Haida Canoe Unfinished
Another interesting thing to look at in Rose Harbour is found in the woods behind the houses. This is an unfinished Haida canoe, left to rot probably 125 or 150 years ago. Haida canoes are made from Western Redcedar logs, which were felled and segmented to the right length and then split in half. Sometimes two canoes could be made from the same log segment. Typically the bottom is shaped first and then they are rolled upright and the inside hollowed out. Once shaped properly they are steamed and the sides are stretched open wide so that they have the appropriate shape to reduce rolling and otherwise increase seaworthiness.
For some insight into Haida canoe making, this article makes an interesting read. For more general information on aboriginal canoe manufacture on the Northwest Coast check out this blog post and this one. In this blog post about making a spruce dugout, Quentin Mackie, one of the leaders of the Kilgii Gwaay project, points out that the technology to make dugout canoes exists at the Kilgii Gwaay site, and even though cedar was not yet present in the area when it was occupied, spruce was. The presence of wedges and wood chips from adzes or chisels at Kilgii Gwaay would suggest that making a canoe like this one might have been done in this area 10,700 years ago, and thousands more times since then.
While some people have hypothesized that this might be the work of bored whaling station workers, it has every sign of being a Haida manufactured canoe. Gwaliga, pictured in some of these photos, comes from a Haida carving family and is a carver too. He explained to us how the bottom is shaped so that when the canoe is steamed open the bottom takes on the correct shape for a finished canoe. This is a very sophisticated technique and would not likely have been known to whaling station workers. On this canoe, which was not completely dug out, the bottom has the right shape to allow steaming it open. In addition, the bow is shaped into the classic form for Haida canoes. So, there is no doubt in our minds it is of Haida manufacture.
One can only speculate about why this canoe was not finished. Perhaps a fatal flaw developed, like a major split. Or maybe a weakness was recognised in the wood that would make the canoe prone to splitting open during use. Possibly the maker died or moved away before it was finished.
Canoes left in the woods are quite rare, but they are found from time to time. I have seen probably 10 of them over the years in all parts of the coast, and indeed in the interior too made of cottonwood or similar species. All the coastal ones are of Redcedar. If these features are older than AD1846, or are part of a site that has some features older than 1846, then they are automatically protected by provincial law. Therefore, archaeologists spend a lot of time in the forests looking for these kinds of features, and other signs of aboriginal forest use such as bark stripped trees (for bark planks and weaving into baskets, clothing, ropes and so on), trees with wood planks split right out of them (for houses), cambium stripped trees (for food, usually hemlock or pine, sometimes spruce for pitch collection), stumps and log remnants (for houses, canoes, poles and other large projects) and so on.
Collectively these are known as culturally modified trees and hundreds of thousands of them have been documented in British Columbia in the past 30 years, and especially the last 15 years since the legislation was changed to protect them. Protection does not necessarily mean preservation in the forest; it does mean that permits are required and that through that system, data must be collected on their types and ages and locations. This is a form of preservation by record before logging or other development takes place. You can find out more about culturally modified trees here (warning – that link is to a large pdf file that takes some time to download).
To see larger views click on any thumbnail below and use the arrows to navigate and escape to return to this page.
For other views of this canoe, see Tansy trying it out for size at the Quimper Hittys post called Archaeology.
This link catalogues my posts about volunteering on the Kilgii Gwaay archaeological site project.
Canon 5Dii, Nikkor-N 24mm/f2.8 lens. ISO1250, EXIF data in the gallery view is incorrect for aperture as the camera cannot record it for the adapted manual lens.