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Local students get a heritage lesson with canoe project

Indigenous birch bark canoe builder spent three weeks at St. Theresa's Catholic High School to help students build a 12- foot birch bark canoe

A Midland high school recently welcomed a master craftsman to help students build an authentic birch bark canoe.

Chuck Commanda, an Indigenous birch bark canoe builder from Quebec, spent three weeks at St. Theresa's Catholic High School to construct a 12-foot birch bark canoe with the students.

“Most classes came out to a big tent in the parking lot for a half hour at a time to assist in the creation of the canoe,” explained St. Theresa’s photography teacher Jamie Dietrich.

“Approximately 15 students spent extended times in the tent with Commanda as apprentices, learning the craft.”

According to Dietrich, Commanda learned the craft from his grandparents and has canoes he has built featured in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington and the Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough.

“From Commanda, students learned the traditional canoe building ways, a new respect for what the natural world provides and about his Indigenous values,” said Dietrich, who also serves as coordinator of the school’s Outers Club.

“When completed, school board officials, staff and eight of the apprentice builders held a canoe launching ceremony on the Wye River at Ste. Marie Park.”

The canoe will now be proudly displayed in St. Theresa's.


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Andrew Philips

About the Author: Andrew Philips

Editor Andrew Philips is a multiple award-winning journalist whose writing has appeared in some of the country’s most respected news outlets. Originally from Midland, Philips returned to the area from Québec City a decade ago.
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