Spruce gum and a red hot knife: Group paddling from Wekweètì fix damaged canoe on-the-land

After a canoe was damaged on the trip, Archie Black fixed it with spruce gum, a hot knife and a can of beans. "One time job," he said.

'One time job,' said Archie Black, who was guiding the Trails of our Ancestors trip to Whatì

Archie Black is a guide on the the Trails Of Our Ancestors trip that took paddlers from Wekweètì to Whatì for the Tłı̨chǫ Annual Gathering. One of the boats on the trip was damaged, but Black patched it up with spruce gum found on the land. (Luke Carroll/CBC)

A group traveling by canoe from Wekweètì, N.W.T., to the Tłı̨chǫ Annual Gathering repaired a damaged canoe using spruce gum, a hot knife and a can of beans. 

Archie Black is a guide on the Trails of Our Ancestors, a canoe trip that brings people from different Tłı̨chǫ communities to the annual gathering, which was held in Whatì this year. 

Speaking with CBC News at the gathering in mid-July, Black said a few weeks back, midway through the trip, some of the travellers accidentally dropped the canoe while they were carrying it through shallow rapids, leaving a dent and a hole about an inch wide. 

"Water started to get in the boat, so we had to go over to the shore," Black said. 

They quickly took all the gear out of the canoe and started investigating the damage. 

Black said he contacted his boss in Behchokǫ̀ who suggested they leave the canoe and move everyone into the remaining two boats. 

But he said there were 15 people on the trip who all had gear, so space was already tight. 

"Might as well just do something to try and repair," Black said. 

No repair kit

They had no repair kit, but Black said when he used to go on the land with a canvas canoe he learned how to repair them. 

"When a canvas canoe rips it's easier to repair with spruce gum," he said.

Most modern canoes are made of fibreglass or molded plastic, so Black said he first used an axe to bang the dent out. 

"Then we started a fire, I had a big knife there, the knife started to burn red hot," he said.

"Then I start to scrape [the canoe] on the outside." 

He did the same on the inside and advised some of other group members to go find spruce gum. 

"We opened a can of beans, put all the spruce gum in the can of beans," Black said. 

He then let the spruce gum warm up until it became a liquid which he began spreading overtop the hole. 

"As soon as we finished that, the boat was patched, and we took a look at it and we put it in the water, water wasn't leaking inside the boat," he said.

"From there we took off and it took us all the way to Whatì without repairing it again. One time job."

Mable Bohnet was one of the paddlers on the Trails of Our Ancestors journey from Wekweètì to Whatì. (Luke Carroll/CBC)

Mable Bohnet of Edzo was one of those who took part in the trip, which covered some 200 kilometres of Tłı̨chǫ land and took more than two weeks.

She said the canoe repair was just one of the many challenges on the trip — and a particularly uplifting one.

"After it dried, they loaded the boat with the passengers, the bags and everything, there was no leakage or anything," she said. 

By the time they arrived at their next destination, it was 2:30 a.m. and the group didn't go to bed until 4 a.m., Bohnet said.

"We were so exhausted but we still have to eat right? So they made a fire, cooked," she said. 

Bohnet said the trip was not what she expected. 

"I thought it was just going to be easy peasy," she said. 

'I almost gave up'

"I lost count of the portages we went through," Bohnet said. "It was over 20."

She considered backing out of the trip at one point, but decided to stick it out — a decision she is proud of. 

"It was a good experience, you know at my age, I may never get this chance again," Bohnet said. 

"It was tough, I almost gave up, but they talked to me." 

Bohnet said the experience of arriving in Whatì was unforgettable. 

"I cried, as soon as I saw my husband, my grandkids, my daughter, my sister-in-law," she said. 

Her advice for anyone doing the trip for their first time is to make sure you have someone experienced leading it. 

"Like Archie Black, he's been doing the trails for years," Bohnet said. 


Luke Carroll


Luke Carroll is a journalist with CBC News in Yellowknife who has previously worked in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Ontario. Luke is originally from Brockville, Ont., and moved to Yellowknife in May 2020. He can be reached at