The Canoe Shed

The most common and practical method of inland water transportation during  the fur trade was the birch bark canoe.  Created, developed and crafted by the North American aboriginals from readily available materials from  the Canadian Shield, the canoe was quickly adopted by Europeans as the most practical method of transportation into the interior of North America to meet the needs of commerce and exploration. The Native design and construction was much better suited to the smaller and more rugged waterways of North America than the larger wooden vessels developed in Europe. The light easily portaged canoe could be carried by the crew and was able to carry a huge load relative to the weight of the craft.  Two sizes eventually came into general use for hauling trade goods and furs. -The large 36 foot (10.8 M) Montreal freight canoe (or canot de maître) used on the Ottawa River-Lake Superior route between Montreal and Fort William, and the smaller 24-foot (7.2 M) north canoe (or canot du nord) for inland waters. The Natives and others used smaller canoes 9 to 20 feet for fishing and exploration.

Although voyageurs repaired them frequently while travelling, the life expectancy of a fur trade canoe was short.  Because of this, the North West Company established canoe building and repair centres at key locations,  at Fort William and Rainy Lake were two places the canoes were being built. The materials for birch bark canoe construction were gathered from the forest in the region and were often traded to the Company by the Native's. The bark from the white birch tree was harvested in large  sheets that were sewn together with watape (the peeled root of the spruce tree) to form  the outer shell, and also wood for thwarts (crossbars) and doweling. Eastern White Cedar logs were split into straight grained, light and easily worked wood for ribs,  sheathing, gunwales and stems. Spruce furnished watape (roots) for sewing and binding, and also gum that made seams waterproof when tempered with animal fat.

The canoe-makers at Fort William were both French Canadian and Ojibwa. Native women performed many canoe-building tasks. They collected watape  (spruce roots) for sewing bark; they also sewed and gummed canoes.

Tools
The native builders of the canoe developed different models and methods of construction dependent on available materials and tools. The canoes could be made of other barks than birch but it was preferred as it was flexible and could be sewn into large sheets. The canoe was built with simple tools and often as a community project supervised by the master builder who would have had the trade past down to him.Awl

The bone or horn awl was replaced with a square or triangular metal awl. The corners of the awl would cut a hole in the bark or wood. This made it easier to thread the root through the hole.

Axe
The metal axe made it easier to cut down and split the cedar or spruce logs into long pieces to form the ribs and framework of the canoe.

Crooked Knife
The crooked knife is held in one hand and drawn towards the user while the wood was held in the other hand. This knife was a native design first made in copper than produced by Blacksmiths in steel. The name comes from the crooked handle not from the sometimes curved blade. The blade can also be used to split out larger pieces of wood into thin splits.