary means for transporting furs and traders.
  • The demand for transportation canoes was an economic benefit for Aboriginal people as they were employed to build the canoes. However, as the demand continued to increase the first canoe building factory was established in 1750 at Trois-Rivières thus replacing the Aboroginal people's efforts. The new canoes became even bigger.


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