Monday, November 26, 2012

César’s Birch Bark Canoe

In the early 1970s I was living in Southern Michigan spending most of my free time wandering the deciduous forests and visiting the few people I could find knowledgeable in primitive technologies.  I was supposed to be in college but found traditional education boring and, besides, I was of the type who preferred being left alone to read in a library than to sit and endure a professor’s lecture.  Having grown up in the Dark Ages when kids had to make their own fun instead of buying it at the store or fixated to some computer game I built my own push carts and model rockets and made knives and tomahawks (I grew up next to a blacksmith shop) and as a teenager I roamed the woods learning to identify native plants, hunt and track animals, and everything I could on woodcraft and primitive skills.

But oh how I wish I could have met César Newashish.  César was a Cree Indian who made birch bark canoes. And just to think that when the following film of him making one of his canoes was made I was living only a few hundred miles to the south.  I could have driven to his home in a day.  Maybe he would have allowed me to watch him make a canoe.  Perhaps I might have even been given a chance to help.  If you watch the film, then please note his expertise at using a crooked knife.  Also note that he uses no sophisticated electronic machinery but only hand tools.  His equipment consists of a pocketknife, a butcher’s knife, a handsaw, hand drill, hammer, awl, axe, and his crooked knife.  His crooked knife looks traditional in that the blade appears attached to the handle with cordage and the blade itself was probably a mill file annealed, shaped, heat treated and then tempered into a knife.  The “crook” looks well used.  The handle is crude and seems to have been made from a piece of board.  The blade length looks around 4.5 inches or thereabouts.  Actually, I think he was using two crooked knives in the film.  One of the knives seems to have been made from a six-inch mill file and the other from an eight-inch mill file.  See if you can tell the difference.  Some have suggested he might have used two pocketknives but I have not seen that when I’ve watched the film.  Some years back I ordered the DVD and I have watched the documentary dozens of times.  I learn something new each time I watch.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

You can watch the film here:

Or here: