In my youth I loved watching the Canadian television show, Kids in the Hall. Over the years they put out some pretty weird yet funny stuff. A great example is their take on modern-day Voyageur fur trappers. As somebody who works in a cubical farm, this really hit home. Good thing I don’t need to wear a suit...
Before we get to the real history lesson below; a pre-history lesson. This little clip is from Season 2 Episode 2 and aired in Fall, 1990.
I recently stumbled upon an article that was originally published in Collectors Weekly back in July. It looked at how back in the 1900-1920(ish) canoeing was viewed as a very sexy activity. If you were looking to get away from people for a little "private time", the canoe was the only way to do it.
Adolescents took to the waters with the urgency of salmon fighting their way upstream, spawning a veritable canoe craze, particularly in places like
Bostonalong the Charles River and at Belle Isle, near Detroit. While any canoe would do, companies such as Old Town, Kennebec, and White marketed “courting canoes” specifically designed for waterborne lovebirds. “These boats usually had long 4-foot decks and an 8-foot elliptical or oval cockpit,” says Young. “The woman would sit in the bottom of the canoe on cushions with her parasol to shade her from the sun, while her gentleman in his boater hat would paddle and probably croon to her. Or she might read poetry to him.” Make no mistake; these were wild times.
One Minneapolis Tribune headline read 'Girl Canoeists’ Tight Skirts Menace Society'
As further proof that canoeing had become a hotbed for teenage delinquents, in 1913 the Minneapolis Parks Board refused to issue permits for canoes with unpalatable names. Local newspapers published some of the offensive phrases that slipped past the board the previous summer, including “Thehelusa,” “Kumomin Kid,” “Kismekwik,” “Damfino,” “Ilgetu,” “Aw-kom-in,” “G-I-Lov-U,” “Skwizmtyt,” “Ildaryoo,” “Win-kat-us,” “O-U-Q-T,” “What the?,” “Joy-tub,” “Cupid’s Nest,” and “I Would Like to Try It.” The commissioners unanimously agreed to outlaw phrases lacking obvious moral and grammatical standards, though a few of these clever pre-text-message abbreviations clearly had them scratching their heads.
Check out the entire article and learn more about the scandalous image that canoeing had at the time.
Back in 1930 UK explorer, H.G. Watkins (the guy in the photo above) gathered a team together to see if a new air route between Britain and Canada could be established rather then flying across the dangerous ocean. The proposed route was to cross the Arctic via the Faroes,
Along with figuring out the route, the 14-man team had a goal to map the very poorly understood Greenland shoreline as well as gather climate data of the icecap of
All in all the year-long expedition was quite a success and it have some slow times allowing the team to take some kayak lessons from the local people living in
The footage below was captured in the summer of 1930 and shows members of the expedition in the last half.
Two interesting observations from the film; first, it’s clear towards the end of the footage, it’s team members rolling and playing around in the boats so they must have had enough time (and willingness to get wet) to actually learn how to roll. Could these be one of
The second thing I realized that even 82 years later, as soon as a group of kayakers who can roll get together somebody always wants to organize some sort of synchronised rolling demonstration.
Of course not everything on the expedition went smooth. During the winter of 1931, Augustine Courtauld volunteered to live solo at the weather station in the interior of
Freeze Frame has a better description of his adventure then I could ever make up:
Having left his spade outside [the station], Courtauld had struggled with the snow, it had filled both the exit and the openings into the snow house and stores. He had also been troubled by the loss of paraffin from two slightly punctured tins, this resulted in a shortage of fuel and as he also ran out of candles he had to spend some time in the dark. He also ate his meals uncooked so that the limited supply of fuel could be conserved to melt drinking water.
More info and fantastic photos can be found here.
Update: Upon further investigation, I found out that expedition leader, G.H. Watkins went back to Greenland in 1932 on a second expedition which would sadly end in tragedy for him.
During both the 1930 and 1932 trips to Greenland he spent a lot of time with the local people becoming quite proficient at kayaking. In fact he fell in love with the activity and people so much that the expedition was one of the first to make use of indigenous techniques and methods. He and his men were so at hunting seals from a kayak that they planned on not bringing any food for their 1932 expedition but rather live off the land completely. At the time this was completely unheard of especially by citizens of British society who looked down at the people of Greenland as savages.
Sadly the method of travel for the expedition wasn’t to come about as Watkins drowned in his kayak while he was out hunting on his own one day.
G.H. Watkins legacy to polar exploration was a real shift in mindset in how future expeditions are carried out; as well he planted the seeds of respect for the local people. It’s best described on the very fascinating site, Freeze Frame:
This expedition marked a real shift in the way explorers viewed indigenous technologies. Apart from following in Nansen’s footsteps in adopting the sledge and snowshoe designs [Watkins] adapted from Inuit versions during the periods in which he overwintered with them, few explorers had wholeheartedly examined and embraced Inuit survival techniques. Watkins’ final expedition, for which the food source was based entirely upon Inuit hunting methods, marks the start of changing views with regard to the Inuit and their techniques.
Archaeologists from Boston University have recently uncovered what they feel could be the oldest campfire ever. Located in Wonderwerk Cave, located in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa, they found ash of grass, leaves and bone fragments at a depth of 30 meters - roughly one million years ago.
The excavated area is located far enough back in the cave to be out of reach of lightning strikes and has tested negative for bat guano (which can spontaneously combust in sufficient quantities), "This left us with the conclusion that the fire had to have been created by hominins," says Berna. "The fire was only confirmed when the sediment was analysed at the microscopic level. It is possible that the reason we have not yet seen more evidence of early fire use is because we have not been using the appropriate methods," he continued.
Derna's findings were published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and while many archaeologists agree that the evidence does suggest that hominins did use fire in the cave one million years ago, there is still debate on whether or not the early people mastered the flame sufficiently to cook regularly.
Flickr Photo Credit: Doug Beckers
Back before everybody and their brother had small, waterproof GoPro cameras strapped to their head, film makers had to get creative and build their own camera rigging if they wanted to get that unique shot while on the water.
Here is a photo of filmmaker and instruction video pioneer, Bill Mason using a home-made rigging to get overhead footage for his 1977 film and companion book, Path of the Paddle.
I tried to find evidence that Bill used the rigging for overhead footage for his whitewater instructional segments but it doesn’t look like he did. Imagine how awesome it would be to see that monster going down the river back in the day.
Instead of overhead shots for the whitewater elements in his films, Bill borrowed this head mounted camera which was originally designed for skydiving. Apparently the camera was really heavy due to the lead counter weight and could only shoot a maximum of 90 seconds before the film ran out. There is a story in Ken Bucks book, Bill Mason: Wilderness Artist: From Heart to Hand that talked about the time Bill nearly drowned the first time he jumped in the water with the camera. From then on they had to put two or three life jackets on him to provide enough flotation for the camera to stay above water.
Today, filming on the water is considerably easier with any of the small waterproof cameras that have flooded the market like GoPro, Contour or Drift over the past couple of years.
But even with the right camera, getting that unique shot angle can still take some thinking but thank goodness there are more commercial options now then before. One affordable option involves getting an adjustable pole from kayalu.com. Prices range from $89-$249 and can fit most cameras on the market. Kayalu has a good reputation for their well-built equipment that holds up in both fresh and salt water.
If you are working with a higher budget and looking to get more dynamic footage, then a camera mounted cable built by Sea to Sky Cable Cam is the only way to go.
For approximately $36,000 you can get the equipment needed to shoot footage similar to below:
Looking at the demo reel you might recognize some of the footage. That’s because this equipment was designed by sea kayaker,BryanSmith of Eastern Horizons fame and Matt Maddaloni who has been a sponsored rock climber for the past 15 years.
Bill Mason Photo Credits: BIll Mason Productions
I always listen with amusement when I hear people complain that new life jackets or PFD’s are uncomfortable, hot and therefore better off strapped to the back deck of a kayak or thrown in the bottom of the canoe.
To help appreciate the technology advancements keeping us afloat, let’s look back at we would have had to use while on the water...
This photo was taken around 1890. Back then life jackets were made from pieces of cork sewn together. Though it kept you afloat, it wasn’t very practical for anything else. Since many would have only used them in an emergency, I can imagine a good number of sailors would find them rotten, crumbling and useless when they needed them most.
Photo Credit: Sean Sexton/Getty Images
Here is an integrated life vest and early version of a survival suit taken by Harris & Ewing in 1916. I don’t think I would have fit in my kayak with it on.
Photo Credit: old-picture.com
Life vests took a big step forward in technology in 1925 but clearly a huge step back in fashion. These are made from inflated bicycle inner tubes.
When wearing this you can be guaranteed of two things, severe chafing and the fact that everybody will be staring at your crotch the whole time.
Photo Credit: davison.com
On a different note, If you are interested in cool war history stories, here is a good one where somebody found a very old German life vest from the 2nd world war and worked to try to unite it with the pilot over 60 years later.
Check out this old photo of a motorcycle sidecar with a quick-detachable canoe. I can’t believe that the side car was an actual commercial item available in 1927-1927.
You can see more unusual canoe sidecars on the always entertaining Paddle Making blog.
This makes me wish I had a school program like this when I was in grade six.
The students at Goodwillie Environmental School in West Michigan launched last week an authentic 24 foot birch bark voyageur canoe that they have been working on for the past 2 years as part of a massive school project involving 50 students.
Last week they paddled it down the Grand River for the very first time.
Sixth-grader Lauren Kanai observed the historic moment.
“A voyageur birch bark canoe hasn’t been rode down the river in 180 years. That’s pretty cool,” she said.
“It started out with a roll of birch bark and an idea,” said student Lydia Hughes. “And it was really cool to sail it today.”
Last year, students built the canoe using age-old techniques. This year they carved oars and studied the river extensively in partnership with “Think Grand” a project through the nonprofit organization Great Lakes Lifeways Institute, www.lifewaysinstitute.org, and funded by grants.
More info: mlive.com
Image Credit: wzzm13.com