Birch Bark Canoe
In October of 2019, the Georgian Bay Anishinaabek Youth led the wiigwaas jiimaanke (birch bark canoe build) at the Sail Parry Sound Sailing School. The focus of the build was to revitalize and celebrate ancestral knowledge, teachings, and practice of building an Anishinaabe wiigwaas jiimaan (Ojibwe birch bark canoe).
GBAY and participants were guided by the expertise of an Anishinaabek canoe building team from throughout the Great Lakes. With community support and the dedication of 850+ participants, the jiimaan was built in 19 intensive and beautiful days.
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The wiigwaas jiimaan (birch bark canoe) is deeply rooted within Anishinaabek (Anishinaabe people) identity and culture. It connects people to the water, to the land, and to each other. A jiimaanke (canoe build) is a group effort, bringing together families and community members of all ages and skills.
Building a jiimaan (canoe) is one of the most complex forms of Anishinaabek science and technology. Over the past 150+ years, the practice of building wiigwaas jiimaanan (birch bark canoes) has been interrupted throughout Anishinaabek territory. This is due to policies of assimilation such as the Indian Act and residential schools. Many Anishinaabek still have little to no access to their traditional lands and resources.
Gikendaasowin loosely translates to learning/knowledge. The jiimaanke encompassed Anishinaabemowin, cultural protocols, and other elements of traditional practices as related to jiimaan construction.
Oshkinigig is made of natural materials that have been harvested by participants and the jiimaanke team, throughout the Great Lakes. The hull is wiigwaas (white birch bark), the ribs are giizhik (cedar), the thwarts are aagimaak (white ash), the lashings and pitch are from the gaawaandaagwaatig (white spruce tree).
The skills gained by participants are specific to the cultural identity of Anishinabek communities throughout the Great Lakes. This includes the development and understanding of trees and plants (characteristics and properties), as well as wood carving and spruce root stitching. The physical skills involved in canoe construction are easily translated into a variety of other Anishinaabe artistic and scientific processes; such as making snowshoes or climate action.
Following Anishinaabek protocols, sustainable harvesting practices were used to build Oshkinigig. Protecting the land and water for future generations is a pillar of Anishinaabe philosophy.
The jiimaanke took place at Sail Parry Sound beginning on October 7th, 2019. The jiimaanke was led by a team of Indigenous youth known as the Georgian Bay Anishinaabek Youth and guided by the expertise of a team of Anishinaabek canoe builders from throughout the Great Lakes. With community support and the dedication of 40+ Parry Sound High School students, 10+ Indigenous youth the jiimaan was built in 19 intensive and beautiful days.
On October 25th, 2019 the ceremony to name and launch Oshkinigig was led by Zahgausgai, John Rice. Zahgausgai is Anishinaabe from Wasauksing First Nation and he is a member of the bear clan. Oshkinigig’s name can be loosely translated to mean “The New Ones”. It tells the story of strong and resilient young Anishinaabek persevering to learn their ancestral ways.
Oshkinigig began as a story Zahgausgai shared with the Georgian Bay Biosphere’s Cultural Advisory Circle. The story is about the importance of the wiigwaas jiimaan and the Anishinaabek connection to the Ziigwaan (Seguin river) that flows through Parry Sound. The building of Oshkinigig was a vision shared by youth, elders and adults alike to revitalize the wiigwaas jiimaan as part of Anishinaabe aadziwin (way of life) and ininemowin (thought/philosophy).
Currently, Oshkinigig is housed at Killbear Provincial Park’s Visitor Centre.
Read more about the building of Oshkinigig here – Parry Sound Indigenous youth canoe build repairs, strengthens relationships
Inquiries regarding Oshkinigig, can be sent directly to Project Coordinator, Kyla Judge, via email at [email protected].
*** Please visit @GBAnishinaabekYouth for project updates ***
Support the 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, odd jobs)
- Donated materials (eg. Food, chairs, tea, coffee)
Financial donations over $20 are eligible for a charitable tax receipt.
Contact Kyla Judge regarding any of these contributions. Miigwech!
Jiimaanke Photo Gallery
Frequently Asked Questions
What does “Anishinaabek” mean?
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”.
What does “Wiigwaas Jiimaanke” mean?
“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.
What is a Wiigwaas Jiimaanke?
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.
How long does is take to build a Wiigwaas Jiimaan?
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 began October 7 and ended October 25th. While it is not quite a full month, the team worked anywhere between 10 – 16 hour days.
Is the Wiigwaas jiimaan made out of birch bark?
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.
How much bark do you need for a Wiigwaas Jiimaanke? What’s the size of bark needed?
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 jiimaan. It is a treaty right for Anishinaabek of Shawanaga First Nation to harvest medicines (otherwise known as natural resources) on Robinson-Huron Treaty lands.
Where and how do you find white birch trees for canoe building?
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.
Will the jiimaan actually be waterproof and float?
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!
I want to support the project, who do I contact?
To support the project, please contact the Indigenous Youth Coordinator, Kyla via email [email protected]
We welcome any financial and in-kind support. Please contact Kyla if you wish to discuss how to best support the community project!
Where can I buy one?
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.