• Back to Encyclopedia Arctica homepage

    Arctic Pioneer Craft

    Encyclopedia Arctica 9: Transportation and Communications

    001      |      Vol_IX-0089                                                                                                                  
    H. I. Chapelle

    Cambridge, Maryland


            The pioneer craft of the North American Arctic are those employ–

    ed by the early settlers and traders in the area. By the opening years

    of the nineteenth century the white traders had penetrated to the

    shores of Hudson Bay and into what is now the Northwest Territory.

    Most of these traders had come from the south by means of the rivers

    and chains of lakes, usually by means of birch bark canoes.

            The birch bark canoe may be said to have been the characteristic

    craft of the Canadian fur trader in the seventeenth, eighteenth and

    early nineteenth centuries. This type had been developed by the North

    American Indian and was employed in almost all areas where the paper

    or canoe birch was to be found in sufficient size to be used in canoe–

    building. The highest development of the birch bark canoe seems to have

    been in eastern Canada on the Great Lakes and in Northern New England, though good types

    of birch bark canoes existed as far west as Alaska.

            It does not appear that the Indians built very large birch bark canoes

    before the arrival of the Whiteman though it is known that there were

    dugout canoes of great size in use on the Great Lakes in prehistoric

    times and on the Northwest Coast, particularly in British Columbia,

    until very recently. Indian migrations and war-parties seem to have

    employed fleets of small bark canoes rather than the birch bark "war

    canoe" of popular tradition until the early French traders and missionaries

    had introduced the five or six fathom "canot de maitre"; a large canoe

    of 25- 33 feet in length and capable of carrying from 11/2 to 2 tons of

    freight. These large fr [ ee ?] ghting canoes apparently developed early in

    the eighteenth century and the French colonial government actually had

    a building establishment at Trois Rivieres by 1750 that built these canoes

    002      |      Vol_IX-0090                                                                                                                  
    for official use. For some years after the British captured French

    Canada this establishment continued to build these large canoes. Early

    in the nineteenth century the Americans had a similar establishment at

    Detroit that built similar canoes for the American government and traders

            In addition to the large canoes of the French regime, the traders used

    the numerous sizes of canoe that had been found in Indian hands- the

    small hunting canoe; from 12 to 18 feet in length, the "Light Canoe"

    from 18 to 24 feet in length and very sharp-ended and narrow, and the

    small working canoes, in the same lengths but wider and deeper than the

    "Light Canoes". The small hunting canoes were built for one or two pad–

    dlers and their gear and were employed as their name indicated, for

    hunting and fishing. The "Light Canoes" were really enlarged hunting

    canoes and were used to carry messengers between the tribes and, in

    some cases, to transport warriors when raiding an enemy tribe. The

    French used these canoes extensively to carry ambassadors, messengers

    and missionaries to the tribes. The "Light Canoe" was commonly propelled

    by from two to four paddlers and was built to obtain high speed. Most

    tribes used the three categories mentioned; the small hunting canoe

    which often was suitable only for a single paddler, a larger working

    canoe which in a few tribes was used in family migrations in somewhat

    the same fashion that the Eskimo used the umiak, and the "Light Canoe"

    for messengers and war-parties. In general, the canoes were designed to

    meet the requirements of their use- some were suited for work in open

    waters where strong winds might be met and others were built to be used

    in rivers and in rapids.

            In design, each Indian tribe seems to have followed a traditional

    model and to have had individual systems of decoration. Roughly, the

    canoe models varied in shape of the ends and in mid-section form.

    All sizes were built at lightly as strength would permit and with but very

    rare exceptions there was a universal system of framing and construction

    003      |      Vol_IX-0091                                                                                                                  
    varying in relatively minor details from tribe to tribe. The most

    apparent differences were in the profiles of the bow and stern. Some

    tribes used stem and stern profiles which were alike. or as near so as

    building methods would permit. Others built their canoes with a bow

    profile quite different from that of the stern. There were an almost

    endless varieties of stem and stern profiles and decoration. Some tribes

    used a stem profile that was almost a half-circle, some had bows that

    peaked up and faintly resembled the Viking ships' stems, others had

    high curving stems composed of three arcs and a few had ends that some–

    what resemble those now used in the canvas-covered canoes of commerce.

    At least one tribal group, the Interior Salish, used ram bows which

    somewhat resembled those of birch canoes used in Siberia. In the larger types

    of birch bark canoes at least, it was more common to have distinct

    bow and stern profiles rather than to have both ends alike.

            In model, each tribal group followed the dictates of a chosen mid–

    section form. The forms of midsection however can be placed in four

    basic categories. The most common was a U shape, flattened more or less

    on the bottom amd with its upper arms falling inward in some degree–

    "tumble-home". The next most used was a dish-shaped section; rather

    flat on the bottom with a quick turn at the bilge and outward flaring

    topsides. The third and very limited section was flat-bottom and

    flaring sides joined by a marked "chine" or angle as in the flat-bottom

    kayacks. A few bark canoes show the fourth section, some V in the bottom combined with

    rounded sides and tumble-home or with sides flaring outward.

            Canoes used on rivers, particularly where rapids were met with, usually

    had rocker in the bottom fore-and-aft, those canoes used in open waters

    on lakes and large rivers, or in coastal waters, were commonly without

    rocker. Most of the coastal bark canoes had low ends; this was generally

    true of the canoes used on the large lakes yet it appears that the

    canoes found on Lake Superior had rather high and prominent ends and this

    004      |      Vol_IX-0092                                                                                                                  
    was the style was adopted by the French in their canots de maitre and later by

    the Hudson Bay Company in their large freight canoes. The ends of all

    canoes were quite sharp but those built for speed rather than capacity

    such as the hunting canoes and the larger "Light Canoes" were naturally

    very sharp; in fact many of the Indian canoes built before there was

    any white influence were so very sharp and hollow that length gave

    little indication of the canoe's real size. Thus, an 18 foot canoe might

    be so sharp ended that she could carry only two men while another the

    same length could safely carry four.

            The sheer of most canoe models was inclined toward straight [ ?] ness,

    particularly in the mid-third of the length , but the humped-sheer (higher

    above the water amidships than at bow and stern, or just inboard of the

    bow and stern) was not uncommon. The small hunting canoes often had the

    humped-sheer or had a sheer that was an almost continuous curve from

    bow and stern profile with the lowest place about amidships.

            As might be supposed, birch canoes were built to be propelled by

    varying number of paddlers; the largest canoes of the French era had as

    many as 24 but 12 to 14 was the more common in the large freight canoes.

    The "Light Canoes" had from 3 to 10 paddlers: some only two. Paddles

    were of numerous shapes and sizes; the Indians did not use the double

    blade of the kayacker. Nearly all Indian paddles had a straight haft

    without the cross-handle found in the white man's paddle. Paddles used

    in river navigation were often very long and with narrow, long blades,

    particularly those paddles used by the bow-paddler and the steersman.

    The common rule for paddle length appears to have been a paddle that

    would reach to the chin of its user when standing upright. Narrow blades

    predominated, most were leaf-shaped some were like a beaver-fail in shape . The paddler in a very small hunt–

    ing canoe might sit on the bottom; in this case the paddle was much

    005      |      Vol_IX-0093                                                                                                                  
    shorter when used in a larger canoe. Many Indians kneeled on the bottom

    of the canoe, resting one hip against the gunwale if the canoe were wide

    enough to require it; this caused the canoe to heel and to run somewhat

    on her bilge. In large canoes the paddlers usually sat on thwarts or

    kneeled on the bottom with their buttocks resting against or on thwarts,

    depending upon the depth of the hull.

            The proportions of breadth and depth to length varied a great deal

    and no fixed rule can be made. Hunting canoes and some of those used

    on rivers were quite narrow, the beams ranging from 26 inches to 37

    inches in canoes having lengths from 12 to 18 feet. The bulk of the Indian

    working canoes were from 30 to 38 inches breadth in lengths from 13 to

    22 feet and had depths between 10 and 16 inches; those canoes having

    reversed or humped sheers would have a couple of inches more depth than

    these limits. An old birch bark canoe from the New England area carried

    to London in 1750 was 18 feet long, 2 feet 91/2 inches wide and 18-inches

    deep. This canoe had a reverse sheer. A canoe of 1826 from the same

    vicinity with a normal sheer measured 18 feet 7 3/4 inches long, 37 inches

    beam and 16 inches deep. Another canoe, from Ontario, of about 1870

    was 13 feet 1 inch long, 361/4 inches beam and 101/2 inches in depth. One

    of the Alaskan hunting canoes was 18 feet 1 inch long, 261/2 inches beam

    and 12 inches deep, (this canoe was chine-built and flat bottom).

    A canoe from the east side of James Bay was 18 feet 21/2 inches long,

    361/2 inches beam and 18 inches deep, with the keel rockered almost

    14 inches. A large Hudson Bay Company's freight canoe of 1850 was

    35’-9” long, 5’-11” beam and 281/2” deep; having no rocker in the keel. Mac Kenzie used a canoe about 27’ long, 4’-9” beam and 2’-2” depth in his journey (1793)

    A canoe of this type was exhibited at the International Exibition of

    1851 at London; she had voyaged nearly 3000 miles carrying 20 men and

    cargo before having been shipped to London. These large canoes were

    variously called; in addition to the French name of "Canots de Maitre",

    they were known as "North Canoes", "Montreal Canoes" and"Grand Canots".

    006      |      Vol_IX-0094                                                                                                                  

            As far as is known, none of the Indian birch bark canoes had decks

    with but one exception, the Alaskan Tinneh tribal group whose river canoes

    were on kayack models with flat bottom, chines and flaring sides. These

    canoes resembled some of the open seal-skin covered river canoes of the

    Alaskan coast Indians in model and appearance and like them had a short

    deck forward, about 5 feet long in an 18 foot boat. The Indians of the

    Yukon River valley used this type of canoe and when travelling the man

    paddled in a hunting canoe while his squaw, children and possessions

    followed in a working canoe of the same general model but larger and nore

    burdensome. These canoes have little or no rocker in their bottoms, fore–

    and-aft and are very well built.

            The birch bark canoe was always built light enough to be carried by

    her crew whether one or twenty paddlers were necessary. The boat was

    best suited for inland water navigation where portages might be necessary

    and this was never lost sight of by the Indians or the traders. As a result,

    various aids to the carrying of the canoe were developed; including a yoke

    that went over the shoulders of the carriers and on which the gunwales of

    the canoe, capsized, rested. Paddles, lashed fore-and-aft to the thwarts

    and padded with spare clothing also served this purpose.

            The construction of the birch bark canoe of the North American Indians

    generally followed the same basic pattern; there was no keel and the gunwales

    and some longitudinal inner planking or battens formed the longitudinal

    strength members. Except for a few of the Alaskan canoes and the early

    Nova Scotia Indian's canoes, the inner planking was made of very thin

    and wide battens very closely spaced and sometimes secured by lacing or "sewing" to the frames, which were

    wide, thin and also very closely spaced. The upper ends of the frames were

    laced to the inner and outer gunwales, the lacing usually passed through

    the frames and bark cover. The frames were in one piece, from gunwale to

    gunwale and were made of cedar, spruce or ash saplings split into thin

    007      |      Vol_IX-0095                                                                                                                  
    battens. The bending was usually done while the frames ware in a green

    state by heating each over the fire and then forcing the frame into place;

    this was a crude steaming process that was used in wooden ship-building

    in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries- called "stoving". The gunwales

    each consisted of two or three members; an inner gunwale which was strong

    and the backbone of the canoe during construction. Outside the frames,

    which stood on the outboard face of the gunwales, there was a guard or

    outer gunwale; this was thin and light and served to protect the bark

    cover. The lacing of the bark skin cover passed over and around these two. On

    many tribal types of canoes there was a gunwale cap over this lacing;

    the cap was a very thin batten secured with a series of short servings

    or lacings along the length of the gunwales. Pegs were added to give

    additional rigidy to the gunwale structure; those passed through the

    guards and bark cover into the inner gunwale. Some tribes omitted the

    rail cap and used only a continuous lacing along the gunwale; others

    placed the guards on the outward and upper side of the inner gunwales

    so that it served the purposes of guard and cap. The ends of the inner

    gunwales were sometimes joined at a block or at the end bulkheads which

    some canoes employed to hold the stem and stern posts to shape. Others

    merely halved the gunwales together and lached them.

            The stem and stern posts were commonly made of bent rods or battens

    held in shape by a slight wooden bulkhead to which heel and head of the

    posts were secured. In some types this bulkhead was replaced by a thong–

    stay serving the same purpose; the treatment of the posts depended to a

    great extent upon the profile employed at bow and stern. Very often the

    space between the posts and the bulkheads were packed with wood shavings

    to hold the shape desired. In some types the posts were laminated by

    partly splitting them and then bending to shape, after which the lamina–

    tions were secured by lashings around the posts. A few Some types, where the

    008      |      Vol_IX-0096                                                                                                                  
    shape of the ends made it feasible, the skin cover was carried up

    over the gunwales to form vestiges of decking.

            The gunwales were spread to the required shape by a series of

    thwarts, the number varying with the size and type of canoe. These

    were tennoned into the gunwales and lashed. They were usually given

    some shape; often widest at the gunwales. These members were often

    made quite wide in the large canoes but were mere rods in some of

    the small hunting boats.

            The inner planking was really a series of wide battens closely

    spaced. In the Alaskan canoes, however, they were replaced by rod

    battens kayack fashion. The early Nova Scotia Indians have been said

    to have used basket-work, formed by weaving the longitudinal battens

    through the frames, in and out. The battens usually stopped well short

    of the ends of the boat; only the keelson batten might be lashed to

    the posts or secured to the bulkheads. The ends of the gunwales

    might be laced to the heads of the posts or to the end bulkheads.

    In some types the outer gunwales projected slightly fore and aft of

    the heads of the posts forming lifting handles.

            The bark cover was made of large sheets of the paper or canoe

    birch bark; gored to permit the cover to fit to the shape of the

    gunwale and profile of keel. Rarely could one sheet be obtained large

    enough to cover a canoe so the cover was usually formed of pieces

    secured togther by sewing and with the seams well pitched with spruce

    gum. The sewing was done with an awl and the roots of the cedar, white

    spruce, tamarack, hemlock, yellow pine or balsam fir. These roots

    were soaked in hot water and scraped to remove the bark; large roots

    were slit into halves or quarters. This material was known in South–

    eastern Canada as "watap". A short bar or rod of hardwood with a hole

    in it was used to "heave" the lacings tight in the same manner as

    some Eskimo builders employed. Most birch bark canoe builders erected

    009      |      Vol_IX-0097                                                                                                                  
    the canoe in an upright position, at least when putting on the bark

    cover and so the sewing and lacing was done from outboard and in the

    case of the gunwales, over them. The holes for the stitching in the

    bark were not closely spaced and sometimes the lacing passed through

    these holes twice. However, the stitching in the seams and gores of

    the bark cover was quite closely spaced and fine, thin roots were employ–

    ed here. The stitch used was an overhand, left-to-right one though some

    employed a double thread in a cross-stitch or lacing. Some builders did

    not secure the inner plank or battens to the frames but placed them in–

    side the bark cover and held them in place by a few frames and temporary

    lashings. Then the rest of the frames were forced into place and by

    their pressure against the cover wedged the battens into place. In old

    canoes, in museums, the drying of the bark cover and frames often allows

    the battens or plank to become loose and to become displaced from their

    original positions. Large canoes are reported to have had, on occasion

    at least, a strong pole lashed longitudinally over the thwarts on the

    centerline of the hull which added to the longitudinal strength when

    carrying heavy loads in rough water. All seams that had to be watertight

    were smeared with warm gum; spruce and pine or hemlock gums having been

    most widely used.

            There were a great many variations in the technique of birch bark

    canoe building and in finishing; each tribe had traditional methods

    of construction. The general practice seems to have been to first form

    the gunwales and then to set up the bark cover, confining it within a

    series of stakes to the general shape of the canoe. Then the gunwales

    and stem and stern posts were put into place and secured. The fram e ing

    and the longitudinal members were then put inside the cover and lashing

    sewing and the paying of the seams followed. The workmanship shown in many bark canoes is remarkably fine.

    010      |      Vol_IX-0098                                                                                                                  

            Some of the tribes, living on the coast or on lakes, may have employed

    crude squaresails of skins or bark fabric before the coming of the whites

    but the practice cannot have been widespread. Primarily, the birch bark

    canoe was, like the kayack, a paddling boat. Its lightness was one of its

    most important features and since it could be easily carried on shore it

    was often capsized and used in lieu of a tent.

            Though the bark canoe was rather fragile and could be easily damaged

    in grounding or among snags and rocks it could be readily repaired and

    for this the paddlers carried pieces of bark, roots for sewing and lacings

    and gum. The light weight of the canoe had another advantage; it allowed

    the carrying of heavy loads out of the proportion allowable in heavier

    boats of the same size. Its only drawback was found in open water; like

    most light open hulls most canoes were difficult to propel [ ?] against a heavy

    sea and strong wind. This objection limited the development of coastal

    bark canoes and the weight of evidence indicates that these canoes were

    of less size and capacity than those developed by tribes on inland waters.

            By the end of the first half of the nineteenth century attempts were

    made to produce wooden canoes on birch bark models that would be stronger

    and more lasting even if lightness had to be sacrificed to some extent. A

    number of companies were formed, and individual builders established,

    who built cedar and basswood canoes, particularly in southern Canada and

    in New York State. As such light construction required great building

    skill, and as this in turn was rather costly, the use of a canvas cover over

    a thin, non-watertight inner planking, became popular. In Canada the all–

    wood canoe, as built by one company in [ particular ?] , became very popular

    and hence the type became known as the "Peterborough" after the name of

    this concern. In the east, however, the canvas-covered canoe soon obtained

    ascendancy and at present this construction is almost universal. However,

    other modes of construction have been, and are being, tried; using paper,

    011      |      Vol_IX-0099                                                                                                                  
    veneer or plywood and light metals for the cover of the hull. But the

    lightness and ease of repair has made the canvas-covered canoe perhaps

    the nearest approach the white man has made to the Indian birch bark

    canoe in practical use.

            It cannot be said that the models employed in these "civilized" copies of the

    birch bark canoe , have been a general improvement over the originals.

    This has been the case . , perhaps, because the greater part of the demand

    for canoes in the last seventy-five years has been by users who were

    inexperienced in small craft, such as the vacationer and water-resort

    visitor. Hence most of the white mans' canoes were wider, flatter on

    the bottom and harder to paddle than the original Indian types of the

    same size. They were also much heavier and more difficult to carry.

            The only class of these modern canoes that were employed by trappers

    and traders where the "Peterboroughs" and some designs usually classed

    as "Guides' Canoes". These were usually marked by sharp ends, rather

    rounded bottom and low inconspicious bows and sterns. It is rare to

    see a modern canoe with rocker in the bottom fore-and-aft. They may be

    divided into two classes of midsections, those with rather wide, flat

    bottom and moderate tumble-home in the topsides, used in open water,

    and those with a well-rounded bottom in cross-section, often with little

    or no tumble-home in the topsides, used on rivers. This paucity of

    model merely indicates that the canoe as built by whites has degenerated.

    The Hudson Bay Company and others have used large freighting canoes of

    the modern type in areas where powerboat transport was impractical.

            Though the Indian's canoe had been taken over by the trappers and

    traders, they soon added boat types of their own that were suitable for

    wilderness transport under stringent conditions. The two earliest of

    such types were the "scow" or "flat" and the "Bateau". The latter was,

    perhaps the most important and widely used. It was a flat-bottom,

    double-ended planked boat. Its use appears to have been introduced by

    012      |      Vol_IX-0100                                                                                                                  
    the early French fishermen at the mouth of the St. Lawrence in the early

    seventeenth century. The boat was the probable outgrowth of a plank

    canoe formed of two side plank and a wide bottom plank. It is known

    that early white trappers and traders in New York and in the Maritime

    Provinces developed such craft which were possible with the white man's

    saws, and saw-pits. These grew into larger and more useful craft; on

    one hand this type may have developed into what is now called a "Dory"

    and on the other into the "Bateau" of the Lumberman and trappers.

            There are numerous descriptions by early travellers of the bateau,

    or "battoe"; they were usually built of white pine or spruce, sharp at

    both ends, flat-bottom of two or more wide plank and straight sides with

    little or very moderate flare. These boats were, in 1740, from 18 to 28

    feet long and about 40-44 inches beam at the gunwales. The bottom had

    a slight rocker fore-and-aft and the side frames were straight; there

    were usually raking bow and sternposts. These boats were first used for

    river freighting, particularly among rapids where their greater strength

    and resistance to damage from rocks made them superior to the birch bark

    canoes. The bateau, however, was very heavy and its transport overland

    required carts or much man-power and skids. Hence they seem to have been

    employed by traders and trappers only on the larger rivers. The type

    was also adapted for the use of the lumbermen and gradually the bateau

    became a recognized part of the equipment of the North American lumbermen.

    The bateau was so well devised that it has gone through very slight chang

    since 1740. Some were built, as early as 1776, with side frames slightly

    curved; to give slightly rounded sides; and the side plank in such craft

    were sometimes lapstrake of narrow plank. However, the flaring, straight

    framed side has always been the most common. The rake of the bow and ster

    and the amount of flare of the sides, the rocker in the bottom, and the

    dimensions have varied. Where the early bateaux were not over 28 feet

    long, 44 inches beam and 18 to 24 inches deep, by 1776 these boats were

    013      |      Vol_IX-0101                                                                                                                  
    30 feet long, 6 feet 6 inches beam and 2 feet 101/2 inches deep. While the

    small bateaux were paddled the larger boats, over 24 feet were rowed. The

    oars had thole straps or thongs and only one thole pin was used for each

    oar. By 1776 these boats rowed with 8 oarsmen and a bow oar and steersman

    the latter used a sweep to guide the boat. Such craft carried a sail at

    times and some had outside keels to aid in sailing but such craft seem to

    have been rare even on the eastern Great Lakes and were, perhaps, limited

    to Lake Champlain.

            The bateaux of the modern lumberman and which is still used by some

    Arctic traders is a boat ranging from small craft boats of 22 feet length. 5 feet

    3 inches beam and 22 inches depth, through boats measuring about 25 feet

    by 6 feet by 27 inches; 32 feet x 5 feet x 20 inches, 36 feet x 7 feet x

    28 inches and on up to craft almost 50 feet long. These boats usually have

    a very high bow and are low amidships with a lower, and less raked, sternpost

    than at the . Some bateaux have a slight V-bottom, about 11/2 inches of

    deadrise amidships dying out at the ends of the hull. The amount of fore–

    and aft rocker, and the amount of sheer, varies with the locality of build.

    The lumbermen now call the bateaux "Drive Boats" from their common use;

    working in the "timber drive" when logs are allowed to drift downstream

    in a "drive" to the mills. The bateaux are considered by many rivermen to

    be the most suitable boat for carrying heavy loads in rapids where shoal

    draft is required. They can be rowed and also can be driven with outboard

    engines. They were once used not only on the rivers of Eastern Canada and

    lower James Bay but also along the shores of the Great Lakes and, indeed,

    some came to be called "Mackinaw" boats because many were built and used

    in the lumber and trading work in the vicinity of the Straits of Mackinaw.

            The construction of the bateau follows that of a skiff except for the

    bottom being planked fore-and-aft. The usual practice is to set up moulds

    014      |      Vol_IX-0102                                                                                                                  
    over which the sides are bent; these moulds fix the flare of the sides

    and, to a great extent, the amount of rocker and sheer the finished boat

    is to have. In the common straight sided boat with caravel plank, the

    sides are from 1 to 1¼ inches thick and in two or three strakes. Side

    frames formed of knees with the short arms on the bottom and about 1½”

    thick are then nailed to the sides at a spacing of approximately 18 inches

    on centers. Floor timbers are nailed to the lower arms of the knees and

    these are usually about 3 inches deep and 1½ inches thick. Over these

    floor timbers the bottom plank is nailed; using three or more strakes

    with splines in the seams formed between the strakes. The bottom plank

    is never less than 1¼” thick in a small bateau and may be as much as 1½

    or 1 3/4 inches thick in large boats. An inside gunwale batten, an outside

    guard strip along the gunwale, a "rising stringer" inside on each side the

    hull to support the twarts and the placing of the tholes complete the

    carpenter work. The boats often have iron bands on the stem and sternposts

    and also on the bottom, to protect the boat from blows. The stem and stern–

    posts are often quite heavy and may be rabbeted to take the side planks.

    Lap-strake bateaux, eithet straight or curved sided, are built in the

    same manner and have from three to six strakes to a side. Some have a

    plank keelson serving as a floor board on top of the floor timbers to

    stiffen the bottom. Most bateaux in recent years are built almost entirely

    of spruce; old boats might be of cedar or white pine. Heavy iron ring-bolts

    were placed outside the stem and sternposts to be used in towing or tracking

    the boat, and for mooring lines. The common bateau, 28 to 36 feet in

    length was usually fitted to row four oars on a side; sometimes the oars–

    men was "double-banked, two to a thwart and each with his oar, but when

    less power was necessary one man with two oars replaced each pair. In

    shallow water the bateaux were poled along by their crew. The bateau

    was ayrather seaworthy boat and could stand a great deal of sea if properly

    loaded but, like all open boats, suffered from windage when moved against

    015      |      Vol_IX-0103                                                                                                                  
    strong gales.

            The "scow" or "flat" used by the Arctic traders was in no way differen

    from the forms used earlier in Europe; some were rectangular in deck plan while

    others were built with sprung sides so that they were wider amidships

    than at bow and stern. The most common model of scow was much like an

    army pontoon; the bottom was flat athwartships and had no or , at best , only

    a slight rocker fore and aft until the rake of the ends was reached,

    here the bottom curved up sharply to meet the "headlogs" or the shallow

    bow and stern transoms. Most of these scows had some sheer and a good deal

    of flare; the rake of each of the ends being about one-fifth the total length

    of the boat or slightly less. The scows were fitted to be rowed, poled

    or tracked and steered with a heavy sweep. The bottom was planked fore–

    and aft over frames in most cases but some had double bottoms formed by

    an inner skin laid on athwrtships over which a fore-and-aft skin was then

    nailed. The scows most popular on the Mackenzie River in the last years

    of the nineteenth century were about 38- 50 40 feet long, 7 to 9 feet beam

    on the gunwale and at least 2 feet narrower on the bottom; the sides were

    lap-strake and they were more or less parallel in plan amidships, but at

    bow and stern the beam was sharply decreased. The rake of the bottom at the

    ends was rather long and in a curve so that the boats rowed rather well

    and carried a heavy load on a small draft. Because of their greater capacity

    the scows soon replaced all other types of drive boats where portages

    were not required or where the boats were carted overland. The construct–

    tion of the scows, except for the ends, followed that of the drive boats.

    After 1900 the scows appear to have grown a good deal in size to meet

    the needs of greater cargo loads. Some scows were built with the usual

    log sides and little or no flare, but the earlier type was considered

    superior as long as manual propulsion was required. The scow was some–

    times sailed and at least one was fitted with both sails and leeboards

    to permit tacking to windward. The scow type is usually a quite satis-

    016      |      Vol_IX-0104                                                                                                                  
    -factory sailer in protected waters. For work in wilderness waters, the

    scow was usually rather lightly built and designed to permit easy rowing

    or poling. When tracked upstream the scows had to have long rakes at

    bow and stern to reduce resistance and the manpower required to pull them.

    Scows were usually rowed double-banked, but only one man to a thwart,

    whaleboat fashion.

            Long before white men settled in North America the scow had been

    employed as a shoal water carrier; it would be incorrect to credit either

    the French or the English as the introducer of the type. However, the

    early French traders are known to have used the scow to some extent,

    under the name of "Chaland". These have survived in the Quebec lumber–

    mans "chaland", a 14 to 18 foot punt used in some localities as a drive

    boat. Both the English and the French used scows or "flats" on the lakes

    for the transport of heavy goods.

            An improved model of scow appeared on the Mackenzie River and its

    tributaries; this was a V-bottom or and round-bottom scow having roughly

    the same dimensions and operating characteristics as the common scow, but

    designed to propel easier by the use of rounded sides and bottom. This

    class of boat is known as the "Sturgeon Head" and is in fact a cross

    beteen the scow and the well-known round bottom boat once widely used

    by the Hudson Bay Company, the "York Boat". Like the latter, the Sturgeon

    Head was usually lap-strake planked and framed in the conventional manner

    of round bottom boats. A few of the Sturgeon Heads employed rounded sides

    and a V-bottom made with slightly curved floor timbers. This type had

    a somewhat marked angular bilge or chine. The Sturgeon Head had the

    advantages of being more easily rowed and poled than the ordinary scows

    yet could carry more on a limited draft of water than the "York Boat".

    The greatest part of the Sturgeon Heads were of the round-bottom model

    with flat bottom and very flaring sides joined by a well-rounded

    bilge. Because of the similarity in shape of all the frames of this type of

    017      |      Vol_IX-0105                                                                                                                  
    hull, it is easy to frame and plank compared to other round-bottom

    wooden boats. The Sturgeon Head appears to have developed rapidly in the last

    [ ?] years of the nineteenth century. Hulls of this form had been employ–

    ed on American rivers somewhat earlier than in the Arctic areas. The

    hull is one that has been readily adapted for use with power and the

    scow form has replaced the older sharp bow models in self-propelled

    river craft throughout North America.

            The fittings of the scows and Sturgeon Heads, when manually propelled,

    represent no marked departure from the bateaux fittings. The scows were

    commonly fitted with thwarts and a popular length, 40-45 feet overall,

    was fitted with double tholes to row three oars on a side, the oarsmen

    each rowing a single oar. Steering was done by a very long and heavy

    sweep pivoted on the center of the stern. Inboard the ends of the scows

    were platforms for the steersman and men poling the boats in shallow

    water. Long lines were employed in tracking the boat up stream when

    the crews might have to tow the boats along the banks for miles where

    the current was too swift to permit rowing or poling.

            There were but slight variations in the models of the scows and sturge

    -on heads that are sufficient to merit comment. Most of the boats were

    alike at both ends; the bow and stern transoms were also alike or nearly

    so in depth. The length [ ?] of the end rakes was perhaps slightly longer

    in the sturgeon heads than in the scows. Some sturgeon heads had wider

    and deeper sterns than bows, though this appears to have been rather

    unusual. Both scows and sturgeon heads had outside keels of wide thin

    plank to protect bottom and bilges from rocks when running rapids or

    in grounding on a bank. In all manually propelled scows and sturgeon

    heads the sides flared sharply outward to make the bottom, across the

    bilges, markedly less than the width across the gunwales. This formed a

    relatively narrow bottom that permitted easy rowing yet heavy loads

    could be carried without causing excessive draft, as in many of the

    018      |      Vol_IX-0106                                                                                                                  
    Eskimo umiaks, where a similar use was made of the advantages of a

    narrow bottom combined with very flaring sides. The scows and stur–

    geonheads became the standard freighting boat on the Mackenzie and

    its tributaries, and by 1904 at the latest they had practically re–

    placed the York Boats that had earlier replaced the large canoes.

    In this century both the scow and the sturgeonhead have been powered

    with steam or gasoline engines, and more recently with diesels, to

    create a suitable river vessel for arctic work.

            The "York Boat" was one of the best known of the fur-trade

    river craft. This type was introduced by the Hudson Bay Company;

    the exact date has not been fully established. The uncertainty

    is due to the fact that many investigators have apparently confus–

    ed the early bateau with York Boats and have perhaps set too early

    a date on the introduction of the type. The York Boat was really

    an enlarged Orkney Island skiff; she was built by Orkneymen, a class

    who had been employed by the Hudson 's Bay Company since the seventeenth

    century because of their hardihood. The earliest date of the intro–

    duction of the type seems to be about 1795. These boats were original–

    ly introduced because the large canoes required constant repair in

    hard service on some of the rivers which caused delay and expense.

    The systematic use of these boats may have been as early as 1800,

    when boats of similar style appear to have been used in Manitoba

    between Lake Winnipeg and York Factory. The boats were rather heavy

    and so were hard to portage overland until cart roads were built.

    By 1820, the York Boat was the standard type of heavy river freight

    boat of the Hudson Bay Company in Northwest Canada.

            The type became standardized in model very quickly and there

    were apparently at least three sizes employed, the "60 piece","100

    piece" and"120 piece" boats. A "piece" was 90 pounds weight. The

    length of these boats was usually given in "keel length" and the

    019      |      Vol_IX-0107                                                                                                                  
    Company's records the smallest was about 24 feet keel length. The

    largest and apparently most favored size was about 30 feet long on

    the keel, 42 feet long over the stems, 9½ feet beam amidships and

    3 feet deep. The boats were usually built with a flat wide keel, about

    a foot wide amidships and tapering toward bow and stern. The bottom

    of the boat was rather flat, there being little deadrise amidships,

    but the ends were rather sharp and the stern was sharper than the bow.

    The York Boat resembled a Viking ship somewhat in profile, having

    rather prominent stem and sternposts; the bow and stern had much rake.

    These craft were lap-strake construction, employing sawn frames,

    and were constructed with keels, posts and frames of oak, cedar,

    basswood and spruce being used for plank and trim. In early days,

    the proportions of the boats varied much; some were 35 feet long and

    only about 51/2 feet beam. Three thwarts and a large sternsheet seem to

    have been the standard arrangement. The sides had a good deal of flare

    and the bilge was rather full and round. The gunwales carried the

    beam well forward which made the boats seem [ ?] much fuller forward than

    they were.

            Some boats had the conventional keel construction, narrow and deep,

    but it is probable these boats were intended only for lake navigation.

    York Boats were fitted to sail and row; they carried a squaresail

    bent to a yard which was hoisted on a mast stepped about amidships.

    The heel of the mast stepped in a plank keelson which ran nearly the

    full length of the boat. There was a ceiling- plank inside the frames

    to protect the bottom from damage from loads. The ceiling only extend–

    ed over the bottom, not up the sides. The mast was secured to the main

    or midship thwart by the cinventional iron clamp. The mast was support–

    ed by a forestay set up around the high stemhead and by a backstay

    set up to the after thwart- sometimes two backstays were used and then

    they set up through holes in the gunwale near the after thwart, clear

    of its tholes. There were usually single shrouds on each side which

    020      |      Vol_IX-0108                                                                                                                  
    set up through holes in the sheer strake abreast the mast. The run–

    ning rigging was very simple, a halyard was used to hoist the sail;

    this was a guntackle purchase with the blocks aloft, one at the mast–

    head and one on the yard; the fall was sometimes led well aft to

    be handled by the helmsman or his mate. The sail was controlled by

    single-part braces belayed aft; the sheets were also single. The

    height of the mast was a little less than half the length of the boat

    and the yard about one and a half times the beam. The sail was a

    rectangle in shape with head and foot about the same lengths. When

    working under sail the boat was steered by a rudder and tiller; the

    rudder was hung on the curved post with rudder braces and pintles in

    the same manner as in a whaleboat. In river navigation the boat was

    steered by a long heavy sweep pivoted by a large iron pin passed

    through a hole in the sweep loom and into the gunwale well to starboard

    of the sternpost. Some boats improved on this by placing the pivot–

    pin in a cross-timber about 10 inches deep which was secured athwart–

    ships just inside the sternpost. This allowed the pivot pin to be

    placed farther outboard and the sweep could then be canted more with–

    out interfering with the post. The larger York Boats were fitted with

    double-tholes for eight oars.

            The construction of the York Boat was conventional; the sawn frames

    were two natural crooks lapped over the keel, capped by a gunwale

    cap or planksheer and spaced about 24 inches on centers. The planking

    was the common lap-strake with the sheer strake somewhat thicker than

    the rest. All plank fastenings along the laps and in the frames were

    "upset" or rivetted. Iron fastenings and hardware were used. The boats

    were not long-lived, usually lasting only three to five years due to

    the hard usuage they received in their employment. The York Boat was

    not a sailing boat and as a rule performed poorly when on the wind

    unless fitted with the conventional narrow keel and a shoe. The York

    021      |      Vol_IX-0109                                                                                                                  
    Boats were more expensive to build than the bateau and the scow; in

    spite of their great popularity in the nineteenth century it is very doubtful

    that they were more economical craft. It is probable that there was

    some prejudice in favor of them in the Hudson Bay Company; the Scotch

    factors naturally favored a Scottish type of boat. None the less, the

    York Boat had advantages; it moved rather easily under oars and was

    seaworthy enough for the largest lakes.

            These are the important pioneer craft of northern Canada; the

    canoe, the scow and sturgeonhead, the bateau and the York Boat. The

    conditions that preserved all of these but the last into modern times were the lack of

    fuel for power craft, the need for navigation of unimproved waterways

    and the relative low cost the types represent. Since these conditions

    still exist the need for at least part of these types has not ceased

    with the growing mechanization of the important arctic waterways.

            There were, of course, many other types of boats tried in

    Arctic waters; row boats of all descriptions; wherries, skiffs, punts,

    yawl-boats dories, gigs and whaleboats. Only the latter had much pop–

    ularity. The whaleboat was brought into the Arctic by whaling ships

    and by some exploring expeditions and some of these fell into the

    hands of traders and Eskimoes who have used them a good deal in

    coastal transport. One of the popular boats of this class was the

    so-called "gig-whaler"; this type was much used by American expeditions

    in the '70's and '80's of the last century. The "gig-whaler" was merely

    a light whaleboat built very sharp and with more deadrise than usual

    to produce a fast rowing and sailing boat. Many of the whaleboats

    had centerboards and carried sail so were very useful in open water.

    Some whaleboats were carried up the Mackenzie and a rare example

    was to be found on some of the large lakes but on the whole this boat

    was a coastal type only. The dory has also been used occasionally;

    some individuals preferred it for work on the Arctic beaches as, in

    022      |      Vol_IX-0110                                                                                                                  
    competent hands it was not only a good seaboat but its short length

    and flat bottom made it useful in working off some of the shallow

    and surf-covered beaches.

            The powerboat has, to some extent, become a pioneer boat in

    recent years but its usefulness is limited to a great extent to those

    areas where fuel may be obtained at reasonably spaced bases or posts

    and where maintenance facilities are not wholly lacking. No particu–

    lar type of launch or boat has had widespread use but it would appear

    that, for river work, the shallow draft flat-bottom river launch

    employed on the Mississippi might be most useful. For coastal work

    a launch should be very seaworthy and strong, yet rather shallow in

    draft. The difficulties in obtaining fuel and proper maintenance

    make the power boat costly to operate in the Arctic and it is this

    that has made the spread of mechanization in Arctic small boats a

    slow process. Once off the main and travelled waterways, the old

    manually propelled boats are still most useful and practical craft;

    they may be propelled manually but most of them are suitable for

    use with outboard engines which may be used as long as fuel is

    available and then other propulsion methods can be employed.

    This makes the pioneer types of considerable interest in small–

    capacity operations off the travelled waterways today.

    Unpaginated      |      Vol_IX-0111                                                                                                                  


    Unpaginated      |      Vol_IX-0112                                                                                                                  


    Unpaginated      |      Vol_IX-0113                                                                                                                  


    Unpaginated      |      Vol_IX-0114                                                                                                                  


    Back to top