Canoe carving at halfway point

  • Aug. 24, 2007 10:00 a.m.

The three Haida canoes being carved at the Heritage Centre in Skidegate are just about half done. The work is funded by the Gwaii Trust and started in early July. It’s tiring, inspiring and about more than a finished product. “I’m getting paid to relearn what our people have known for a long time. Canoes were major commerce and trade items for the Haida,” said carver Billy Bellis, as the buzz of sanders mingled with the sound of a lone radio.Apprenticeship, collaboration, craftsmanship and pride are just part of what makes the carving process so compelling.The canoes are ceremonial, social and functional. “The basic thing is that they need to be a vessel suitable for riding in the ocean,” said head carver Guujaaw, “There’ll be a personality to each one.” For example, the smallest, carved by Garner Moody, (with apprentices Matt Ridley and Bert Crosby), is going to Rediscovery, suitable to the wilderness project and young people there. The canoes are based on a couple of different models, a sized-down version of LooTaa, modelled after a war canoe, and another old canoe. Still, “there is no template”, said Mr. Moody. Each is adapted to the log the carvers are working with, the discoveries (knots, cracks) they make along the way, and their choices as craftsmen. Like older canoes and LooTaa, which after Expo 86 took 600 miles of traditional Haida trading routes home, Guujaaw thinks these canoes will travel far and to many destinations.The process is also an apprenticeship. “I’m learning a lot about adzing and planes. The planes are different than on a totem pole, the canoe requires wide full length planes.” said Tyler Brown, who recently worked on a pole with Jim Hart. The learning continues even for the master carvers. Mr. Moody, Guujaaw and Mr. Bellis all worked with Bill Reid on different stages of LooTaa. “I should have paid more attention,” smiles Mr. Moody. For Mr. Bellis the canoes are at about the stage where he joined LooTaa. In the final stages the canoes are steamed, traditionally with hot rocks. How do nine men, including apprentices Bert Crosby, Robert Vogstad, Jaalen Edenshaw and Tyler York with just one portable radio agree on what music to carve to? “We just listened to Wild William Wesley”, says Mr. Moody, “and a lot of the time we agree on Rock 101”. “The sophisticated music happens at night,” said Guujaaw.The carvers will be at the Heritage Centre until the end of October.

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