Skin on frame kayaks: hands-on learning from an ancient tradition

Russ Parker and kayak A weekend visit to The Canadian Canoe Museum will often lead to an encounter with a very talented woodworker on our team named Russ Parker. Retired from a long career with the Toronto Fire Services and an avid guitar maker, Russ has also been producing some very fine skin-on-frame kayaks in our Living Traditions Workshop as a Canadian Canoe Museum volunteer.

CCM Origins Gallery - Arctic Watercraft

The Canadian Canoe Museum has a superb collection of traditional kayaks currently on exhibition whose cultural origins range from Aleutian Islands off Alaska to Greenland in the east. These vessels also reflect a wonderfully complex and diverse range of function, efficiencies and cultural design, qualities that make them so much more than just fast boats for hunting prey. A careful look at these will also illustrate how much ancient tradition is still preserved and reproduced in touring and sea kayaks today.

 

I’m sure that, like many visitors to the Museum, I’ve walked past this collection and wondered just what they’d feel like to paddle on open water. I’m extremely pleased to say that Russ has agreed to make several accurate, working reproductions drawn from examples found in our own collection. These kayaks will ultimately be put to work in our “handling fleet”: refurbished or newly-made craft that can be launched and enjoyed by guests at our annual on-water events and thereby providing another layer of discovery and interaction with artifacts.

 

Alaskan Sugpiaq-Alutiiq kayak (CCM# 1977.185) on display

CCM/Russ Parker Alaskan kayak stem detail

If you drop by the shop this coming weekend, you’ll see that Russ is completing the rather complex kayak frame, based upon the elegant Sugpiaq-Alutiiq qayaq, seen amidst the other Alaskan watercraft on display (CCM accession # 1977.185). The original is an excellent example of its type, used during Alaska’s Russian colonial period and featuring the distinctive, bifurcated, upturned forward stem. Celebrated kayak historian Harvey Golden surveyed this boat for his own research over a decade ago and generously shared with us accurate scale drawings that he produced developed from our artifacts. I am also looking forward to seeing this elegant example featured (along with many others seen in collections around the world) in his upcoming book on traditional kayaks of Alaska. This book, following his work on Greenland kayaks, will be the second in a trilogy devoted to the subject that will span the North American Arctic.

Harvey Golden Chugach kayak (traditionalkayaks.com)

 

Lastly, one of the much-anticipated live auction items on offer at The Canadian Canoe Museum’s annual Beaver Club Gala next month will be the a traditional Greenland-style kayak, custom-made by our resident expert and made to measure in the traditional manner precisely for you. The kayak will be made in our workshop, before the public over the course of this winter, and should be ready for the open water next spring! There are still some tickets available for the gala but they do always sell out. I hope to see you there