Algonquin birchbark canoe maker Chuck Commanda held a successful mini birchbark canoe-making workshop, hosted on Zoom, from his home in Quebec. In an effort to adjust to health and safety measures required during the pandemic, Plenty Canada chose to expand the scope of its online educational workshops, viewing them as a valuable alternative to in-person events during this uncertain period. This new organizational effort, which began this past month, is designed to bring distant people together through hands-on arts education, but conducted online.
Since he was a young boy, Chuck learned and has practised multiple Indigenous art forms and disciplines, eventually earning recognition as one of the few master artisans remaining who build birchbark canoes in the traditional Algonquin style. The grandson of the renowned Algonquin elder and environmental activist William Commanda, Chuck has worked for many years to preserve and promote the art forms he practises, including birchbark basket making, storytelling, and Indigenous knowledge education, often done in partnership with Plenty Canada. This particular project enabled him to shift his activities to a digital space.
In order to successfully carry out such an event, a great deal of advance preparation was required. A week before the event, Plenty Canada packed individualized boxes for each participant, which contained all of the necessary supplies (wound up sinew, red willow freshly picked by Chuck himself, an etching tool, etc.). The participants were also given a Plenty Canada T-shirt and a small book on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Calls to Action. Because of a need to ensure the natural boat-building ingredients remained fresh enough for everyone to use, these special packages were sent out shortly before the webinar. Despite two snowstorms (on top of pre-existing delays imposed by the pandemic), all of the participants from across Ontario received their packages in time to participate.
During the workshop the participants were given detailed instructions on how to sew the sinew into the side of the miniature canoes, attach the birch bark, and etch patterns into the canoe's sides. Chuck was present throughout in order to answer questions and provide individualized help, ensuring that each participant was able to create a lovely, personalized canoe to cherish.
Due to the success of this program, thanks to the combination of Chuck Commanda’s expertise and the organization’s digital specialists, Plenty Canada is planning on holding additional digital cultural arts training workshops in the future. These will be promoted here on our website and social media.
(Image: Screen capture of Chuck Commanda, upper left, master birchbark artist and canoe maker, who leads students in Plenty Canada’s Birch Bark Canoe Workshop. Also pictured are Sophie Handley-Girard, Haley Alcock, Draven Timmerman, Marilyn Capreol, Joanna Jack, Kathleen Godfrey, Lily Mae Peters, Trevor Fung, Randa Hassan, Emma Carey, Brooke Renaud, Dolly Roul, Sam Yee, and Amy Tenbult.)