Vintage Video Shows How to Build a Birch Bark Canoe

This one-of-a-kind vintage video captures Native craftsmen demonstrating how to build a birch bark canoe.

It seems that in our 21st century world, many people look down on people of the past. We call them either unintelligent or uneducated. Perhaps this mindset is a result of us using computers each day and having technology at our fingertips. Perhaps it stems from a cultural bias, where those who didn’t live in the woods looked down upon those who did. Maybe it could be a host of other reasons. Whatever causes the belief ancient people were second-rate doesn’t hold much validity.

The truth is ancient people had the chance of being as intelligent as your or I. In our world, some people are intelligent and some are not. The same would have been true in the old world. Also, while it is true people of the past were probably illiterate, knew only simple math, and couldn’t explain the scientific processes happening around them, they most certainly weren’t uneducated. They simply had a different education. Where our children learn numbers and letters, theirs learn plants and animals. Where we learn to write and type, theirs learned to craft tools with their hands. Like any education system, by the end they would have been exposed to a body of knowledge that would help them succeed in their lives. One such example of this is demonstrated in this vintage video.

Watch the video to see how to build a birch bark canoe. Skip ahead to 5:00 min to see the canoe building. Prior to that, there is some interesting footage of some primitive camping and trapping.

As you can tell from the video, knowing how to build a birch bark canoe took an incredible education. Knowing how, and when, to harvest the bark. Knowing how to split the spruce root just right. Knowing how the correct mixture to seal the seams. All of it shows sophisticated education of the natural world. It is simply amazing anyone actually figure out the process. The really incredible thing is that prior to Europeans, the entire process was completed with natural tools. No steel knives. No iron kettle. While these were only minor players in the process, they certainly had to have made the job much easier.

While learning how to build a birch bark canoe isn’t necessarily a 21st century skill, the world is certainly richer for people knowing. It is nice to know people still carry this knowledge of traditional canoe building in our modern world. It also may get us thinking about traditional skills of our ancestors. My people didn’t build birch bark canoes, but what did they know how to do? Looking into that question may take you on some incredible journeys.


Thanks for taking the time to watch this vintage video showing how to build a birch bark canoe.

Feel free to comment in the section below on the video, or the article itself. If you enjoyed this post, you may enjoy this vintage trapping video as well.

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