Tseshaht canoe returns to ocean

Dee Bryson's Tseshaht canoe is returning to the Alberni Inlet.

Dee Bryson of Tsawaayuus (Rainbow Gardens) displays a print of the Tseshaht canoe that she donated to the Port Alberni Maritime Heritage Society.

Dee Bryson’s canoe has sat at her home on Lakeshore Road for almost six decades.

But finally, the Tseshaht canoe is coming back to the ocean waters where it started out.

“For the past 57–58 years the canoe has been on Dee’s property at Sproat Lake,” said Port Alberni Maritime Heritage Society president Kenn Whiteman.

“Prior to that, it was believed to be situated on the Alberni Inlet around Polly’s point.”

Bryson’s canoe was donated to the PAMHS with the aid of Bob Cole and Bryson’s daughters Nancy Harvey and Joanne Ross. Bryson, in her 90s, now lives at Tsawaayuus (Rainbow Gardens) complex care facility.

Harvey said that the canoe had been stored in a shed all those years.

“It was there at their summer cabin that they bought in the 1950s so it’s been there on that property 60 years.”

According to art consultant Kerry Mason, who appraised the canoe, it’s a hand carved cedar canoe.

“This is a rare example of the early 20th century west coast canoe style used by women to collect eel  and bear grasses and other indigenous fibres for the creation of basketry,” Mason wrote.

“The west coast style of canoe was relatively light to manoeuver and bring to shore and yet it was remarkably stable. Referred to as a dugout, it is literally a hollowed out cedar log.”

The lightweight manoeuvrability of the 15-foot-6-inch long canoe meant it was often referred to as a woman’s canoe.

“This is often referred to as a woman’s canoe,” said Mason.

“As opposed to the larger, higher and thicker canoe with a narrow bottom and high sides which is perfectly designed for use in the ocean, particularly for whaling, which historically was strictly a man’s prerogative.”

The Tseshaht canoe will be on display at the Hutcheson Gallery as part of their Ch’apats (canoe) maritime heritage night on Thursday, Feb. 18 at 7 p.m. Darrell Ross Sr. will be presenting on six different kinds of Tseshaht canoes.

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