Birchbark Canoe made by an original master

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Blog entry by daltxguy posted 01-31-2012 08:18 AM 4750 reads 4 times favorited 5 comments Add to Favorites Watch

This has to be the most amazing woodworking documentary I have ever seen. At every step, he does something I would never have thought of.

This documentary shows how a canoe is built the old way. C├ęsar Newashish, a 67-year-old Attikamek of the Manawan Reserve north of Montreal, uses only birchbark, cedar splints, spruce roots and gum. Building a canoe solely from the materials that the forest provides may become a lost art, even among the Native peoples whose traditional craft it is. The film is without commentary but text frames appear on the screen in Cree, French and English.

It is 57 min long but you will not be bored for a second watching this craftsman!

This is a film from 1971 and apparently his son Jean-Louis (pictured above in a recent photo and presumably one of the boys also shown in the video) now carries on the tradition of making these in Manawan, Quebec.

Note that while Cesar cuts down the birch tree which he strips of its bark, I have read that the bark can be removed from a living tree and it will not kill it – and the bark will regrow – how’s that for amazing resilience and sustainability?! I suppose without a ladder or other means of getting up high into the trunk of the tree, cutting it down was the only method. On the other hand, many of the other parts of the canoe are built from the birch. ( He carves two paddles from the birch as well)

-- If you can't joint it, bead it!

5 comments so far

View michelletwo's profile


2783 posts in 3752 days

#1 posted 01-31-2012 02:14 PM

thanks for bringing this to our attention. losing the “old crafts” is a shame. What a sense of excitement one must have to make these works of art & have them be useful in one’s life. THANK YOU!

View stefang's profile


17039 posts in 4071 days

#2 posted 01-31-2012 02:30 PM

Thanks Steve. I have seen one of these being made by a native craftsman on tv before, but I will surely watch this one too. It always amazes me what complicated, functional and useful things can be made with the simplest tools and materials straight from the woods. True craftsmanship.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View daltxguy's profile


1373 posts in 4651 days

#3 posted 01-31-2012 09:00 PM

I think anyone watching this will be amazed and wonder why we fuss so much with technical details.

This man uses an axe, a straight knife, a curved knife for most operations including planing, scraping, cleaving, drawknifing, carving and he does all his work on the dirt ground, using it as a workbench.

Bending is done in ingenious ways by cutting thicker strips into thinner strips using a knife! and ‘steam’ bending is accomplished by simply pouring on hot water ( well, the water is a murky color, so not sure what else he has in there, I wish I knew the secrets!)

I hope everyone gets a chance to watch this – it will make you think about your fancy tool collections!

-- If you can't joint it, bead it!

View Bertha's profile


13586 posts in 3430 days

#4 posted 01-31-2012 09:27 PM

I can’t wait to get home and watch this. There’s a film I saw not too long ago. Alone in the Wilderness…something like that. A guy builds a log cabin, etc. It was incredible. Made me feel pretty useless;)

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View WVTODD's profile


120 posts in 3281 days

#5 posted 02-01-2012 10:23 PM

Alone in the wilderness is a great movie, everyone should watch it.

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