In the wake of devastating disease epidemics and external threats to many of their traditions, the making of large, sea-going canoes on Canada’s west coast had been predominantly interrupted for much of the 20th century. In 1969 the founder of The Canadian Canoe Museum, Kirk Wipper, commissioned a dugout canoe from Haida carver Victor Adams.
Adams had never attempted a canoe and sought the advice of community elders to complete this three-year project. His work marks the earliest indication of what would become a renaissance of coastal cultural canoe traditions. It also preceded the celebrated Haida artist Bill Reid’s masterpiece canoe “Lootas” (“Wave Eater”), carved in 1986. Of his effort, Adams recalled “it sure was a tough job for me... I rather like the canoe, although I’d never made one before.”
Today, there has been a remarkable rekindling of canoeing traditions and expeditions along Canada’s Pacific coast. This revival has proved to be an important expression of cultural endurance in the modern era and the canoe itself a potent symbol or expression of this survival.