Harvesting materials for the Wiigwaasi-Jiimaan is traditionally a year-long process, and the gathering of natural materials represents about half of the work that goes into a canoe. Each material is harvested when it gives itself most easily to the craftsman. Birch-bark must be harvested around midsummer, when the bark is most easily removed from the tree. Cedar is most easily harvested in the winter, when the marshes are frozen, allowing passage into the difficult habitat of the cedar swamp. Spruce roots are harvested when the soils are best for digging. And pitch runs during the hottest time of the summer, typically near the end of July.
Each of these materials is harvested in a different type of forest environment, and it requires the builder to have a sophisticated understanding of the woods and of the trees themselves. A builder must be able to recognize the diversity of environments present in a forest.
The physical labor is arduous, and it requires patience and determination to successfully gather the materials for a canoe: whether packing out cedar a half-mile, enduring mosquitoes when standing on a ladder peeling birchbark, or coating oneself in a layer of dirt or pitch digging roots or getting pine pitch. Harvesting materials is not a process that can be done casually or at one’s leisure.
For more information on the different materials, click below:
- Bigiwizigan: Pine Pitch
- Giizhig: White Cedar
- Miskwaawak: Red Cedar
- Waatabiig: Spruce Roots
- Wiigwaas: Birchbark
Watch a slideshow of pictures from the harvesting process: