PEI·Video

Traditional Mi'kmaq canoe built on P.E.I. makes first voyage

A traditional birchbark canoe that was built on P.E.I. was launched from Skmaqn–Port-la-Joye–Fort Amherst National Historic Site on Tuesday.

'Once you see a canoe and see how it's built, it really makes you feel good'

Birchbark canoe has maiden voyage in P.E.I. 0:42

A piece of traditional Mi'kmaq craftsmanship made its maiden voyage in Charlottetown Harbour on Tuesday from the Skmaqn–Port-la-Joye–Fort Amherst National Historic Site.

The birchbark canoe was built as part of a partnership between the Mi'kmaq Confederacy of P.E.I. and Parks Canada.

Master canoe builder Todd Labrador spent six weeks in the fall of of 2018 working on it with the help of Mi'kmaq elder Junior Peter-Paul and others.

They mostly worked at the historic site, where they could interact with the public and raise awareness of the Mi'kmaq culture while they built the canoe.

"It was really special," said Labrador. "Took me a lot of years to figure out how to build a canoe, but now to be able to build them and to share with other communities, makes you feel good."

There was a presentation at Skmaqn–Port-la-Joye–Fort Amherst National Historic Site before the canoe was launched. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

As part of the project, the canoe builders travelled to Lennox Island and Scotchfort so community members could watch them in action.

They finished the canoe in late October but were unable to do the official launch until this year.

They were hoping to get it into the water in September, but post-tropical storm Dorian delayed the date.

Labrador returned to P.E.I. for the official launch Tuesday, even bringing a second 19-foot birchbark canoe for the event.

Master canoe builder Todd Labrador, wearing a hat, was joined by community member Adam Jadis in a second canoe that Labrador had built. It is designed to be used in ocean conditions while the P.E.I. canoe was built for rivers and lakes. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

It was larger, designed for travelling through ocean waves, something Labrador noted as he crossed over the Confederation Bridge on his way in.

"You could look down and see the water and it was very rough," he said.

"I thought to myself my ancestors were very, very strong people because they would have paddled from New Brunswick to Prince Edward Island. They would have paddled to Nova Scotia in birchbark canoes.

"Very, very strong people they were and also very brave people to do that."

The P.E.I. canoe glided out with Junior Peter-Paul and Jessica Francis, one of the heritage presenters for the historic site. Labrador was joined in his canoe by community member Adam Jadis.

The two birchbark canoes paddled in the harbour with the Norwegian Gem cruise ship anchored closer to Charlottetown. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

They did a small lap to test out the canoe before returning to shore.

The canoe will now be used for educational events and demonstrations as it will be a living piece of history.

It also will be taken out on the water as often as possible to keep it in good condition.

"Once you store them away if they dry out, everything becomes brittle," Labrador said. "It's like your skin. If your skin becomes very dry, it'll crack. The best thing for a birchbark canoe is water."

Heritage presenter Jessica Francis and elder Junior Peter-Paul paddled the P.E.I.-built birchbark canoe. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

Labrador said he hopes that having the canoe here on P.E.I. will help inspire other future canoe builders.

"Would really be nice to see every community have their own canoe," he said.

"Brings pride back to our communities and once you see a canoe and see how it's built, it really makes you feel good, and think about the knowledge that our ancestors had was amazing."

More P.E.I. news

About the Author

John Robertson

Video journalist

John Robertson is a multi-platform journalist based out of Charlottetown. He has been with CBC News for more than a decade, with stints in Nunavut, Edmonton and Prince Edward Island. John.Robertson@cbc.ca Twitter @CBCJRobertson Instagram @johnrobertsoncbc

With files from Randy McAndrew