Passamaquoddy Ceremony Launches Birchbark Canoe

dwayne tomah passamaquoddy canoe damariscotta
Passamaquoddy elder Dwayne Tomah gives a blessing in both Passamaquoddy and English before the boat is launched into the Damariscotta River for its first ride. (Christine LaPado-Breglia photo)

By 1 p.m. on Thursday, April 27, a small crowd had gathered near the flagpole at Lincoln Academy in Newcastle. The occasion was the celebration of the recent completion of a Wabanaki birchbark canoe in the school’s Cable-Burns Applied Technology and Engineering Center, a project that was led by Wellington master canoe-builder Steve Cayard.

On this day, Cayard and a number of others – including the LA students involved in helping build the 14-foot canoe – accompanied the beautiful brown boat as it was carried along in a procession down Academy Hill Road that ended at the Damariscotta town landing for a launching ceremony marking the canoe’s maiden voyage.

Beginning in late March, Cayard, boat-building interns Dan Asher and Tobias Francis, and students at LA worked together for four weeks to create the traditional birchbark canoe – shaping the bark, bending the canoe’s ribs, splitting and lashing spruce roots, and so on. The result is a meticulously crafted, artfully detailed, lightweight canoe that is authentic in every way. Originally, Passamaquoddy master canoe-builder David Moses Bridges – a longtime friend and colleague of Cayard’s – was scheduled to work on the building of the boat, but he passed away from cancer in January at age 54. Francis is his son.

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richholschuh

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