Charlie Mickey’s CanoesMr. Mickey is a skilled artist/carver of the Nuchatlaht band on the west coast of Vancouver Island.
According to tradition, Mr. Mickey’s knowledge and skill have been passed down within his family over many generations.
The Western Red Cedar, which is a close cousin to the Giant California Redwood, has always figured very prominently in the culture of this people; clothing, rope and baskets were made from the woven soft inner bark of the tree, peices of the wood were carved into eating and cooking utensils and beautiful ceremonial items.
Due to the easy splitting characteristics of the wood, long planks were made for construction of their homes and even their dead were laid to rest in caskets of cedar. The main part of the trunk, which could grow as large as twelve feet in diameter, was carved into large ocean–going canoes that were capable of holding thirty people and travelling for great distances over the open sea.
There are but a handful of people left who have the skill and ability to craft these incredible canoes. Mr. Mickey is proud to have produced thirteen of them, each one not only a work of art but 100% seaworthy as well.
Because of the logging practices of the non–native owned companies in the area, there are very, very few suitable trees left. To reach adequate size for canoe building requires at least 500 years, but are often well over 1,000 years old. The wood of the cedar is virtually impervious to decay so that a cedar canoe, with reasonable care, can be expected to last several lifetimes.
Mr. Mickey’s canoes can be finished in traditional black or can be ordered with a choice of traditional motifs. The canoes are also available in any size, from miniature up to 30–person capacity and every size in between.
In the late 1800’s a Catholic priest wrote this description of the canoe building process while living amongst the Nuu–chah–nulth people;
"At this time of the year [summer] many of our indians go up the inlets and rivers with the object of making new canoes. Up on the hillsides or on the lowlands they cut down a cedar tree and with a common axe they cut off a length according to the size required for the purposes of the canoe, i.e., sealing, fishing, sea otter hunting, or travelling. Then they put the proper shape to it, very roughly, first outside, then inside.
Next, they invite some friends and together they pull the clumsy frame to the stream or to the ocean and then float it and pull it on shore before their houses in the village.
When otherwise unemployed, especially in the early morning and toward evening, they use a peculiar hand chisel or adze [in old times they used a chisel of stone or of horn of the antlers of elk], and with wonderful patience they cut off chip after chip, ‘till the frame is reduced to the proper thickness – say one inch or more for the sides and double that for the bottom.
Then knot–holes are filled up, finishing pieces put in, and when all this is done, a fire is made under the canoe raised up from the ground on blocks, and the bottom is rendered perfectly smooth.
All the work is done without instruments to go by or to measure; yet most of these Indian’s canoes are so true and so well shaped and proportioned that not even an expert could detect the least flaw or imperfection&rsauo;.
by Eric G
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