Canoes, dug out from cedar logs, were integral to the life of the Salish. As Coastal and riverine dwellers, the waterways were their highways and their main sources of nourishment. With canoes, people were able to set their traps and nets and troll for fish. They were also able to hunt for sea mammals. Canoes were used for the transportation of families and large quantities of goods to and from hunting grounds, for trade, to visit friends and relatives and on raids. Life without canoes was unimaginable.
Canoes, dug out from cedar logs, were integral to the life of the Salish. As Coastal and riverine dwellers, the waterways were their highways and their main sources of nourishment. With canoes, people were able to set their traps and nets and troll for fish. They were also able to hunt for sea mammals. Canoes were used for the transportation of families and large quantities of goods to and from hunting grounds, for trade, to visit friends and relatives and on raids. Life without canoes was unimaginable.

© 2009, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

Poling

Poling allowed a boat to be pushed upstream. Ernie George, Tsleil-Waututh, poles his dugout canoe up the fast moving Indian River, 1930. This canoe does not fit into any of the standard types.

The Sun Ray Collection. Tsleil-Waututh First Nations
c. 1930
© The Sun Ray Collection. Tsleil-Waututh First Nations, 1962-64.


Different styles of canoes were built for different uses, taking into account the very different water conditions in which they were to be used. Most canoes were paddled, but when traveling in shallow rivers they were poled. There were three main types as illustrated in these images.
Different styles of canoes were built for different uses, taking into account the very different water conditions in which they were to be used. Most canoes were paddled, but when traveling in shallow rivers they were poled. There were three main types as illustrated in these images.

© 2009, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

Canoe

The Coast Salish canoe shown here held only one or two people. This postcard dates to the 1890s.

Canadian Heritage Information Network
c. 1890
© Fonds Wilson Duff, Museum of Anthropology Archives,


Coast Salish competitive canoe racing emerged in the mid to late 1800s. The earliest races were held as tourist events using the larger Nuu-chah-nulth style canoes. In 1884, the Canadian Government outlawed the traditional potlatches, ceremonies of great religious and political importance, usually held in the winter months.

Potlaches went from large, public affairs to small more private events. At the same time, the canoe races were gaining in popularity. Dances, salmon barbecues, games and other events were added. Non-First Nations people viewed these events as economic tourism. Salish peoples used these times of gathering for strengthening their sense of community and maintaining their culture. They also used them for public relations with Non-First nations. By the 1930s several of these events had grown to draw many thousands of visitors. Today, the canoeing season lasts from early May to late August/early September.
Coast Salish competitive canoe racing emerged in the mid to late 1800s. The earliest races were held as tourist events using the larger Nuu-chah-nulth style canoes. In 1884, the Canadian Government outlawed the traditional potlatches, ceremonies of great religious and political importance, usually held in the winter months.

Potlaches went from large, public affairs to small more private events. At the same time, the canoe races were gaining in popularity. Dances, salmon barbecues, games and other events were added. Non-First Nations people viewed these events as economic tourism. Salish peoples used these times of gathering for strengthening their sense of community and maintaining their culture. They also used them for public relations with Non-First nations. By the 1930s several of these events had grown to draw many thousands of visitors. Today, the canoeing season lasts from early May to late August/early September.

� 2009, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

Canoe

Guests traveling to potlatches and other feasts traveled in large Nuu-chah-nulth style canoes capable of holding up to 30 people. These canoes belonged to the hundreds of guests attending a potlatch at the Songhees Reserve on Vancouver Island. Photographed by R. Maynard sometime between 1897 and 1910.

Wilson Duff Fonds
Museum of Anthropology
1897 - 1910
© 2009, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • Explain the significance of canoe racing to Salish Coast peoples with reference to its history
  • Describe the origins of Salish canoe racing
  • Explain the importance of canoes to the livelihood and culture of Salish peoples
  • Describe three forms of Salish coast canoe, and their functions

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