The Walrus

Paddling Forward

The artisanal canoe movement marries historical inspiratio­n with modern creativity

- By Colleen Fisher Tully

Pam Wedd and Chuck Commanda are creative powerhouse­s in the canoe-building community. Both look to the Canadian Canoe Museum collection as inspiratio­n, says curator Jeremy Ward. “They can assess everything with a mature eye,” he explains, using historical techniques to evolve the craft into a contempora­ry artform. As an adolescent, Wedd would pull her own canoe down to the shore and paddle out for moments of solitude “and independen­ce,” she muses. Not much has changed for this artisan canoe builder, who still delights in the serenity of open water. “That’s why a wooden canoe is so special,” she says. “It’s the quietest of all.” Wedd founded her Bearwood Canoe Company in 1989. There, she teaches canoe building and restoratio­n, and sells her own creations. She’s also an annual guest instructor at the ccm, leading its woodand-canvas canoe restoratio­n workshop. She says her students come from all walks of life and that, often, multiple generation­s of a family will find common ground through building a craft of their own. For Commanda, constructi­ng canoes as a family is what his Algonquin ancestors have always done “to make the family vehicle,” he explains. As a boy, he learned from his grandmothe­r Mary how to prepare roots and split cedar for traditiona­l birchbark canoes. But it wasn’t until 2010 that he built his own, at the request of his grandfathe­r William, a master canoe builder. After months of work, he showed the almost complete canoe to his grandfathe­r, who reviewed it, caught a mistake and insisted that the entire craft be redone. “He looked over at me and said, ‘ You’ll never forget again,’” Commanda recalls. Since then, he’s made many birchbark canoes for local schools and communitie­s. This past September, Commanda showcased his craft at the ccm, where the work of his grandparen­ts is also on display. But it’s the draw of a brand new project that he always looks forward to most: “Every time we make a canoe, this is what happens: it brings people together, and everybody starts sharing,” he says. “I don’t know how to explain it; you just have to experience it for yourself.”

 ??  ?? Canot du Maître: Building a 36 ft. Voyageur Canoe was a building project at the museum in 2003.
Canot du Maître: Building a 36 ft. Voyageur Canoe was a building project at the museum in 2003.

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