The canoe (chimàn)

is a symbol of the Algonquin culture

Although it is difficult to attribute the paternity of the canoe to a particular group, it is often associated to Algonquin people. The essential material used for its manufacture is white birch, which is found mainly in northeastern forests of North America, territory occupied by the Anishinabeg.

This boat was  perfectly constructed for Anishinabeg hunters, as it made mobility easy and was essential for their survival; they were able to move quickly and quietly. Early explorers also said that the Algonquins were probably the best guides on rivers and lakes due to their ability to maneuver the boat in dangerous areas. The materials used for the construction of a canoe would have to be lightweight and easy to carry.

The frame of the boat was built with cedar wood; flexible and resistant to water. The casing was entirely made of birch bark, sewed with spruce roots and rendered waterproof by the application of spruce gum and heated fat. Due to the fragility of the bark, the guide of the boat had to constantly make sure to avoid obstacles (rocks, branches) not to pierce the casing. Each passenger carried a tool in case a quick casing repair was needed.

The nations of the south, mainly Mohawks, with whom Anishinabeg were often at war, feared a confrontation on the water because of the maneuverability of the bark canoe. Birch is most prevalent in the north; other groups travelled in heavy boats made of aspen, which did not allow them to escape if they were looking for refuge. Generally, they headed for the nearest shore to avoid a confrontation in the middle of the river where the Anishinabeg with bark canoes had an advantage.

The typical boat used by Anishinabeg measured up to six meters and carried 450 kilos of cargo in addition to two or three rowers. When the fur trade attracted Europeans to America, they found that their wooden boats were completely useless through rough waterways. They quickly adopted the use of the canoe. Due to their ever-increasing demand for furs, they built canoes up to 12 meters long.