Eleven months in the making

Labrador artist completes traditional canoe project

Stephen Roberts stephen.roberts@northernpen.ca
Published on December 5, 2013
Labrador Artist Martin Lowe built this Ojibwa Classic canoe entirely by hand, including the seats and paddles, which were designed to match the canoe.  It took him 11 months before he first launched it, Nov. 18, on the Pinware River. — Photo courtesy of Martin Lowe

After 11 months or work, Labrador artist Martin Lowe has recently finished what he calls his most difficult project yet. On Nov. 14, 2012, the Pinware resident began work on a canoe he has dubbed the Ojibwa Classic.

Setting out on the project, Lowe knew he wanted the vessel to be a replica of the old Native American canoe as represented in books and paintings he had seen.

He explains that the shape of the canoe is therefore a little different from the ones made in factories as it rises to 26 inches in both the front and back.

This means there will be more wind drag on the canoe, but Lowe says he doesn’t mind sacrificing wind resistance for the vessel’s appearance.

At 16 feet and two inches long, with a 41-inch beam, the canoe is made out of seven different woods, most of which are exotic hardwoods. ­Lowe also made his own seats and paddles.

He says he worked on building the vessel every day when possible, although much time was also spent waiting on materials to be shipped to him.

After exactly 11 months, the Ojibwa Classic was finally completed on Oct. 14.

Over a month later, on Nov. 18, the boat met the water off of Pinware Cove for the very first time.

“She trimmed out beautifully,” says Lowe. “She was almost level on the water. With a lot of canoes, especially a 16-footer, when you sit in the back she could cock up out of the water halfway back.”

“She rolled really well on the water and she handled well on the water for one person. She was a dream to paddle.”

However, at 16-feet long, the Ojibwa Classic is a tandem canoe, meaning she is designed for two people instead of one. Thus, Lowe is hopeful she will handle even better the next time he gets her on the water along with his cousin, Sam Pike.

While the results have been positive, the construction met some difficulties along the way.

Lowe says this was his first experience fibreglassing and he fibreglassed the boat during the winter. He says, at anything below 22 C, you’ll run into problems with fibreglassing. Therefore, because of these issues, the canoe weighed in at more than 75 pounds instead of the standard 60 to 65 pounds.

Because of the design — with the flat bottom instead of the V-shape and the extra width — she sits perfectly atop the water.

“The flatter the bottom is on the canoe, the better she’ll tract,” he further explains. “Because there’s more perches in the water and, with a little keel, that’ll help her tract better because she does hold a lot of wind being high front and back.”

Lowe estimates the canoe can withhold 1,500 pounds easily and would therefore be ideal for carrying something like a moose after hunting.

However, he says what made it the most challenging was the limited resources he had.

Building a canoe is something the artist says he has wanted to do for a very long time, but had no idea how to go about starting it.

Eventually, he decided to look on the Internet for a guide, where he deduced certain methods and structures to be superior to others for his purposes.

But with only the Internet, and no one else to work off of directly as a guide, Lowe says he was essentially left in the dark and forced to use his own best judgement when it came to the hands-on work.

He says he was fortunate to pull it off with such success.

“Under the circumstances I built this one, I don’t think it can be done again the same way,” he says. “I think I was very lucky to pull it off under the circumstances I pulled it off under.”

As far as Lowe knows, he says this is the first canoe to be built in the Labrador Straits. And now that he’s completed one such project, he’s looking to building more in the future.

“I hope to build another one, although maybe not another canoe,” he says. “But I think I’m going to build something in the basement again this winter. It keeps me busy.”

The Northern Pen