Every summer, Salish waterways are filled with the sounds of crowds cheering their favorite canoes. On the water, the pullers strive to out-distance the competition in their sleek boats. They know they are part of a Salish canoe racing heritage going back over a hundred years and of a canoeing legacy of thousands of years. These summer festivals are also a time for Salish and other west coast First Nations groups to gather, engage in friendly competition, and to affirm the continuity and strength of their cultures.
Every summer, Salish waterways are filled with the sounds of crowds cheering their favorite canoes. On the water, the pullers strive to out-distance the competition in their sleek boats. They know they are part of a Salish canoe racing heritage going back over a hundred years and of a canoeing legacy of thousands of years. These summer festivals are also a time for Salish and other west coast First Nations groups to gather, engage in friendly competition, and to affirm the continuity and strength of their cultures.

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

Singles Race

Singles Race at the Stommish Water Festival, Lummi, Washington State, 1995.

Photo: Frederick Lane, Lummi
c. 1995
© 1995 Frederick Lane, Lummi


Some of the crews are members of sports or athletic clubs representing a reserve; some canoes are family owned and raced. Races are held in men’s, women’s and under 16’s divisions. There are also several sizes of boats: single’s canoes, pair’s, six’s and the largest - the eleven’s (also referred to as war canoes).
Some of the crews are members of sports or athletic clubs representing a reserve; some canoes are family owned and raced. Races are held in men’s, women’s and under 16’s divisions. There are also several sizes of boats: single’s canoes, pair’s, six’s and the largest - the eleven’s (also referred to as war canoes).

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

Eleven Man Race

Canoe race underway at the Stommish Water Festival, Lummi Washington State, 1995.

Photo: Frederick Lane, Lummi
c. 1995
© 1995 Frederick Lane, Lummi


c.1962-64 pullers

July c. 1962-64. From left to right (back row) the pullers are: Gerald (Joe) Thomas, Boyd Guss, Stan E. Thomas, Charlie Chapman, Herb W. George, John L. George. Front row,from left to right are: Dale F. George,Ernest I. George, Leonard George.

The Sun Ray Collection. Tsleil-Waututh First Nations

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


Tsleil-Waututh Crew

A successful Tsleil-Waututh crew from May, 1946. From left to right (back row) the pullers are: John L. George, Frank Thomas, Andrew Jack (in suit), Leslie Thomas, Robert (Bobby) George, Ernie N. George, Dan George, Herbert (Paddy) George. Front row, from left to right are: Dennis Thomas, William Thomas, Larry Jack, Ignatius George

The Sun Ray Collection. Tsleil-Waututh First Nations

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


West Saanich No.5

West Saanich No.5 with two of their cups. Photograph ca. 1929. From right to left the pullers are: Bow position. Marshall Henry, owner and carver of this canoe. In his career he carved nine canoes. This was his best canoe, his 5th. 2. Baptiste Paul, He wrestled under the name Chief Thunderbird and traveled the world. 3. Joe Seymour 4. Chris Tom 5. Peter Henry 6. Fred Huston 7. Howard Olson 8. Fred La Tasse 9. Jasper Charlie 10. Joe Bertelman 11. Isaac Bartelman 12. Johnny Sam

Wilson Duff found in the Museum of Anthropology Archives, Caption: Johnny Sam de West Saanich
c. 1929
© Museum of Anthropology Archives


Pullers of the North Vancouver Canoe Club

The proud pullers of the North Vancouver Canoe Club in 1989. From left to right (back row) the pullers are: Mike Billy, Cheryl Martin, Kim Nahanee, Heather Billy, Cedric Billy. Front row, from left to right are: Tracy Mitchell, and Dawn Paul.

photo album taken by Ian Billy

© Mike and Denise Billy from the North Vancouver Canoe Club


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • Explain the significance of canoe racing to Salish Coast peoples with reference to its history
  • Describe the Salish Coast canoe races, in historic and modern times

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