Final canoe steaming takes place in Skidegate

  • Jul. 9, 2008 8:00 a.m.

By Heather RamsayIt was carved in one shape with the expectation that it will take on another, says Guujaaw of the cedar canoe he successfully steamed last week. The ancient design of the Haida sea-faring canoes didn’t evolve, he says, it was given to his ancestors by the supernaturals. One of the key components of this design involves spreading the sides of the canoe by first softening the pliable red cedar with steam. So rocks were heated in a big fire on the beach at the Haida Heritage Centre on July 2 starting around 6 pm, and carried to the 36-foot vessel. A layer of cedar boughs and seawater lined the bottom and with the hot rocks in place the canoe was wrapped in a tarp. An hour later with over 100 people witnessing the event, Guujaaw and his son Jaalen Edenshaw placed boards between the gunnels to widen the boat and then, as an extra precaution, placed more hot rocks to steam the boat again. Guujaaw says the steaming not only spreads the gunnels, but also ensures the shape swings into one long swoop and gives the bottom a rockable curve. “That gives it the ability to pivot and turn,” he says. Guujaaw, who worked on the prototype for Bill Reid’s 50-foot Loo Taa, says he and others had to do a lot of research to uncover the secrets of building a successful Haida canoe before starting that project in the mid-1980s. It had been 60 years since a canoe had been completed on the islands before that and Guujaaw was able to speak with people who had been there. He and Captain Gold also visited around 40 different canoes found in different stages of development in the forests of Haida Gwaii and learned more clues about the process. Blueprints of old canoes made by a shipwright revealed that the boats were true to within 1/16th of an inch by any measure. Guujaaw also learned that when Europeans first encountered Haida canoes in the late 1700s, no other boats had flared prows. The Haida design, which provides better displacement, speed and maneuverability, has become the standard for boats today, he said. Although he tried not to advertise the time that the steaming would occur, word spread quickly and many people gathered. “It’s not really a thing where you want a bunch of people around,” he said. Although he has worked on others, this was the first canoe Guujaaw was completely in charge of, so as any canoe maker, he was worried about the cedar cracking during the steaming. “It’s probably the biggest test you put yourself through when you do these things,” he said. Guujaaw’s canoe was the third and final canoe to be steamed as part of the Skidegate Band Council’s canoe project. Master carvers Guujaaw, Garner Moody and Bill Bellis each worked with their own teams to create three canoes that will be showcased at the opening of the Haida Heritage Centre. The canoes will also be available for use at community events like Skidegate Days and for families to use on overnight trips. The next steps for Guujaaw’s canoe include putting in seats, painting it and making paddles.

Just Posted

Rediscovery co-founder Thom Henley returns to Haida Gwaii with new memoir

Henley to speak in Old Massett Thursday night and in Queen Charlotte on Friday

Overnight fire destroys home in Tlell

Tlell firefighters are having a busy year

Crime Stoppers launches across Haida Gwaii

They aren’t the police, and they don’t want to know who you… Continue reading

Queen Charlotte set for first election contest since 2011

Candidates Alan Moore and Devin Rachar to join a friendly debate Thursday night at Junebug Café

VIDEO: Rare comic showing Superman’s 1st appearance to be auctioned

The 1938 comic features Superman hoisting a car over his head

‘An officer and a gentleman’: Const. John Davidson is laid to rest

Thousands attend memorial service for slain Abbotsford Police officer

VIDEO: Coquihalla closed both directions near Merritt

Detours are available via Hwy. 8 and Hwy. 1

VIDEO: The Last Jedi is going to be the longest ‘Star Wars’ movie yet

Newest movie in the franchise will beat Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones

REPLAY: B.C. this week in video

In case you missed it, here’s a look at replay-worthy highlights from across the province this week.

PHOTOS: Procession and funeral for Const. John Davidson

Thousands attended celebration of life for Abbotsford police officer

B.C. Liberal leadership candidates debate different paths for party

Third debate held Sunday, Nov. 19 at Nanaimo’s Vancouver Island Conference Centre

Apology to Canadians persecuted for being gay coming Nov. 28: Trudeau

Thousands were fired from the military, RCMP and public service because of their sexual orientation

LIVE: BC Liberals kick off leadership debate in Nanaimo

Candidates’ forum is at noon at Vancouver Island Conference Centre

Most Read