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Cataraqui Boatyard Project

Friends of Kingston Inner Harbour’s
Cataraqui Boatyard Project 2020:
Algonquin Birch Bark Canoe Build with Chuck Commanda,
Algonquin Traditional Knowledge Keeper
We remain extremely grateful to our sponsors: The Kingston Association of Museums,
Regional Tourism Ontario, District 9 (RTO9) and Trailhead Kingston

The long-term goal of the Friends of Kingston Inner Harbour’s Cataraqui Boatyard Project is, through living history projects, to celebrate the Indigenous and French heritage of Kingston’s Inner Harbour as Canada’s oldest continuous boat building location.This year, in the fall of 2020, we successfully completed our first project, the community build of a traditional Algonquin birch bark canoe. Although there is no historical proof that Indigenous canoes were built in Kingston’s Inner Harbour we decided to begin our yearly series of projects with a canoe both out of respect for the Indigenous community and because the canoe is Canada’s iconic boat. The country as we know it would not be what it is without the canoe and without the help of Canada’s Indigenous peoples. This build involved a partnership between Indigenous and non-Indigenous community members working together over three weeks to create a 12-foot traditional Algonquin birch bark canoe.

Traditional materials collected prior to and during the build included: the bark itself, cedar for the gunwales, ribs and cedar strip lining, ash for the thwarts, ironwood for the manufactured nails, spruce root for the lashing and a mix of spruce gum and lard (traditionally bear fat) for sealing the holes.

Photo by Don Marlin

Chuck Commanda, an amazingly talented boat builder as well as a truly excellent, enthusiastic, and patient teacher, supervised the build in addition to answering questions from the many individuals, families and school groups who came to visit. On average we had between 30 and 50 interested observers each day including approximately 100 school children and university students.

Lead organizers were Michelle Webb, Mikmaq/Acadian and Mary Farrar. Volunteers were approximately 2/3 Indigenous and 1/3 non-Indigenous. We are especially grateful to Mireille La Pointe, Algonquin Head of Family Council, for her sage advice, Grandmother Barbara for her unwavering support, Lisa Cadue for her awesome venison chili, Randy Cadue for his sacred fire keeping, Lorie Young for her heart support, Brodrick Gabriel and the drummers and singers for their uplifting sounds, Tim Cadue, Carone Beaucage and Lumina Beaucage-Frost, Dorina Friedli, Penni Kernot, Rob Rittwage and the guys from Henry Trail Halfway House, and Kathy LaPointe for their hard work along with Graydon Doolittle, Bob McInnes, Elspeth Soper, Nancy Spencer and members of the Lyon family, Margaret Hughes for her wonderful window display at Novel Idea, Martine Bresson for her great photography, Lisa, Randy, Sophie Kiwala, Kathy LaPointe and so many others for sharing photos on Facebook, Matt Rogalsky for his media set-up, Sophie Grogan for helping with her life-saving and first-aid expertise, Dave McCallum for SO much work documenting and interviewing for an upcoming video, Pytor Hodgson and Kim Debassige for being Masters of Ceremony at the Saturday, Sept 26 Weekend Celebration and Pytor Hodgson and Brennan Googoo for hosting a titanic 3 hour live-streamed show featuring the canoe build and Algonquin culture on Saturday night. We are also most appreciative of everyone who showed up over the course of the three weeks to learn more about canoes, the build and Algonquin culture.

Thanks so much to all those community members whose photos have been posted here: Lisa Cadue (aka Lorraine Marlin), Don Marlin, Elspeth Soper, Sophie Kiwala and Kathy LaPointe.

Media outreach and exposure included the following:

  1. Poster completed and sent to over 35 Indigenous persons/groups and over 85 non-Indigenous persons/groups by end August
  2. Cogeco announcement scroll in place from mid August
  3. Novel Idea window display Sept 1 – 12 thanks to Margaret Hughes
  4. Tourism Kingston September Event Calendar: Birch Bark Canoe Build Weekend Celebration 
  5. Open Doors Kingston, scheduled Sept 26 event with Kingston Association of Museums. Cataraqui Boatyard Project (Friends of Kingston Inner Harbour)
  6. Friends of Kingston Inner Harbour’s September Newsletters reaching close to 1000.
  7. Kingston Local features by Morgan Oddie:
    Algonquin birch bark canoe build starts in the fall
    Birch bark canoe build begins on Tue., Sept 8
  8. Pictures shared on Facebook as well as personal posts by Lorraine Marlin, Randy Cadue, Elspeth Soper, Kathy LaPointe and the Friends of Kingston Inner Harbour
  9. Facebook event posted Sept 11.
  10. Television feature on CKWS 9a8-11ea-89f1-0242ac110003/?jwsource=cl.
  11. Two features by Meghan Balogh in the Kingston Whig Standard:
    Birch bark canoe first of Friends of Kingston Inner Harbour boatyard projects
    Volunteers celebrate launch of handcrafted Algonquin canoe 
  12. Promo by YourTV (YouTube): Birch Bark Canoe building with Chuck Commanda
  13. Tourism Kingston Promo: Events in Kingston
  14. Regional Tourism Ontario, District 9 (RTO9) Promotion
  15. Kingston This Week article by Meghan Balogh, Sept 24.
  16. Come Walk With Us Live-Streamed Facebook Event Promo
  17. Come Walk With Us Live-Streamed Facebook Event, Sept 26, 7-10 pm.
  18. Display of Canoe at Trailhead, 262 Princess St., starting Oct 2, 2020

Future plans for the canoe: After the current display at Trailhead, the canoe will find another home at the River Program, the Limestone Board of Education’s alternative Indigenous high school located at the old Frontenac Public School on Cowdy St.

Hank Doornekamp has also graciously suggested that we could possibly store the boat at the Woolen Mill for community use. This would be a beautiful location so close to the water.
We will have to be careful not to puncture it. Although we have now learned how to do necessary repairs with spruce gum heated and mixed with lard we do not have full confidence in our abilities.

We are also hoping that the canoe might be displayed for a short period sometime at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre. Discussions occurring.

We are also hoping to touch base with the Granite Ridge program in Sharbot Lake so that Algonquin students there will have the opportunity to learn about the canoe building process and also have the opportunity to get out on the water for a paddle.

Finally, Rob Rittwage, Indigenous programmer at the Henry Trail Community Corrections Centre on the grounds of Collins Bay Penitentiary, has requested that the canoe be present at the opening of their new grounds sometime this fall or next spring. As some Indigenous inmates from Henry Trail participated in the build, we would be delighted to accommodate.



Sadly we have been informed that we can only have a maximum of 25 in attendance – even if only one at a time! The Government of Ontario has decreed. As a result, our Saturday Celebration will be limited to only 25 persons who have been involved in the build itself.

Two interesting offshoots however:
    1. This Saturday evening there will be a live-streamed Facebook event sponsored by called Come Walk With Us. It will be a recap of the build along with lively interviews and commentary about the build and about Algonquin culture along with entertainment. Guaranteed to be entertaining.  To find out more visit
    2. We are planning a large celebration in the spring – provided COVID is more under control.


What: Community build of a traditional Algonquin birch bark canoe including teachings and interviews at times to be decided.

Where:  Outdoors by the water in Douglas R. Fluhrer Park in Kingston’s Inner Harbour. To get to Douglas R. Fluhrer Park, go to Kingston’s downtown and then north on Wellington Street until you get there. Free parking available in Douglas R. Fluhrer Park.

When: Monday, September 7th to Sunday, September 27th from 9 am until 5 pm including weekends, culminating in a weekend Celebration of Algonquin and Indigenous Cultures, September 26th and 27th.
Set-up: Monday  September 7th.  Open to the public Tuesday September 8th on.

Saturday, September 26th: Master of Ceremonies Pytor Hodgson (of Indigenous Consulting + “Come Walk with Us” Facebook event) will structure Saturday’s programming to include:

  • workshops (to be decided)
  • a free venison chili feast at noon (social distancing and Health Unit requirements respected)
  • a ceremonial blessing and launch of the canoe
  • Algonquin singers
  • Algonquin writer, Rick Revelle
  • the opportunity for visitors to get out on the water in one of three authentic birch bark canoes under the guidance of students certified by the Ontario Recreational Canoeing Association
  • a live-streamed recap on the Saturday night show “Come Walk with Us” including pre-recorded interviews, video of aspects of the build, live-streamed panel, entertainment etc.

Sunday, September 27th: Master of Ceremonies, Lorie Young, will structure Sunday’s programming to include:

  • workshops (to be decided)
  • a Reconciliation Walk in partnership with TruNorthAid
  • the opportunity for visitors to get out on the water in one of three birch bark canoes.

Participating in the Build: Chuck Commanda, Algonquin Traditional Knowledge Keeper, will lead the community build. Visitors of all ages are welcome to watch and learn.  Indigenous students from the Limestone Board’s River Program, RMC, Queen’s University and St. Lawrence College are invited to participate. Indigenous inmates from Henry Trail Halfway House and Joyceville Minimum will participate weekday mornings.  Non- Indigenous helpers also welcome.  (More information: or 613-544-1246)

Planning the Weekend Celebration: A small working group of local urban Indigenous participants in partnership with the Friends of Kingston Inner Harbour, in consultation with Mireille LaPointe, Ardoch Algonquin Chief and with Pytor Hodgson of Indigenous Consulting + Facebook event “Come Walk with Us”. (Contact: Michelle Webb: 613-547-6537)

COVID Precautions: Masks and sanitizer will be provided by the Kingston Association of Museums. Signatures and phone numbers will be required for possible contract tracing.

Permissions: Videos and photos of the build will be ongoing requiring the signing of media permission forms.  Those wishing not to be photographed should make their wishes known.

Funding: $15,000 from the City of Kingston Heritage Fund to cover Chuck’s fee. An additional $10,000 from RTO9 (Regional Tourism Ontario, District 9) for programming.$1,350 from Trailhead.

Expenses are extensive. Donations truly appreciated.

Donate | Friends of Kingston Inner Harbour

Cataraqui Boatyard Project Background

We are excited about the formation of this new group with a profound interest in heritage boat building. Through living history projects, the broad goal is to celebrate Kingston’s Inner Harbour as Canada’s oldest continuous boat building location – at least from the time of Count Frontenac – and most probably before.

Members of the Cataraqui Boatyard Project (a sub group of the Friends of Kingston Inner Harbour) include:

Tom Wroe (group chair) – Co-Founder of MetalCraft Marine
Joe Calnan – Heritage Boat Builder
Dave More –  Maritime Historian
Maurice Smith – Curator Emeritus, Marine Museum of the Great Lakes
Andy Soper – Renowned Sail Maker
Dave Short –  Brigantine Inc (Canada’s Original Tall Ship and Summer Camp Program)

We are so grateful for their enthusiastic and wholehearted participation!

The long-term plan is to create a building to house yearly heritage boat building activity.  Ideally it will also include facilities such as a waterfront restaurant, display space and meeting rooms.  It will be designed to be built in sections over time as financing becomes secured.  Jerry Shoalts of Shoalts and Zaback has kindly offered to design us a building for free!  We are most grateful!  We are currently examining a variety of possible Inner Harbour locations.  As we envision it going forward this project will be in tandem with, and definitely supportive of, the more traditional, and definitely valuable, archival work that has been the purview of the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes.

Birch Bark Canoe Build (Fall 2020)

Members of the Cataraqui Boatyard Project are organizing an authentic birch bark canoe build in the Inner Harbour this fall with Algonquin Traditional Knowledge Keeper, Chuck Commanda. $15,000  has been awarded from the City of Kingston Heritage Fund to pay Chuck’s fee. An additional $10,000 has now also been promised from RTO9 (Regional Tourism Ontario, District 9) to pay for programming. At this point we are working with a small but enthusiastic working group of Indigenous Kingstonians partnering with Ardoch Algonquin Chief, Mireille LaPointe, to put together programming for the September 26/27 weekend celebration.  Participants include: Michelle Webb, Lisa Cadue, Randy Cadue, Frannie Chaisson, Lorie Young, Brodrick Gabriel and Onagate.

Here are a few details about the project so far:
  1. The build itself will take place from September 7th-27th in Douglas R. Fluhrer Park in Kingston’s Inner Harbour.
  2. It is being led by Chuck Commanda, Algonquin Traditional Knowledge Keeper.
  3. Funding has been received from the City of Kingston Heritage Fund for $15,000 to cover Chuck’s fee. An additional $10,000 has been promised from RTO9 (Regional Tourism Ontario, District 9) for programming.
  4. Participating in the build will be high school students from the Limestone Board of Education’s River Program, RMC cadets from the Aboriginal Leadership Opportunity Year and inmates from Joyceville Minimum and the Henry Trail Halfway House.
  5. Indigenous students from Queen’s and St. Lawrence College are also most welcome as are interested visitors.
  6. The official launch weekend will be September 26th-27th  and will consist of two days of programming.The Saturday will be devoted to education about Algonquin culture and will include a panel including Paula Sherman from Trent and Bob Lovelace, Algonquin elder and Mireille LaPointe, Ardoch Algonquin chief.  Algonquin author, Rick Revelle, will be there to share his books.  We are also planning a short slide show of the build itself, a feast of venison chili and bannock,  shoreline medicine walks, a blessing of the boat, and opportunities for visitors to go out on the water in authentic birch bark canoes, led by students with ORCA (Ontario Recreational Canoeing Association accreditation). The Sunday will be more family-oriented and extended to all Indigenous communities in the area with activities for children, a medicine wheel workshop, talking circles, shoreline walks and again opportunities to get out on the water in authentic birch bark canoes.The photo, taken by Mark D. Read, Ontario Parks, is of a canoe that was built in the summer of 2019 by Chuck Commanda, Algonquin Tradititonal Knowledge Keeper

Featured in The Kingston Local:

Birch bark canoe construction begins on Tue., Sept. 8 – The Kingston Local