Measuring up to 25 metres tall, birch trees are covered in thin, smooth white bark that peels off in large strong and pliable sheets. Birch bark has been used to make writing paper, dishes, cups, bowls, baskets and of course the famed birch bark canoe.
Light and maneuverable, birchbark canoes were perfectly adapted to summer travel through the network of shallow streams, ponds, lakes, and swift rivers of the Canadian Shield and were the principal means of water transportation for Indigenous peoples and the Voyageurs.
As the fur trade declined in the 19th century, the canoe became more of a recreational vehicle. Though most canoes are no longer constructed of birchbark, its enduring historical legacy and its popularity as a pleasure craft have made it a Canadian cultural icon.
Did you know? Peeling off too much of the white birch’s bark can kill the tree.