Lheidli T’enneh Elder, Robert Frederick has been hand carving canoes since he was a little boy and to this day he still carries on his family tradition. “When I was a young kid I used to cut them out of the cottonwood bark and I’d start carving out little dugouts and I’d show it to my dad until I got it perfect.”
For the first two weeks of July, Frederick and his team are carving a brand new canoe out a 10 thousand pound cottonwood log transported by Fortwood Homes to the parking lot of Exhibition Place. Curator for the Museum, Alyssa Tobin, says it’s all part of a new exhibit called ‘Path of the Paddle.’ “It focuses on the regional history of the canoes, starting with First Nations and the dugout and moving to more contemporary canoeing in the area,” she said. “Cottonwood is plentiful around here, it’s a little bit different than the west coast where they use Cedar, so cottonwood is a soft wood and then it hardens so it’s perfect for making a canoe.”
The canoe will take approximately 10 days to be completed until the grand opening of the exhibit to coincide with the Northern Hardware Canoe Race on July 10th. It’s especially important to Frederick after never thinking he would have the strength to carve canoes again. “A couple of years ago I got stopped at my work, I was wondering why I was weak walking up the hill and then I had a heart attack,” he said. “Now I’m two years better so I can swing the axe and now I want the kids to learn, my grand kids, my nieces, and nephews.
Frederick is pleased with the progress so far and excited for what’s to come for his culture and the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation. This is the fifth canoe he has carved, while two of his canoes are already on display at Exploration Place. “We were idle for many years and we’re eventually getting back to our traditions of burning a tree down, burning the inside out, and carving it.”