The model canoe. Photo supplied

The model canoe. Photo supplied

More than just a model

This model canoe, carved by Sam Henderson Jr, is a replica of the first dugout canoe made in Campbell River in over one hundred years. The model is just over a metre long. It was painted by Henderson’s brother Mark with a thunderbird on the prow, and a killer whale on the stern. It was formally presented at the opening ceremony of the new Museum building on February 19, 1994 by Chief Robert Duncan, Sam Jr and Mark Henderson, as a gift from the Wei Wai Kum Band.

The full-sized version of ƛ̓əniqwala ( KlineeQwala), meaning lightning, was carved in 1993. It was fashioned by lead carver Bill Henderson with a team of others. It took them only six weeks to carve the 45’ canoe from an 800-year-old cedar, which Mark then painted. Canoes like this used to be the most common form of transportation on the coast.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, travelling by dugout canoe took on a new significance. Canoe Journeys were organized as a way of promoting and celebrating coastal First Nations cultures and strengthening ties between communities. Each participating group pulls to the host community, stopping to visit the communities along the way. The pullers follow strict protocol, seeking permission to land, and are welcomed with feasts, dances and songs. Fifteen canoes participated in the first Journey to Seattle in 1989.

The second Journey saw twenty-five canoes travel to Bella Bella in 1993. Since then Journeys have occurred annually (with the exception of the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic) and have become known as Tribal Journeys.

At the Museum’s opening ceremonies in 1994, Duncan shared, “1993 was recognized as the year of Indigenous People, as declared by the United Nations. As part of those festivities, ceremonies, and celebrations of that, ourselves as well as a great deal of other First Nations people throughout the coast of British Columbia, Alaska, Washington and so forth gathered and celebrated that event in Bella Bella called the Qatuwas festival… We carved and built our own canoe.

“Most of the school children in this area were invited to share that experience to a certain extent, to watch the carvers work… And most of us, and certainly those that we met on the way on the Journey, were proud of the fact that we were able to go, proud of the fact that probably in this area, for example, one of these craft haven’t been built in over 100 years.

“It was a new experience for all of us and not only the carving of it, the building of it, but also the Journey in itself.”

The KlineeQwala’s first Journey took seventeen paddlers, pulling in three-hour shifts, ten days to travel from Campbell River to Bella Bella.

Duncan said about the journey: “We like to think that it’s a pretty fast canoe, it made the 250-odd mile trip to Bella Bella in about 50-odd hours so we averaged over five miles per hour, I’m pretty proud of that.”

In the years since the model was donated to the Museum, the full-sized KlineeQwala has journeyed many times, including as one of nearly one hundred canoes that came to shore at the Spit in Tribal Journeys 2017, hosted by the KlineeQwala (Laichwiltach) Nation in Campbell River. It is also no longer the only local canoe participating in Journeys.

The We Wai Kai launched a 40’ canoe carved from a nearly 1000-year-old tree in May 2004. Called KlineeQwala (Laichwiltach), it too was carved under the guidance of Bill Henderson. And starting in 2019 at Carihi, Max Chickite and Junior Henderson have been working together to carve another canoe.

Although not yet complete, it is currently being called the Legacy Canoe by the project organizers.

To learn more about Tribal Journeys, their history and continuing impact on the coast from the participants themselves, you can visit the travelling exhibit currently on display at the Museum.

Developed by the Heiltsuk Nation, Sacred Journeys: The Resurgence of Indigenous Canoes, will be on display until November 7, 2021.

Looking Back