This is a first hand account of the building of a Native American birch bark canoe, as seen through the eyes of a European traveller in 1827.
I have attended the progress of the work in building this canoe. It is curious enough. Stakes are driven – into the ground at certain distances, along each side of where the canoe is to be built, and for the entire length of it. Pieces of bark are sewn together with wattap, and placed between, from one end to the other, and made fast to them. Once the bark is thus in, it hangs loose, and in folds, and looks, without its regularity, like the covers of a book with its back downwards, its edges up, and the leaves out.
Next, the cross pieces are put in, pressing out the rim, and giving to the upper edges the form which the canoe is to bear—then the ribs are pressed in, the thin sheathing, in strips, being laid between them and the bark, and these (the ribs,) press out the bark, and give form and figure to the bottom, and sides of the canoe.
Weights (large stones.) are put on the bottom of these ribs, which had been previously soaked, and kept there till they dry. The next process is to remove the stakes, gum the seams, and the fabric is complete. There remains no more to do but to put it in the water, where it floats like a feather. This canoe is thirty-six feet long, and five wide across the middle.
Sketches of a tour to the Lakes, of the character and customs of the Chippeway Indians, and of incidents connected with the treaty of Fond du Lac. by Thomas Lorraine M’Kenney (1827)