Much of Canada was explored and navigated thanks to the canoe. Beyond the Native American use for hunting and trade, the canoe entered a new chapter with the fur trade. The trappers, extraordinary individuals, who would disappear into the wilds, the unexplored interior of Canada, and return sometimes a year later with the gunnels of their boats over flowing with animal furs for the monied gentry of Eastern North America and Europe. With modern eyes we would, of course, see this trade in a different light. Certainly it didn't do some of the rarer species of animal any good in some parts. I can't help admiring their spirit though. Heading out with little more than a canoe made from birch bark, paddle, knife, rifle, twine & wire and maybe a cooking pot. It is hard to fully imagine just how unknown the landscape would have been then. Without maps they had to rely on their understanding of nature and good links with the Native American populations to get their information. You can't rely, when journeying across a massive country such as Canada, on all the rivers to flow the way you want to go. Particularly when you need to get back! They developed and adapted Native American techniques to enable them to travel upstream, connecting them to lakes, and other water courses. Sometimes they would face rapids that were a high risk to person and cargo. To avoid having to portage (see previous installment) their heavy loads all the time they also created methods to make it safer to go downstream whilst keeping the boat and cargo in the water. We now call all these methods "traditional canoe skills" or fondly "trad skills".

Fur Trapper in Alaska - Photo credit - http://digitaldocsinabox.org
A lot of canoeists hate them! Well maybe not hate, but certainly tolerate their existence to complete a canoe course, such as the British Canoe Union Star Awards, then never use them again until the next assessment. For me they are at the heart of what makes canoeing special. It takes it from being a bog standard car to being the 4x4 Landrover of the river! Realistically you could paddle a canoe for a lifetime somewhere like Britain without using these skills. Our first section of the McClusky Creek though would be very dangerous without them. Some people even turn them into a discipline in their own right. Poling, where you stand in the canoe and push down to the river bed with a pole to move the canoe upstream is quite the spectator sport with competitions such as this one: