Homemade sealskin kayak hitting the water in Hopedale

In Labrador, a traditional handmade, Inuit-style sealskin kayak is getting ready for the water.

Ross Flowers got the inspiration for the project from his mother

Lise Flowers tests out whether or not the sealskin kayak is, in fact, waterproof. And it is. (Submitted)

Ross Flowers has never been in a kayak, but he knows how to build one.

Flowers and his family have been working for a year on an Inuit-style sealskin kayak, the likes of which he said hasn't been seen in Hopedale for decades.

"My mother used to talk about them, a long time ago. When I was younger, she used to talk about being in kayak when she was young," Flowers said.

Featured VideoRoss Flowers has never been in a kayak -- but that didn't stop him from building one. Flowers and his family have been working on a traditional Inuit Kayak for a year, and just this weekend, they put it in the water.

The image of his mother as a child, travelling by kayak, gave Flowers all the inspiration he needed — even though he'd never seen a sealskin kayak in person.

He called a friend in Nain who had built one and asked for advice, as well as looked at photographs of similar kayaks and visited the local museum for guidance.

Ross Flowers and his family sewed together nine seal skins to create a traditional Inuit-style sealskin-covered kayak. (Submitted)

Still, Flowers admits figuring out how to start the project was a challenge.

"But after that it all went together right good," he said.

Stitching the skins

The kayak frame is made out of birch and juniper pieces Flowers cut.

I've never been in no kind of a kayak …won't be long learning though, I suppose.- Ross Flowers

The sealskin covering the kayak comes from nine seals — a combination of ring and harp seals — he and his family hunted. Flowers said he had hoped to use only harp seals, which have a softer skin that's easier to sew.

"We were three and a half days, I guess, sewing the skins on," Flowers said. "I got my aunt to come down and show me a bit, that waterproof stitch that they use to make skin boots."

Ross Flowers and his family spent one full year creating the sealskin kayak at their home in Hopedale. (Submitted)

Flowers, his aunt and his wife Lise all took turns sewing the skins.

"It's a lot of sewing, my goodness, my fingers [are] sore — poking fingers with needles and everything — but it turned out good."

'It had been exactly a year'

When the last skin was sewn on, Lise snapped a picture and posted it on Facebook. It was at that moment they realized it had been exactly a year since the project began.

"August the third, it popped up on Facebook," Flowers said. "It had been exactly one year, it's kind of funny."

Flowers finished the kayak almost a week ago, but he still hasn't tried it out; The kayak has been in the water, but not for very long.

Ross Flowers and his family finished the sealskin kayak exactly one year to the day after starting the project. (Submitted)

"Just to see how it floated, and to see if it's going to leak," he said.

The results? No leaks.

"Best kind, yeah. We were right surprised. It felt right good," he said.

'Wont be long learning'

Flowers says he's waiting for a nice day to take it out. He carved a paddle — now he has learn how to use it.

"I've never been in no kind of a kayak … won't be long learning though, I suppose."

When he finally gets in, Flowers says he'll be thinking of his mother, and the stories she used to tell about her own kayak adventures.

"She'd be happy … that's one of the main reasons I decided to make one. Going to be good, I think. Going to be a good feeling, anyway."


Bailey White

CBC News

Bailey White is a senior producer in St. John's.