Since people have lived in New Brunswick, there have been highways, though not all were created equal.
n 2015, the provincial government closed the neglected Jemseg Bridge, leaving a large section of the former Trans-Canada Highway still standing — abandoned and inaccessible. Part of a so-called “modern highway,” the route has decayed past the point of use just a few decades after it was built. But underneath it runs another highway, thousands of years old, and still in working condition.
The Jemseg River, along with hundreds of other rivers, creeks, and streams make up the highways used for centuries by First Nations communities for trade and travel using birch-bark canoes. Some of these routes are well-recognized today, their winding routes shared though the oral history of several First Nation communities. Others were thoroughly recorded by famed New Brunswick cartographer and historian William Francis Ganong.
Some are less known, and some may be lost to history, but researchers are working to map those possible routes using a combination of computer software and linguistics study.
One of the oldest-known examples of a Native American birch-bark canoe is on display at a museum in Maine, where indigenous tribes have used them for thousands of years.
The canoe put on display Thursday dates to the mid-1700s, said members of the Pejepscot Historical Society. It’s an example of the type of canoe that was critically important to the history and culture of the Wabanaki, the first people of parts of northern New England and Atlantic Canada.
This type of canoe was “extremely important for your family’s survival” for the Wabanaki people, said the Penobscot Nation’s tribal historian James E. Francis Sr. The Penobscot, one of four Wabanaki tribes still existing in Maine, still builds them today.
In 2015, I won an Adirondack cedar strip canoe at the Putney Grammar School Raffle, at the Strolling of the Heifers. The canoe was lovingly donated to the raffle by master craftsman and woodworker Parker Sterner, of Boulder Junction, Wisc., who has two grandsons at the Grammar School — Henry and Charlie. It is just amazing — he made it. It is not only a vessel; it is a work of art.
It is especially meaningful to me because I also went to the Grammar School, from 1988 to 1990. I loved the Grammar School. It was a place that nurtured my book-smart, outdoorsy, artsy spirit. It also set me on a path to become a scholar.
But, the cedar canoe connects us to another source of hope and meaning. Let me explain. I grew up in Brattleboro, but like many Brattleboro people, I always have been a traveler. This is one of the things that led me to become an anthropologist. Also, like many Brattleboro people, I always yearned to understand the history of Native American people of the area, on whose land we are living. So, I set out to do intense, focused study of this through doctoral research at McGill University, in Montreal, Quebec.
Read the full article by Jessica Dolan in the Brattleboro Reformer, photos by Jess also.
One of the oldest-known Native American birch-bark canoes will go on display at a Maine historical society museum, possibly as early as this fall, after spending three decades in a barn. Carbon dating by the Pejepscot Historical Society in Brunswick shows the Wabanaki canoe was likely made sometime between 1729 and 1789. Museum records date the canoe to the mid-1700s.
The Wabanaki Confederacy is a group of Native American nations who lived primarily in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and parts of Atlantic Canada.
Larissa Vigue Picard, the historical society’s executive director, says the Wabanaki artifact is “priceless” and could be the oldest birch-bark canoe in existence. Native Americans have been making these canoes for 3,000 years. But only a few of the earliest ones still exist because birch bark is so fragile, says Laurie LaBar, chief curator of history and decorative arts at the Maine State Museum in Augusta.
The Pejepscot Historical Society came in possession of the 16-foot-long canoe in 1889. Museum officials say it was donated to the organization after being passed down through generations in the family of William Barnes, a sea captain from Harpswell, who received the canoe as a gift from a tribe. It’s spent the last three decades in a barn behind the museum, exposed to extreme temperatures and humidity, but is in relatively good shape.
Built by standards of the 1700s, it was held together with wooden pegs instead of nails or other modern fasteners brought to America by Europeans, according to the historical society’s Stephanie Ruddock. The canoes were popular with early explorers because they were much lighter than dugout canoes made from tree trunks, and could be carried.
A craftsman in Wellington will restore the 18th century vessel before it goes on display, situated in a specially crafted cradle.
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.
Read the story by Christine LaPado-Breglia in The Lincoln County News.
Intern Tobias Francis installs a rib on the Wabanaki birch-bark canoe to be launched at the Damariscotta town landing on Thursday, April 27.
During the past month, many hands have shaped bark, bent ribs, split and lashed spruce roots, laid in planks, wedged ribs into place, and sealed seams. Master canoe-builder Steve Cayard, interns Dan Asher and Tobias Francis, and students from Lincoln Academy are putting the finishing touches on a traditional 14-foot Wabanaki birch-bark canoe at Lincoln Academy’s Applied Technology and Engineering Center, where the construction is taking place. This one-of-a-kind project is the result of a partnership between Damariscotta River Association and Lincoln Academy, with support provided by LincolnHealth as well as members of the community.
Now ready for its maiden paddle, this special canoe will receive a special send-off. The public is invited to join representatives from Lincoln Academy, DRA, and the Maliseet First Nation for a procession and the ceremonial launching of this remarkable craft on Thursday, April 27. The processional group will gather at the Lincoln Academy flagpole at 1 p.m. that day and will carry the canoe to the Damariscotta town landing, where the ceremony will begin at around 1:30 p.m. Maliseet representative Wayne Brooks will lead the ceremony, giving a blessing before the canoe is launched for the first time. In the event of rain, the event will be moved to Friday, April 28, at the same time.
Lincoln Academy is located at 81 Academy Hill Road, Newcastle.
The New England Canoe and Kayak Racing Association (NECKRA) is hosting the USCA National Championships on the Kwanitekw at the Northfield Mountain Recreational and Environmental Center in Northfield, MA. A team from Penobscot country will be participating. Come for three days of marathon racing (August 12-14, 2016) with championship competition for canoe, kayak, surfski and SUP. For the younger paddlers, sprint races will be held on Thursday August 11.