The place where the heart of the ca­noe beats

GreenUP: Ji­imaan’ndewem­gad­nong links na­ture, cul­ture

The Peterborough Examiner - - ARTS & LIFE - DAWN POND

The Down­town Vi­brancy Project is now in its sec­ond year and, this year, we hosted many de­sign ses­sions with lo­cal res­i­dents, First Na­tions com­mu­ni­ties and lo­cal busi­ness. We dis­cussed what the ca­noe means to us all and how public art in our down­town could rep­re­sent that con­nec­tion.

In those de­sign ses­sions, we heard about how Peter­bor­ough is known as No­go­ji­wanong (the Place at the Foot of the Rapids), which is part of the ter­ri­to­ries of the Michi Saagiig Anishi­naabe Peo­ples. From pop­u­lar pad­dling and portage routes to ca­noe build­ing, this area is rich with ca­noe his­tory. The cul­ture of the Michi Saagiig Anishi­naabe Peo­ples and their tra­di­tional con­nec­tion with ca­noe travel in this area were themes that our com­mu­nity felt should be rep­re­sented more promi­nently in our down­town. We are thrilled to see this part­ner­ship be­tween the Down­town Busi­ness Im­prove­ment Area (DBIA) and GreenUP’s Depave Par­adise project re­sult in a new pocket park on the cor­ner of King Street and Wa­ter Street. This new green space will soon also show­case two ca­noethemed public art pieces cre­ated by lo­cal Anishi­naabe artist Tia Ca­vanagh. The name of the park was also cre­ated by the com­mu­nity: Ji­imaan’ndewen­gad­nong (“The Place Where the Heart of the Ca­noe Beats”) is a beau­ti­ful Mizi-Zaagi­ing Anishi­naabeg phrase trans­lated by Elder Mary Tay­lor and Jack Hog­garth, cul­tural ar­chiv­ist, both from Curve Lake First Na­tion.

As the Down­town Vi­brancy Project Co-or­di­na­tor, I am priv­i­leged to have lis­tened to many per­sonal sto­ries about ca­noe­ing and peo­ple’s con­nec­tion to wa­ter. Some of these sto­ry­tellers gave per­mis­sion to record and share their sto­ries to a wider au­di­ence. This ar­ti­cle is ded­i­cated to one of their sto­ries.

In­ter­view with Tia Ca­vanagh

Tia Ca­vanagh is the tal­ented artist cre­at­ing the art for the Ji­imaan’ndewem­gad­nong pocket park. Tia is an ac­com­plished artist. She has cre­ated public art in Toronto and re­cently she cre­ated a mu­ral for Trent Univer­sity. We sat down to­gether this spring and I asked what the ca­noe means to her. She shared her ex­pe­ri­ence co-or­ga­niz­ing an in­clu­sive birch­bark ca­noe build in Curve Lake with her friend Made­line Whetung.

“We ap­plied to the On­tario Arts Coun­cil Grant, Indige­nous Ed­u­ca­tion Fund, which was ac­tu­ally only run­ning for one year … It’s im­por­tant to pay peo­ple for their skills. We did find a (birch­bark ca­noe) builder — his name is Chuck Com­manda — who does tons and tons of builds. He’s re­ally quite a pro­ducer and it’s his liveli­hood. And re­ally what was im­por­tant to us was to com­mu­ni­cate to him that we wanted this build to cen­tre on two-spirit and Indige­nous women in the cre­ation of this ca­noe.”

Chuck Com­manda is a mas­ter birch­bark ca­noe builder from the com­mu­nity of Kit­i­gan Zibi, Que. He has been build­ing ca­noes since he was a child as a stu­dent of his highly re­spected grand­par­ents, Mary and Wil­liam Com­manda. He has spent more than 10 years build­ing ca­noes in the tra­di­tional style and teach­ing oth­ers the craft. “Made­line Whetung and I wanted to be his as­sis­tants. We re­ally wanted to learn. It was re­ally about us gain­ing that knowl­edge and then cre­at­ing that op­por­tu­nity for other folks to join in and build and learn as well … We re­ally wanted our own knowl­edge to be up­lifted.“

The sea­son for ca­noe build­ing

“… It was a speedy build. Our builder was on quite a tight time­line and had an­other build sched­uled. That’s how he makes a liv­ing, and ac­quir­ing birch­bark and all that — you can only re­ally do it dur­ing cer­tain times. I mean, there are things that can be made with win­ter bark. But for a birch­bark ca­noe, we re­ally needed to like pre­pare the birch­bark, through­out a warmer tem­per­a­ture. Twenty-five Cel­sius or higher is the best tem­per­a­ture to ac­quire birch­bark for a sum­mer ca­noe … So it’s about two weeks, the build it­self. And re­ally, it was ev­ery day — ev­ery day from nine o’clock to about five.”

An en­dan­gered cul­tural prac­tice

“The birch­bark it­self, we got it and pre­pared it close to Al­go­nquin Park. When we hired the builder, Chuck, ba­si­cally he’s re­spon­si­ble for find­ing that tree. So we were lis­ten­ing in, and ex­pe­ri­enc­ing, and we saw the dif­fi­cul­ties he had in do­ing so. Con­sid­er­ing the qual­ity of birch trees right now is im­por­tant, be­cause cer­tain diseases … are tak­ing over them. We wanted to find one quite big. For most adult peo­ple, it needs to be big enough that you can reach your arm around and not quite touch your hands.“

“Con­sid­er­ing the state of our forests, the kind of dis­ease that some trees are suf­fer­ing from and the fact that now a lot of birch trees, when they get to a cer­tain age, just die, I think it’s be­com­ing more and more rare. Hav­ing only a hand­ful of folks in this area that are able, and that have the knowl­edge, to build a birch­bark ca­noe, cou­pled with the fact that some of these very large and healthy birch trees are re­ally few and far be­tween, there’s this kind of en­dan­gered qual­ity to it, which makes it even more spe­cial.”

Seal­ing the ca­noe

Ca­vanagh told me that, once the ca­noe is built, it needs to be made wa­ter­tight with a nat­u­ral gum sealant made from tree sap. She ex­plained that this process re­quires skill.

“The tree sap is col­lected. Then it has to be cleaned and ren­dered with a cou­ple other things added to it. There are dif­fer­ent recipes out there. And that’s one thing that I’m not that ed­u­cated on mak­ing … but I did see a cou­ple of recipes re­cently that looked to be re­ally good. And it’s re­ally an art form cre­at­ing it.” Ca­vanagh’s favourite les­son from the ca­noe-build­ing ex­pe­ri­ence is the fact that birch­bark ca­noes are made from parts of many tree species.

“There are var­i­ous other trees that go into mak­ing a birch­bark ca­noe. And yet we call it a birch­bark ca­noe, right? Be­cause es­thet­i­cally, you see the birch­bark, but spruce sap comes into it and cedar and hard­wood, like oak. So I think that is what’s re­ally spe­cial to con­sider, that all of these dif­fer­ent trees have dif­fer­ent prop­er­ties that they add to a birch­bark ca­noe.” Ca­vanagh and Whetung’s ca­noe is now built and has been fea­tured in one of Ca­vanagh’s art­works. “Made­line and I would love to do a trip or two. Made­line has a lot of knowl­edge of wa­ter­ways and the lock sys­tem.”

Fol­low @Pt­boGreenUP on so­cial me­dia to be no­ti­fied when au­dio of Ca­vanagh’s story and more ca­noe sto­ries will be avail­able on our web­site:­brancy. When com­pleted, au­dio of these in­ter­views will also be avail­able to vis­i­tors at the Ji­imaan’ndewem­gad­nong pocket park by call­ing the phone num­bers on the park plaques.

This kind of re­mark­able, au­then­tic project doesn’t hap­pen with­out a lot of col­lab­o­ra­tion and gen­er­ous sup­port. First and fore­most, chi mi­ig­wech to Tia Ca­vanagh, Made­line Whetung, Shirley Wil­liams and Terry Mus­grave for shar­ing their sto­ries. Thanks to Nex­i­com and Im­pact Com­mu­ni­ca­tions for do­nat­ing their time and skills to make the au­dio in­ter­views avail­able. Thanks to the sup­port of Lett Ar­chi­tects, En­gage En­gi­neer­ing, Tree House Tim­ber­works, Ac­curex, Coco Paving, Ralph’s Paving, Alderville Black Oak Sa­vanna, The Food Shop, The Sil­ver Bean café and many more. The space it­self has been gen­er­ously made ac­ces­si­ble to the public by Eu­pho­ria Well­ness Spa, and the art in­stal­la­tion was also gen­er­ously spon­sored by Kim and Mark Zip­pel. This project is also part of a larger move­ment led by Green Com­mu­ni­ties Canada and its na­tional Depave Par­adise Ini­tia­tive. Fund­ing for this project was pro­vided by the On­tario Tril­lium Foun­da­tion. The Ji­imaan’ndewem­gad­nong pocket park and Down­town Vi­brancy Project are a part­ner­ship be­tween the Down­town Busi­ness Im­prove­ment Area and GreenUP’s Depave Par­adise project.

If you are in­ter­ested in sup­port­ing the project by do­nat­ing ser­vices or pro­vid­ing spon­sor­ship, please email Dawn Pond, GreenUP’s down­town vi­brancy and de-pave par­adise pro­gram co-or­di­na­tor, at [email protected]


Ear­lier this year, on Na­tional Ca­noe Day (June 26), the Ji­imaan’ndewem­gad­nong project was launched with a group pad­dling to the site from across Lit­tle Lake and the Oton­abee River.

Artist Tia Ca­vanagh (left) joins Kim and Mark Zip­pel in front of a birch­bark ca­noe made by Chuck Com­manda that is cur­rently on dis­play at the en­trance to Peter­bor­ough and the Kawarthas Tourism Visi­tor Cen­tre, The Zip­pels spon­sored the ca­noe art in­stal­la­tion that Ca­vanagh is cur­rently work­ing on.

New benches were re­cently in­stalled at the Ji­imaan’ndewem­gad­nong site. The ca­noe art in­stal­la­tion will be in­stalled later this fall.

Vol­un­teers de-paved and planted the Ji­imaan’ndewem­gad­nong site over the sum­mer of 2019. Later this fall, the pocket park will be com­pleted with the ad­di­tion of a ca­noe art in­stal­la­tion de­signed by lo­cal artist Tia Ca­vanagh.

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