In a classroom 1,400 kilometres away, grade seven and eight students at the Kingsway Public School in Thunder Bay gave the museum a special gift. Connected to staff members at the museum via Skype, on their last day of school, the students presented the organization with a birchbark canoe they had built as part of an extraordinary experiential learning program.

The presentation was the culmination of a year-long journey, which saw the students build three birchbark canoes using traditional Indigenous methods, with the help of Dave Brown from the Fort William Historical Park and community knowledge keepers.

The canoe gifted to the museum will arrive in August to be used as a handling artifact for educational programming. Meanwhile, the second canoe will go to the Fort William Historical Park, and the third will remain with the school.

As part of the presentation, Curator Jeremy Ward had the opportunity to speak to the students, and said, “You never know where your canoe may travel, or who it may touch.

The museum had the unique opportunity to be a part of this one-of-a-kind canoe-building journey. In February, Kelly Pineault, Programs Coordinator, Jen Burnard, Lead Animator, and Russ Parker, long-time volunteer artisan and canoe builder, lead a custom virtual field trip via Skype with the class to share their knowledge. In turn, we were thrilled to have the opportunity to learn from the students.

“Reciprocity is a major part of the project and gifting the canoes back to places where they can be used to educate others is important to the students and to this project,” said Darren Lentz, Principal of Kingsway Park Public School, who spoke as part of the presentation. 

Mr. Lentz explained that in addition to building the canoes, they learned how to properly harvest material from the land, read about and studied canoes and canoe-building, and examined the land through the lens of the canoe. They also had their own on-water experiences..

“Together—you guys worked together, you helped each other, you talked, shared. We built many different things, we did a lot of things. We got to know our roots.”  Elder Marcel Bananish, June 27, 2019