Handmade canoe illustrates Abenaki history, workmanship

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  • Reid Schwartz (left) and Bill Gould put the hand-crafted birchbark canoe into the Contoocook River Saturday morning, May 29, 2021. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • The gum-like sealant on the front of the birchbark canoe had not properly cured to protect from leakage, so the launch was postponed.

  • The hand-crafted birchbark canoe drew a lot of attention at the gazebo in downtown Contoocook on Saturday morning. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Reid Schwartz (left) and Bill Gould put the hand-crafted birchbark canoe into the Contoocook River Saturday morning, May 29, 2021. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Bill Gould (left) and Reid Schwartz bring the birchbark canoe back up after a quick launch on the Contoocook River on Saturday morning, May 29, 2021. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Bill Gould (left) and Reid Schwartz give a presentation of the birchbark canoe the pair built. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • As a crowd gathers at the shoreline of the Contoocook River, Reid Schwartz pushes out the Abenaki birchbark canoe into the river as Bill Gould watches on Saturday morning. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Bill Gould (left) and Ried Schwartz give a presentation of how they built the Abenaki birchbark canoe at the gazebo on the shores of the Contoocook River on Saturday morning, May 29, 2021. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 6/1/2021 2:27:42 PM

The men had already worked approximately 205 hours on the handmade birchbark canoe, but first they had to wait a little more before taking it for a ride.

Because the gum-like material used to seal the seams of the hull had not properly set for 10 days, and with the steady rain not helping, Bill Gould and Reid Schwartz decided to just float the 43-pound craft out into the river so a gathering crowd could watch.

The men built with only natural forest materials they could gather, just as the early inhabitants of the area had done. Birchbark canoes were the principal means of water transportation up and down rivers for indigenous people.

“It’s a continuation of a tradition of building birchbark canoes. We have a close relationship with water. So it’s good to bring it back,” said Gould, whose bloodline to the Abenaki Tribe goes back to before New Hampshire was an established state.

The canoe construction was highlighted by the larger Abenaki Trails Project, an effort to “visibly honor and share a more inclusive history of the Abenaki people, to highlight historical Abenaki sites and to accentuate the positive influences” that Native Americans had in several local towns, including Hopkinton, Boscawen, Henniker, Bradford and Warner.

Gould and Schwartz constructed the canoe using only materials found within a five-mile radius of Contoocook where the native Abenaki tribe would have gathered their materials. The project began in April and was built from two dropped birch trees and one cedar tree. To add buoyancy and durability, moss was meticulously stuffed into the canoe’s hull.

“I’m not Abenaki, there’s a little bit of native blood in my family history, but I’m not affiliated with anybody, and for me, it’s a passion project. So to understand a little bit more about how people lived in these woods and, and really about honoring the materials and figuring out if we could actually bring them together from right around here and create something usable,” said Schwartz.

A central goal of the Abenaki Trails Project offers a deeper understanding of the influence the Abenaki people had on the area through a series of new monuments and artistic installments in towns along the banks of the Contoocook and Warner Rivers, according to Daryl Peasley, an Abenaki descendant.

“I thought we should start a project that shows the positivity Abenaki did in the area, in the whole state, because we weren’t just murdering marauders. We did good things,” Peasley said in August when announcing the trails project. “I thought we should do something that was educational. Not only do we need to educate some tourists and visitors to the state, but we need to educate some of the people that live in this state.”




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