Reg on Canoe

Reg Davidson

Photo: courtesy of Reg Davidson.

© Reg Davidson


"You could get along without anything else on the coast except the canoe. It had to come first and it had to work. I think a great deal of Northwest coast form comes from the canoe form."
-Bill Reid, Haida artist and canoe maker, q’adasgu qiigawaay clan, 1975.

The ancient Haida were expert canoeists. Generations of hard and practical experience made them unsurpassed designers, makers and users of canoes. The rugged, broken coastline of the islands and the bounty of the sea demand a dependence on water transportation to this day. Furthermore, the finest dug-out canoe trees in the world grow on Haida Gwaii--giant sized western red cedar taken from deep within the rainforest have perfect grain.

The skill of Haida canoe makers and the quality of their product was recognized by all neighbouring First Nations. Canoes were their most important export, traded to the Tsimshian, Bella Bella and Tlingit peoples. Fleets of new Haida canoes, loaded with dried halibut, lengths of cedar bark, or potatoes set out across the sometimes treacherous Hecate Straits to trade for oolichan oil, the hides, meat, and horns of mountain goat and sheep, and other ite Read More
"You could get along without anything else on the coast except the canoe. It had to come first and it had to work. I think a great deal of Northwest coast form comes from the canoe form."
-Bill Reid, Haida artist and canoe maker, q’adasgu qiigawaay clan, 1975.

The ancient Haida were expert canoeists. Generations of hard and practical experience made them unsurpassed designers, makers and users of canoes. The rugged, broken coastline of the islands and the bounty of the sea demand a dependence on water transportation to this day. Furthermore, the finest dug-out canoe trees in the world grow on Haida Gwaii--giant sized western red cedar taken from deep within the rainforest have perfect grain.

The skill of Haida canoe makers and the quality of their product was recognized by all neighbouring First Nations. Canoes were their most important export, traded to the Tsimshian, Bella Bella and Tlingit peoples. Fleets of new Haida canoes, loaded with dried halibut, lengths of cedar bark, or potatoes set out across the sometimes treacherous Hecate Straits to trade for oolichan oil, the hides, meat, and horns of mountain goat and sheep, and other items not available on the islands.

Canoes were the vehicles by which marriage alliances and wars were conducted. Invitations to feasts and potlatches, and the arrival of guests came by way of canoe.

© 1998, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Tree

Giant Western Red Cedar.

Photo: Larry Thompson

© Larry Thompson


Haida canoes range in size according to their function. Sealing canoes used by two hunters were approximately 24 feet long, while the ocean-going freight or war canoes were as long as 70 feet, and could accommodate up to 30 paddlers and passengers.

The classic Haida canoe has upswept ends and a hull with streamlined entrances into the flared bow and stern. Most Haida canoes are painted, with a black hull and elaborate paintings on the bow and stern, representing supernatural creatures.
Haida canoes range in size according to their function. Sealing canoes used by two hunters were approximately 24 feet long, while the ocean-going freight or war canoes were as long as 70 feet, and could accommodate up to 30 paddlers and passengers.

The classic Haida canoe has upswept ends and a hull with streamlined entrances into the flared bow and stern. Most Haida canoes are painted, with a black hull and elaborate paintings on the bow and stern, representing supernatural creatures.

© 1998, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Canoes with Clan memebers

Canoes carrying Robert Davidson and clan members arriving at beach in Skidegate for his wedding with Terri-Lynn Williams, 1996.

Photo: Rolf Bettner

© Rolf Bettner


Photo

Canoe at the Haida village of Haina, circa 1880's.

Photo: Royal British Columbia Museum

PN 16036
© Royal British Columbia Museum


Photo fo Canoe

Haida canoe at the Washington State Museum, Seattle Washington, WA.

Photo: Royal British Columbia Museum

© Royal British Columbia Museum


Model

Carved model of Haida canoe with paddlers.

Photo: Royal British Columbia Museum

CPN 12010
© Royal British Columbia Museum


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • Describe the importance of the canoe to Haida society
  • Describe the form and function of the Haida canoe

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