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Dugout canoes successfully launched on Ruth Lake

The canoes were made using traditional methods by students at South Cariboo elementary schools

Ruth Lake echoed with the sound of laughter on Thursday, June 22 as children paddled across its waters in a pair of dugout canoes.

Both canoes had been carved by hand from cottonwood logs by students from Eliza Archie Memorial School and Horse Lake Elementary School over the last two months. Watching them not only float but glide through the water filled every student with pride.

“It was really nice that they actually float. It was a cool experience to carve it together,” Horse Lake Grade 7 student Riley Judson said. “It was a good experience because I’ve never done anything like this before.”

Her classmate Maria Bonciu agreed, noting it was good to see that all their hard work had paid off. Both of them admitted with a laugh they hadn’t expected the canoes to actually float.

“In my head, it was like ‘Oh this log is way too heavy, there’s absolutely no way’ but it did,” Bonciu said. “It was good that none of us sank into the water.”

The students were led in the project by Tsq’escenemc (Canim Lake Band) cultural coordinator Joe Archie. He came up with the idea of the project last year, and noted that these are the first traditional dugout canoes made in the South Cariboo in decades.

“Using our own hands reconnects us with the traditional ways and that’s what these kids did. They put a lot of hard work into it and I’m proud of them,” Archie said. “School projects like this give them an experience they won’t forget. It’s good to have a partnership like this.”

READ MORE: South Cariboo students come together to carve canoes

Horse Lake Grade 7 teacher Lisa Pugh was also elated to see the results of her students’ hard work. In addition to the canoes, she said her students built some good relationships with their Eliza Archie counterparts.

“They’re smooth, they’re balanced and they’re true watercraft. We did it, you know, and there are so many other layers to this that had nothing to do with canoes,” Pugh said. “These kids are all going to go to high school together next year and they’ve made connections.”

Eliza Archie’s Grade 6/7 teacher Andrea Silani concurred, noting that it’s been an amazing journey for her class. Silani brought in elders to help teach the students about the history of the canoe, including John Archie.

“Another highlight was collecting fir pitch with Adrian Archie and Tom Ned. We are so grateful for their help. We were able to use that pitch to fill in some of the cracks on the canoe,” Silani said. “(Thursday) was the culmination of an incredible project and I hope the students feel so proud of themselves and remember it for the rest of their lives.”

One of her students, Jaylee Meldrum, was a bit cold after splashing around in the lake, but said the canoe ride was memorable. Meldrum remarked it was a bit scary to take a ride on a canoe he’d helped carve himself.

“I was scared because I felt it was going to sink because it kept going down,” Meldrum said. “It was fun but it was a one-and-done ride.”

While the majority of the work was done using traditional tools like adzes, the students had a little modern help to meet their deadlines. Chris van Oort, whose son Weston attends Horse Lake Elementary, teamed up with Pugh’s husband Brian to use chainsaws to finish off the profile of the two canoes.

“The kids have done a tremendous amount of hand carving, but they were just running out of time,” van Oort said.

Archie said he liked that parents like van Oort got involved with the project and supported their children. Pugh added that several community members supported the project, including Jason Hinsche of 93 Mile Aggregates, who provided the logs for the canoes.

“Sourcing these giant cottonwoods is extremely difficult, so having them at the ready made this project go really smooth,” Pugh said.

Const. Jason Flett served as the skipper and Archie was happy to have him, noting that Flett has gone on plenty of traditional canoe journeys. Van Oort remarked that Thursday was a beautiful day to launch the canoes. He found it amazing that the canoes floated so well, despite a few leaks, easily holding four students and one adult.

“I figured they would float; I just didn’t know how tippy it would be,” van Oort observed. “I think it is really good for the children to be working together and doing projects like this. It instills a good work ethic and I think it’s a beautiful thing.”

While the project may be complete, Pugh said the schools will carry on looking after the canoes. Because of their design, they need to be kept in water to help preserve them.

“There will be a lot more that goes on with these canoes. There’s a responsibility that goes with making them,” Pugh said. “Every year they’ll have to be stored under the ice and there’s even more repair work we’re going to do because they do have cracks. We’re going to try to be traditional and use spruce pitch and sawdust (to seal them).

“These projects should be done and I think this is a great model that any other school in B.C. could try. We were successful with it and I have tons of video footage to make a movie about how we did it, and we’ll be sharing it next year.”

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Patrick Davies

About the Author: Patrick Davies

An avid lover of theatre, media, and the arts in all its forms, I've enjoyed building my professional reputation in 100 Mile House.
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