North·Photos

Apprentice canoe carvers learn from the 'adze master' in Yukon

Making a traditional a spruce canoe is a painstaking process but also a ceremony, says master carver Wayne Price. 'This is an ancient craft, we want to honour what we're doing and honour the tree that gave its life.'

'This is an ancient craft, we want to honour the tree that gave its life' says Wayne Price

Master carver Wayne Price wears a hat that says 'adze master'. It refers to the curved, bladed woodworking tool he uses - an adze. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Alongside the Yukon River in Whitehorse this weekend, you can hear the steady sound of chopping, and the crunch of people walking on spruce chips. 

Little by little — hour by hour — people are making a dug-out spruce canoe in the traditional way. 

Wayne Price is a master carver from Haines, Alaska, who is leading the project, behind the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre. He wears a hat that says "adze master", a reference to his preferred carving tool, an adze. 

The canoe is being carved from a single spruce tree which was felled in Alaska. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

The Tlingit-style canoe, once finished, will measure almost seven metres tip to tip. It's one of four watercraft that will be built for this summer's Adäka Cultural Festival. 

"I started back in 1982, and all the mentors were actually gone at that time. I started by making small models and it got bigger and bigger, and finally got to a full-size," Price said. 

He says the canoe — the 11th he's helped make — is being carved from a single tree which was felled in Alaska.

A similar craft was paddled last year from Whitehorse to the ceremonial Moosehide Gathering past Dawson City. 

Apprentice Rayn Nehass, 16, has been working long hours chipping away at the spruce. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

'Honour the tree that gave its life'

Price is working with different apprentices and volunteers on the project. He says building a canoe is a ceremony. 

Asked what's important to learn, he said, "keeping the tools sharp, taking care of the tools and respect for the environment that we're working in.

"Acknowledging what it is that we're doing — this is an ancient craft, we want to honour what we're doing and honour the tree that gave its life," he said. 

Rayn Nehass is one of the apprentices on the project. He lives in Whitehorse but his family is from Telegraph Creek, B.C. 

Justin Smith, a member of the Kwanlin Dün First Nation, works away. Price is working with several apprentices and volunteers on the project. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

The 16-year-old says he's been putting in long hours lately. He's got the calloused hands to prove it.  

"It's just a lot of labour. A lot of work, a lot of adzing," he says, referring to the bladed tool they use called an adze. 

"A lot of chopping off chips, watering the log. My arms are pretty dead now, I've been working for four days straight. I get here around 8 [a.m.] and go home around 8 [p.m.] or later."

Nehass says Price has been teaching him to make the canoes and they're going to make others together.

Once carved, the new canoe will be painted in red and black — two colours of the Medicine Wheel. 

The team expects to be done by July 6th. The plan is to then house the canoe at the Haines Junction visitor centre.

Price hopes it will be used in the community. 

"I hope they use it on their lakes, to teach the young people about dugouts and water safety and the fact this is how we used to get around." 

Justin Smith's shoes crunch in the wood chips. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

now