Canoes were developed over the course of thousands of years by the native peoples of North America. The word ‘canoe’ originiated from the word ‘kenu’ – meaning dugout. These seagoing boats were used by the Carib Indians of the Caribbean islands, and were made of large tree trunks which were shaped and hollowed, and were strong enough to travel between the islands.
North American Indians are responsible for creating the more well-known version of the canoe – a frame of wooden ribs covered with the lightweight bark of birch trees, and sometimes elm or cedar trees. These boats, which have remained virtually unchanged in design for thousands of years, proved to be ideal for travelling the numerous streams, rivers and lakes of North America. Birchbark was the perfect choice to build canoes because, not only was it lightweight and smooth, but it was also waterproof and resilient. As well, the birch tree was found in almost every area of Canada, except for the western subarctic region, where spruce bark had to fill in as a substitute.
The joints of the canoes were held together by the root of the white pine and then made waterproof by applying hot pine or spruce resin. As the commerce of early North America grew, so did the need for canoes. The fur trade became so large, in fact, that the French set up the world’s first known canoe factory at Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, around the year 1750. Many of the canoes that fur traders used were capable of carrying a crew of up to 12 people and a cargo weighing around 2400 kilograms.