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NAFA Heritage Presents: The Making of a Birch Bark Canoe with Tom Byers

April 21, 2017

“The beauty of a birch bark canoe lies in the fact that that it is made entirely out of materials from the bush, and yet it is completely modified and moulded by human hands. To me, what it tells us is that man and nature are not separate, that they really are one in the same spirit. It’s a mistake for modern man to believe we don’t need the natural world, that we don’t need the earth, and that we can afford to exploit it endlessly. Birch bark canoes can help us to spread that message.”

– Tom Byers

History of the Birch Bark Canoe
The birch bark canoe has a rich history that goes back centuries. Created by the indigenous peoples of North America as the principal means of water transportation, the birch bark canoe was later copied by voyageurs to develop the historic North American fur trade. Light and manoeuvrable, birchbark canoes were well adapted to summer travel through the network of shallow streams, ponds, lakes and swift rivers.

NAFA’s Birch bark Canoe
Tom Byers built NAFA’s beautiful birch bark canoe in the fall of 2016 with the help of Cody Bokshowan. The canoe is composed of quality birch bark, spruce root lashings, cedar sheathing and gunwales, hardwood thwarts and a spruce gum/bear fat mixture as a waterproof sealant.

About the Artist
Tom Byers, a Métis, grew up along the St. Lawrence seaway, the historic heartland of Canada’s fur trade. Having lived near the water his entire life, Byers began making birchbark canoes in 1994. Since then, he has continued to hone the craft of birchbark canoe making on the banks of the Vermillion River in northern Ontario.

Byers’ canoes are one-of-a-kind. Built using traditional methods and without the use of power tools, Byers transforms natural materials from the forest into “living” works of art.

Today, Tom Byers has built over 70 birchbark canoes in a variety of styles and is dedicated to upholding the tradition, skill, and passion of birchbark canoe making for future generations.

Starry Night – A Birch Bark Canoe by Tom Byers from Tom Byers on Vimeo.

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