Canoes and colony: the dugout canoe as a site of intercultural engagement in the colonial context of British Columbia (1849-1871)

by Stella Maris Wenstob

Institution: University of Victoria
Degree: MA
Year: 2015
Keywords: dugout canoe; cedar canoe; Pacific Northwest coast; British Columbia history; Colonial development; Colonial period (1849-1871); Canadian history; Indigenous labour; Indigenous technology; Intercultural engagement; Entanglement; Representation; First Nations peoples; Art history; Settler; Newcomer-aboriginal relations; Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw; Transportation; Erasure/ silences; Hidden history; Material culture studies; Recreation; Regatta; mail delivery; surveying; Shared history; Coast Salish; Nuu-chah-nulth; Haida; Maritime technology; Cultural anthropology; Ethnohistory; Labour studies; Heiltsuk; Visual anthropology; Verbal representation
Record ID: 2061722
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/1828/5971


The cedar dugout canoe is iconically associated with First Nations peoples of the Pacific Northwest coast, but the vital contribution it made to the economic and social development of British Columbia is historically unrecognized. This beautifully designed and crafted oceangoing vessel, besides being a prized necessity to the maritime First Nations peoples, was an essential transportation link for European colonists. In speed, maneuverability, and carrying capacity it vied with any other seagoing technology of the time. The dugout canoe became an important site of engagement between First Nations peoples and settlers. European produced textual and visual records of the colonial period are examined to analyze the dugout canoe as a site of intercultural interaction with a focus upon the European representation. This research asks: Was the First Nations' dugout canoe essential to colonial development in British Columbia and, if so, were the First Nations acknowledged for this vital contribution? Analysis of primary archival resources (letters and journals), images (photographs, sketches and paintings) and colonial publications, such as the colonial dispatches, memoirs and newspaper accounts, demonstrate that indeed the dugout canoe and First Nations canoeists were essential to the development of the colony of British Columbia. However, these contributions were differentially acknowledged as the colony shifted from a fur trade-oriented operation to a settler-centric development that emphasized the alienation of First Nations’ land for settler use. By focusing research on the dugout canoe and its use and depiction by Europeans, connections between European colonists and First Nations canoeists, navigators and manufacturers are foregrounded. This focus brings together these two key historical players demonstrating their “entangled” nature (Thomas 1991:139) and breaking down “silences” and “trivializations” in history (Trouillot 1995:96), working to build an inclusive and connected history of colonial British Columbia. Graduate