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'It's history': 4 traditional boats take to the water in Whitehorse

Four traditional watercraft - a moosehide boat, a dugout canoe, a birch bark canoe and a skin kayak - were built for the Canada 150 celebrations and officially launched in the Yukon River on Thursday.

One builder says his mother cried when she saw the finished boat

One of Yukon's major Canada 150 events hit a high point Thursday afternoon at the Adäka Cultural Festival when four traditional watercraft built on the Whitehorse waterfront were launched on the Yukon River.

Hundreds of people crowded the riverbanks in Whitehorse to see the spectacle. The four vessels — a moosehide boat, a dugout canoe, a birch bark canoe and a traditional skin kayak — were handcrafted over several weeks, as part of Canada 150 celebrations.

The moosehide canoe was built by Teslin Tlingit First Nation citizens John Peters Jr. and Doug Smarch Jr. Smarch said his mother cried when she saw the finished boat, from the memories it brought back.

The moosehide canoe is one of the four traditional watercraft set to be launched Thursday afternoon from the Whitehorse waterfront. (Dave Croft/CBC)

"It was only stories that we heard, a younger generation that only used to hear stories from our parents, and now it's sitting there and we're going to jump in this thing and paddle it. We're going to create our stories," said Smarch, before Thursday's launch.

He said the moosehide and black spruce used to make the boat are from the Teslin area.

Peters said it's a milestone for his community.

"To me it's history, history coming back, hope for our youth, hope for the children, to keep that identity," said Peters.

Doug Smarch Jr. says the traditional moosehide canoe was only a legend for citizens of the Teslin Tlingit First Nation until now. (Dave Croft/CBC)

William Carlick, one of the crew in a support boat, has been on similar voyages including the healing journey to Moosehide, near Dawson City, Yukon, in a dugout canoe in 2016.

He predicted the launch would be emotional for many people involved. 

"The craft that they put so much time and effort to create is going to come alive, and they're going to feel that energy, that good energy, and it's going to be pretty tough to part with it once they get to the destination, which is a few kilometres down the river," said Carlick, beforehand.

The launch had one minor setback — the moosehide boat had a small leak that needed patching. 

Once they were on the water, some of the vessels were paddled several kilometres down river to the Takhini River bridge.

All four will ultimately end up on display at cultural centres and museums in Whitehorse, Teslin, Mayo and Haines Junction. 

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