by Robert D'Alimonte
During this past summer, visitors to Old Fort Niagara were able to see firsthand how the Native people of this region created wooden dugout canoes in the late 1700s. Using traditional techniques, including the use of fire to burn the center of the log to make it easier to remove material and mud, the canoe eventually took shape was made sea-ready.
On Tuesday, following months of hard work, a Native dugout canoe was officially launched from the Fort Niagara State Park boat launch in Youngstown. Old Fort Niagara staffer Jake Henry and 11-year-old Aidan Patterson, both dressed in outfits that would have been worn by Native people during the late 1700s, took to the water and successfully paddled the mighty Niagara in the newly created vessel. Also on hand to help with the launch and dressed in period outfits were Old Fort Niagara Native interpreters Marlin Wilson and Hawk Robinson.
The canoe was made from a 17-foot cottonwood log, freshly felled from the Tuscarora Nation. Given the size of the log, some of the work began on the Tuscarora Nation in order to reduce the weight before it was hauled to the fort. The canoe was created by a joint effort between the Tuscarora Environment Program (Haudenosaunee Environmental Task Force) and Old Fort Niagara. Belinda Patterson, Native interpreter at Old Fort Niagara and project manager, envisioned this project to highlight the Fort's strategic location on the waterways and to demonstrate to the public how Native people traveled on these waterways.
Creating the dugout canoe took many hands. Special thanks to: Belinda Patterson, Old Fort Niagara; Neil Patterson Jr., director, Tuscarora Environment Program, TEP summer interns Owen Chapman, Brad Thomas, Taylor Hummell, Osias Fischer, OFN Native interpreters Marlin Wilson and Hawk Robinson, and Neil Patterson Sr.
This author helped haul the canoe to the fort.
Traditionally, a wooden dugout canoe is sunk and held down by rocks during the winter to keep it under water so it doesn't dry up the log and crack. A location for this will be secured in close proximity to Old Fort Niagara, and it will be returned during the spring of every year for display at the fort.
The canoe is now on display at the fort. Photos of both the creation of the canoe and launch can be viewed on Old Fort Niagara's Facebook page.