Feds commission traditonal boats for Canada 150

Come next June, Yukoners will be able to watch four traditional watercraft being built in front of the SS Klondike.

Come next June, Yukoners will be able to watch four traditional watercraft being built in front of the SS Klondike.

It’s part of celebrations planned for Canada 150, the anniversary of the country’s confederation, Yukon MP Larry Bagnell announced on Thursday.

Four Yukon artists, each working with an apprentice, will be building a dugout canoe, a birch bark canoe, a moose skin boat, and a skin kayak.

Bagnell, who is also a canoe instructor on his free time and gives lectures on historical boats, emphasized the educational aspect of the project.

“We’re teaching the youth how to build these four boats,” he said. “We couldn’t do that 10 or 20 years from now because the expertise will be lost.”

Bagnell was making the announcement on behalf of Canadian Heritage Minister Melanie Joly.

The federal heritage department is contributing $300,000 for the watercraft project.

The boats will travel to some Yukon communities once they’re built.

Yukon’s rivers are “the highways of the past,” Bagnell said, adding that before there were the Alaska Highway, before the steamboats, canoe and kayaks ruled the north.

It’s also an opportunity to teach people about the diversity among the 14 Yukon First Nations, he said.

“People from down south, when we talk about First Nation people, they think that across all the North it’s the same, it’s Dene or something,” he said.

“This talks to the diversity of First Nations and the different types of watercrafts and usages.”

Once the community tour is done, the boats will be displayed in Yukon museums and be brought out for special occasions, such as the Adaka Cultural festival.

While construction won’t start for another six months, the artists are already at work.

“We’re in the process of gathering moose hides,” said Charlene Alexander, executive director of the Yukon First Nations Culture and Tourism Association.

Doug Smarch Jr. and Doug Smarch Sr. will work on the moose skin boat, Ray Natraro on the dugout canoe, Darrel Nasogaluak on the skin kayak and Joe Migwans will be taking care of the birch bark canoe.

The list of apprentices is being finalized.

There will be community workshops before the month-long construction phase set for June.

“There will lots of opportunities for the public to come down, watch and help build these boats,” Alexander said.

The boats will travel to four or five communities, some via river some via the highway.

In August Heritage Canada offered $140,000 to the City of Whitehorse for its 2017 Canada Day celebrations.

Contact Pierre Chauvin at pierre.chauvin@yukon-news.com