This is the story of the canoe, that singular American artifact so little changed over time. Featured here are canoes old and new, from birch bark to dugout to carbon fiber; the people who made them; and the adventures they shared. With features of technology, industry, art, and survival, the canoe carries us deep into the natural and cultural history of North America.
The setting of a frame for a birch-bark canoe involved preparing the ground, driving in stakes, and sliding in the bark and attaching a frame in the general shape of the boat. Photograph taken ca. 1885 at an Ojibwe camp.
Native builders would roll the stripped birch bark into a backpack of sorts, secure it with roots, and carry it back to the canoe-making camp. This individual with the pack is identified as Cheemaun of an Ojibwe tribe in Wisconsin.
In 1939, Ojibwe tribal members at Grand Portage, near the border between the United States and Canada on Lake Superior, completed a birch-bark canoe in the traditional manner as part of a Works Progress Administration arts program. Here a headboard is installed.