Depicted here is a 1/5 scale model of a typical 30ft. Hudson's Bay Co. Fur Trade Canoe from the mid-19th century, built by Ted Behne from New Jersey, U.S.A. Ted selected this canoe from a picture in Bark Canoes: The art and obsession of Tappan Adney.
The book has colour pictures of the 1/5-scale models (all 110 of them) of bark canoes in the Adney Collection of The Mariners' Museum, Newport News, VA. These models represent 35 different tribal styles and are now a priceless resource, because most are no longer being built by native people. Adney wrote a book, The Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America, to accompany his models and to explain the history and various construction methods for different types and styles. There is no drawing of this particular canoe in Adney's book, so a visit was arranged to the museum to take detailed photos and dimensions directly from Adney's original model.
In the wilderness of Canada, in the days before roads, cars, trains, or planes, the fur trade canoe sustained outposts of civilization deep in the interior. Strong enough to carry substantial cargoes, yet light enough to be easily portaged, it enabled voyageurs to make the round trip to distant outposts and back before the annual freeze-up. The trading posts grew into settlements and the settlements developed into regional governments, which eventually evolved into a nation. Thus, it has been said that Canada is the only country in the world that owes its existence to a boat.
The canoe modelled here is a 30ft express canoe, made narrow and fast to carry VIP passengers and/or urgent cargo at top speed. It is a faithful replica of a model made by Tappan Adney in 1928, now in the collection of The Mariners' Museum, Newport News, VA. The model is more than 6ft long.
Fur Trade Canoes were the long-haul trucks of their day. They carried tons of cargo between deep water ports and the remote interior where native people trapped fur-bearing animals for a living. Some were still in use as late as the 1920s. The largest of these heavy-duty watercraft measured 38ft long by 6ft beam and 3ft deep. They could carry up to four tons gwt, including three tons of cargo, plus up to 12 paddlers and their personal gear.
The fabulously profitable fur trade, which swapped sustenance goods like flour, beans, and salt pork for luxury furs, continued for nearly 240 years. At portages, voyageurs would carry up to 180lbs each, making repeat trips until the entire cargo and canoe were ready to be relaunched. In the picture, the miniature barrels were cut on a computer-controlled milling machine and finished with painted and inscribed details. The miniature fur bundles represent furs that were compressed into 40lb parcels so portage weight could be calculated at a glance. Each voyageur also had their own kit bag, filled with clothing and other personal belongings.
A long, thin set of floorboards prevented rib damage from hard-edged cargo like barrels or boxes. Seats were provided for VIP passengers. Passengers normally sat on their personal kit bags as they paddled.
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