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First Nations, Metis and Inuit students build birch bark canoe learning from master builder

For Immediate Release
July 23, 2021

GUELPH, Ontario – Southwest Ontario Aboriginal Healing Centre Waterloo Wellington partners with the Upper Grand District School Board to build a traditional birch bark canoe with high school students with direction from master birch bark canoe builder, Chuck Commanda.

Chuck Commanda is one of a few remaining First Nation individuals who continues the traditional craft of building birch bark canoes. Travelling across Ontario, he endeavours to encourage Indigenous youth to learn the traditional and ancient art and skill of canoe building.

Five eager First Nations, Metis and Inuit students from the UGDSB gather in the wood shop at John F. Ross for nine days to craft a birch bark canoe. For seven hours each day they use their hands to construct a life size birch bark canoe using traditional Algonquin knowledge and building techniques and material. Learning about this time-honoured Indigenous design and crafting method, Indigenous teachings are transmitted between generations and done so in the spirit of community revitalization. Students are also learning how to create smaller items from the left-over pieces of birch bark, like beaded earrings, miniature canoes and baskets. 

The Indian residential school system created a gap in passing along traditional knowledge. Commanda believes that his work with youth helps bridge that gap. The building of the birch bark canoe is a perfect example of honouring the hope of renewal through the passing traditional knowledge.

Inspiration for this project came when a local Indigenous community member had the vision of bringing youth together to build a canoe. Hearing this, the student experience was made possible through Colinda Clyne, the UGDSB Curriculum Lead for First Nations, Métis and Inuit Education. In partnership with the Southwest Ontario Aboriginal Health Access Centre (SOAHAC) and their support, the vision came to life. SOAHAC provides wholistic health and wellness services by sharing and promoting traditional Indigenous and western health practices and outreach services.

The birch bark canoe is expected to be complete and ready to launch along the Speed River on Wednesday, July 28, 2021.

For more information please contact:

Colinda Clyne
Lead for First Nation, Metis and Inuit Education
Upper Grand District School Board
Email: [email protected]
Phone: 519-241-9166 

Charisse Sayer
Integrated Care Manager
Southwest Aboriginal Health Access Centre
Email: [email protected]
Phone: 226-820-4723

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