Just two weeks after they unrolled a 6-metre sheet of birch bark in The Canadian Canoe Museum’s Preserving Skills Gallery, canoe builder Chuck Commanda and an enthusiastic team of helpers applied the last coatings of pitch to the seams of a brand-new canoe. As they loaded the canoe to carry across town for a launching event along with the project’s supporters, an intoxicating smell of heated spruce gum lingered in the Museum workshop. For most involved, looking back on the fifteen-day canoe building project would also be a blur of guests, groups, media, students and virtual classroom visits from across North America, all wanting to witness or share in the project. In total, 545 students from far and wide engaged with the Jiimaan Project either in person or via Skype.
The launching was a moving event and a tremendous sense of accomplishment was certainly evident among all involved. After the speeches, held at the future site of The Canadian Canoe Museum adjacent to the Peterborough Lift Lock, the builders carefully lowered the new canoe into the water for a very satisfying trial run. Once safely back to shore, Chuck and project partner Stephen Hunter spent the next hour or so taking guests out for a short paddle.
To capture the impact and importance of this project, take a look at what a teacher from Perth, Ontario had to say: “If you are wondering if what you are doing has an impact I will tell you that it certainly does,” says Sandra Theobald, St John Catholic School, Perth. “This is the first year that I have had two students come to me and share that they are First Nations. The way the Sept. 18th session was presented I believe was so empowering for the students. It was an opportunity to share the richness of the culture… One more way to bring learning to life.”