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Indigenous Students participate in Birch Bark Canoe Build with master canoe builder

July 22, 2021

GUELPH, Ontario – Five Indigenous students from across the Upper Grand District School Board are taking part in a canoe build this summer at John F. Ross Collegiate Vocational Institute under the guidance of First Nations master canoe builder, Chuck Commanda.

Chuck Commanda is a master canoe maker from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg, a First Nations community north of Ottawa. His love for canoe building started at the age of twelve when he would help his grandparents Mary and William Commanda. Evolving over 40 years of mastering the art, and full-time canoe making for 14 years, he has made around 65 canoes.

The canoe build began at the school on July 18 when the five eager students arrived at John F. Ross CVI to start this journey. Materials for the canoe consist of birch bark, 700 feet of spruce root, spruce gum as well as oak and cedar wood. Over the course of nine days, the students and Commanda are transforming these materials into a fully functional canoe which is being made in a traditional way using no manufactured parts.

Canoe Build

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 resources, the vision came to life. SOAHAC provides traditional Indigenous and Western health practices and services as well as outreach resources.

Only a few days into the build, students said that without Commanda’s knowledge and expertise, this project would not be possible. The Indigenous students involved in the build are from Orangeville, Fergus and Guelph and have combined their traditional experiences, teachings, food and community during this build. At the end of the build, each student involved will receive a high school credit.  

The canoe is set for completion at the end of July. In September, the canoe will travel to the schools of participating students and be on display to help educate staff and students throughout the Upper Grand.

Great job, we can’t wait to see the completed canoe.

2021 Canoe Build

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