Northwest coast canoe models

Northwest Coast Canoe Models

Canoes were the most important, in many cases the only, form of long-distance transport for people of the Northwest Coast. With communities exclusively built on rivers and shorelines and overland travel made difficult by mountains and thick forests, canoe culture was dominant. Canoes were made by specialist carving families, who felled cedar trees with controlled burns, hollowed out the trunks and then steamed them for weeks over large fires to widen the beam. A large canoe, and the largest were well over 50 feet, could take up to a year to make, with several under construction at any one time. Whole fleets of canoes were drawn up on the beaches and harbours of Northwest Coast villages, with a range of designs and sizes tailored to specific purposes and weather conditions.

These objects, of course, are not actually canoes - they are far too small. They are miniature canoes, often described inaccurately as model canoes. Early scholars thought they were like model ships from Europe and that they could be scaled up to make full-size canoes, but recent research has shown that this is wrong. These are not models for construction but imaginative experiments, with shape and form often created as a way to communicate complex ideas to diverse audiences.

For example, object 1937 depicts a traditional seal-hunting canoe of the Ditidaht people of Southern Vancouver Island. However, it was made in the 1890s after sealing canoes had been replaced by plank-built schooners as a way of remembering and preserving the old ways. world_gallery:layered_info:to_do:nn11318|Object nn11318 is of uncertain date but was certainly made decades after canoes of this type, a specific form known as the munka, had fallen into disuse--likely an exercise in nostalgia. During the so-called Northwest Coast Renaissance Period of 1960-1990, when artists were rediscovering lost art practices, these miniature canoes were invaluable guides to the form and technique of their ancestors.

Collection Information

These objects are only a part of our collections, of which there are more than 350,000 objects. This information comes from our collections database. Some of this is incomplete and there may be errors. This part of the website is also still under construction, so there may be some fields repeated or incorrectly formatted information.

The database sometimes uses language taken from historical documents to help research, which may now appear outdated and even offensive. The database also includes information on objects that are considered secret or sacred by some communities.

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