The Canoe Project

Nineteen young Yukon carvers made history by creating a 30-foot red cedar dugout canoe. Under the leadership of Tlingit Master Carver Wayne Price, the carvers went on a journey of discovery.

An island on the east side of the Yukon River became their home for the next two months as went go back on the land to learn the traditional techniques for carving a dugout canoe.

The camp started June 5th. On the first Saturday, a 13,000 pound red cedar log from Terrace B.C. was lifted onto a raft using a crane and grapple truck and floated across the river. Over the course of the next 2 days, the log was gradually winched up the bank, with the carvers pulling hard to help the mechanical winches.

The carvers’ journey included an 8-week commitment to being drug and alcohol free, participating in talking circles and sweatlodges, learning from Yukon Elders, and giving up their IPods, computer games and cell phones.

The camp ended, and the carvers paddled the canoe out on August 19th. Friends and family were singing traditional songs on shore as they arrived.

The finished dugout canoe was gifted to the Kwanlin Dun First Nation for display at the new Cultural Centre on the Whitehorse waterfront. The gifting occured on September 30th, 2009 as part of the historic groundbreaking ceremony for the Kwanlin Dun Cultural CentreThe carvers will have access to use the canoe for local and international canoe journeys in future.

Funding for the intensive project was gratefully received from several major sponsors as well as a range of Whitehorse businesses. Major sponsors include the Yukon Government (Health & Social Services and Arts Fund), the Kwanlin Dun First Nation, and the Canada Council for the Arts. Donations have also been received from Home Hardware, Council of Yukon First Nations, Ta'an Kwäch'än Council, Castle Rock Enterprises, Skookum Asphalt, the Yukon Energy Corporation, Northwestel, Teslin Tlingit Council, Super Save Propane, Superstore and other local businesses.

The project was initially planned around 12 youth carvers but 19 carvers committed to the process.

1. Duran Henry
2. Justin Smith
3. Ben Gribben
4. Morgan Ayles Smith
5. Sara Villeseche
6. Jared Lutchman
7. Jared Kane
8. William Callaghan
9. Aaron Blanchard
10. Jacob Blanchard
11. Rhianna Skookum
12. Brian James Francis
13. Terrance Clark
14. Justien Wood
15. William Skookum
16. Fred Stick
17. Josh Skookum
18. Josh Lesage
19. Calvin Morberg

Camp staff:

Tlingit Master Carver Wayne Price, Haines Alaska
Tlingit storyteller and assistant carver Tim Ackerman, Haines
Cook (and musician and artist!) Lea-Ann Dorval
Coordinator/expediter Andrew Finton
Counsellor Kevin Barr

-was 36 foot red cedar log chosen by Wayne and Whitehorse artist Brian Walker in Terrace BC
- delays occurred (needed exemption on export permit to move it to Yukon)
- mud slide on Stewart Cassiar another delay
- but the log made it here!

-Allan Code, Robin Armour and others are working on a documentary about the project

Elders’ visits
Elders Paddy Jim, Emma Shorty, Matthew Tom, Martha VanHeel and Ann Henry have spent time at the camp. Other Elders are encouraged to come and share their stories and time with the youth.

Other thanks:
RC Crane, Yukon Grain Farm, Mervyn Outfitters, Carson and Bonnie Macdonald, Lex and Donna Widdis, Brian Walker and Ann Smith, Everitt Smith, Ron Brubacher, G&P Distributing, Whitehorse Beverages, Elijah Smith School, Yukon Aboriginal Sports Circle, Skills Canada, Aileen McCorkell, Bean North, Mike Bernier, Randy Merkel, Nathan Bingham and others!

PHOTO CREDITS: Robin Armour Photography