Celebrations are ringing throughout Canada as it celebrates its 150th (sesquicentennial) birthday. But there was one celebration that was characteristically similar, while at the same time, different, for one simple reason—it was also a celebration of the canoe.
The canoe in the minds of many Canadians is as iconic as hockey, Tim Hortons, and maple syrup. However, many scholars and writers claim its representation and symbolism is even more significant than the maple leaf found on the Canadian flag. All one needs to do is look back at our history, where one will find countless references to it. It played a prominent role throughout the years that defined our nation, but even more so prior to Confederation.
So why is the canoe so symbolic to Canada? Roll out a map, or open Google Maps, and look at the topography of Canada. There are countless bodies of water that dot the landscape, crisscrossed by ribbons of blue that connect them all. This was Canada’s original highway, or railroad if you will. The Indigenous people intimately knew this. In order to take advantage of this topographical feature, they created the ultimate transportation vehicle: the canoe.
The canoe was literally born from the land—its essence sourced from life all around it. But the canoe was far from one-dimensional. It instilled a deeper connection with the surroundings, provided freedom and opportunity, and fostered commerce.
It was that last manifestation, commerce, that changed the course of this land's history forever. The gift of the canoe to the early Europeans transformed its humble status to something larger than life. Much more than anyone expected, indigenous or otherwise.
Cemented now in our history, this ingenious mix of cedar planks, spruce roots, and birch bark became the primary reason we've come to know this land today as Canada. Canada owes a large gratitude to the Indigenous people who crafted the canoe and shared their profound knowledge of how to travel by water. Without the canoe, there would be no Canada.