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Wiigwaas Jiimaan

Wiigwaas Jiimaan

Birch Bark Canoe Build

Date: October 7th to October 26th, 2019

Location: Sail Parry Sound Sailing School, 30 Waubuno Rd, Parry Sound, ON.

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The wiigwaas-jiimaan (birch bark canoe) is deeply rooted within Anishinaabek cultural identity and tradition, connecting people to the water, the land, and each other. Building a jiimaan is one of the most complex forms of Anishinaabek craft and technology. 

A Jiimaanke (canoe build) has never been an individual task. It has always been a collective effort, bringing together families and community members of all ages with diverse skill sets. Over the past 150+ years, loss of access to traditional land base and resources, pressures and policies of assimilation, and other powerful forces interrupted the practice of building jiimaanan (canoes) within communities across Anishinaabe Territory.


Gikendaasowin loosely translates to learning/knowledge. The jiimaanke will encompass Anishinaabemowin, cultural protocols, and other elements of traditional practices as related to jiimaan construction.

The set of specific skills to be gained by participants are currently uncommon in contemporary society and are very specific to the cultural history, heritage, and identity of Anishinaabek communities throughout the Great Lakes. These valuable skills include the development of a working knowledge of the properties and characteristics of plants, trees and other regional resources, as well as tactile skills such as wood carving, working with birch bark, and spruce root weaving. These physical skills involved in canoe construction are easily translated into a variety of other traditional Anishinaabe artistic mediums. An emphasis will also be placed on traditional, cultural harvesting practices which support the sustainability, health, and well-being of the region’s rich forests and other unique habitats.

The focus of this project is to revitalize and celebrate the ancestral knowledge, teachings and practice of building an 15 foot Anishinaabe wiigwaas-jiimaan (birch bark canoe).

The jiimaanke is an opportunity to strengthen reciprocal intertribal and inter-agency relationships, engaging community dialogue around relationships and responsibilities to protecting the land and water for future generations.


Oshkinigig is the name of the Wiigwaas Jiimaan, translating to “The new ones”. Currently, Oshkinigig is housed for the winter at the Charles W. Stockey Centre, 2 Bay St. Parry Sound, ON.

Read more about the building of Oshkinigig here – Parry Sound Indigenous youth canoe build repairs, strengthens relationships

Inquiries regarding speaking/presenting about Oshkinigig, can be sent directly to Project Coordinator, Kyla Judge, via email at [email protected]

*** Please visit @GBAnishinaabekYouth for project updates ***

Support this Project

Anishinaabek teachings of reciprocity and sustainability remind us to give back twice as much as we take. We welcome community support! This may include;

  • Financial donations (recommended donation of $25)
  • In-kind support (eg. photography, printing, promotion, marketing)
  • Donated services (eg. transportation, volunteer management, odd jobs)
  • Donated materials (eg. Food, chairs, tea, coffee)

Financial donations over $20 are eligible for a charitable tax receipt. Please visit the GBBR shop for purchasing GBAY sweaters and GBAY t-shirts .

Contact Kyla Judge regarding any of these contributions. Miigwech!

Frequently Asked Questions

In Anishinaabemowin, the Ojibwe language, “Anishinaabe” translates to “the original person”. The “k” at the end of “Anishinaabek” makes the word plural, changing the meaning to “the original people”.

“Wiigwaas Jiimaanke” is Anishinaabemowin, the Ojibwe language, for “birch bark canoe build”.

“Wiigwaas” translates to “birch bark”

“Jiimaan” translates to “canoe”

“ke” means “to build”

Anishinaabemowin is verb based and reflective of the place from which Anishinaabek come from.

A birch bark canoe build is a community project of Anishinaabe gikendaaswin, Anishinaabe knowledge, using traditional techniques, tools and materials, to build a beautiful and functional canoe from Birch, Cedar, Spruce, Pine and Basswood trees.

Working with traditional tools and practices, a wiigwaas jiimaan generally takes about a full month to build. Variances in the time required are contingent upon factors such as the accessibility of suitable resources (location of tree and time spent harvesting), the general skill level and number of participants, as well as the overall size and dimensions of the jiimaan being built.

The GBBR jiimaanke will take place from October 7 to October 25th. While it is not quite a full month, the team will be working anywhere between 10 – 16 hour days.

Yes! The hull of the jiimaan (canoe) is made out of white birch bark. However, the whole jiimaan is NOT made out of white birch bark. The ribs, thwarts, gunwales, and pegs are made from Giizhik mtigak, Cedar trees. Spruce gum is used as pitch to seal the spruce root stitches.

The size of the bark for the hull, and the quantity of bark needed for side panels and patches, depends on the size of the jiimaan.

The sheet of wiigwaas for the hull of the GBBR Jiimaan will be between 15 – 16 feet in length and roughly 5 – 6 feet wide.

Pictured on the left, is the birch tree cut down for the 2018 Shawanaga Jiimaanke. It is a treaty right for Anishinaabek of Shawanaga First Nation to harvest medicines (otherwise known as natural resources) on Robinson-Huron Treaty lands.

For a white birch tree to be used for a jiimaan, the tree should be straight standing and without any branches in the desired area of bark. Those that work in the field of building birch bark canoes, estimate the odds of finding the right tree for a jiimaan, is 1 in 1,000 trees.

However, finding the the right tree for a jiimaanke, takes a lot of time and physical labour walking through the bush. Sometimes, this means travelling from community to community, travelling by water, or even by float plane. Elders and hunters of the territory have the best knowledge of the land.

Yes! The jiimaan will be waterproof AND float. Once someone paddles a wiigwaas jiimaan, it is quite near impossible to want to paddle anything else because of how light and fast the jiimaan is on the water.

After the wiigwaas is sewn together and the gunwales are also sewn with spruce roots, spruce pitch is used to seal the stitchings. Thus, making the jiimaan waterproof.

However, making the spruce pitch requires an incredible amount of experience, as well as extensive knowledge of chemistry and physics because it is made of all natural ingredients. Spruce pitch is a trick of the trade!

The primary contact for the Wiigwaas Jiimaanke, is the Indigenous Youth Coordinator, Kyla. If you wish to support the project, you can email [email protected], or learn more at the GBBR Office at 11 James Street.

We welcome any financial and in-kind support, ranging from materials, supplies, equipment and even food. Please contact Kyla if you wish to discuss how to best support the community project!

We kindly ask that for groups of 5+ people, such as classes or businesses, that wish to attend, register via the group registration link. This is important for the building team to navigate how to best accommodate those participating.

Participants that wish to drop-in, are welcomed between 4pm – 8pm.

Please remember, this is a participatory community event and be prepared to give twice as much as you receive!

Building a Jiimaan takes a lot of natural, physical and financial resources. A Jiimaan is meant to be used. Some canoe builders may decline personal requests for a canoe building project IF the Jiimaan is intended to be a decorative piece rather than a functional vessel that is symbolic of Anishinaabek resilience.

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