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 outer hulls of bark canoes were often engraved with symbols, animal silhouettes, and geometric shapes. Bark collected in the winter was purportedly better for such etchings than summer bark. Edwin Tappan Adney featured these designs on a canoe built in Old Town, Maine and exhibited at the New York Sportsman’s Show in 1897.
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.