January/February 2010

Bark Canoe Store

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Spokane, WA 99202

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John Lindman

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    - Video Review


Over the years I have come across various movies that have birchbark canoes or replicas of birchbark canoes in them. Some of these are popular and well known but others are obscure. I have appreciated when a friend tells me about one. So, I figured you might appreciate it as well. You can get most of these through Amazon.com and they aren't very expensive. Now if I turn you onto to something that you later think is a dud please don't shoot the messenger. There are more but let's save those for a later time.

Birchbark Canoes

The following movies have genuine birchbark canoes in them

Nikki The Wild Dog of the North

Filmed in the 1950s by Disney and shot in the Canadian Rockies in the area of Banff, Alberta, David Gidmark once told me that the producers used a number of canoes in the movie and that they were made in Maniwaki, Quebec and picked up for $50 a piece! There is also one replica used in the movie - a stunt double you might say. It was a scene in big white water. The story takes place in the late 1800s with a fur trader heading down river to get supplies with a Malamute puppy. The bulk of the movie is about this puppy/dog and his black bear friend in the wild - Disney nature movie - but the beginning and end get into the fur trade of the day. It is beautifully shot.

The Bear

This takes place about the same time period. It's about two guys that set out to hunt this bear. Great kids story. There is only one small scene of the canoe - a wabanaki chiman.



This was a Hallmark Hall of Fame film that was picked up and shown on ABC as a mini-series. It is a story about a Native kid on the Pine Ridge Reservation who gets into gang trouble and has to get out of town. His grandfather wants to go to a big pow down in the South East and wants the kid to take him. The two set out and on their journey the grandfather tells traditional stories that tie in with what is going on with the kid. The movie depicts these stories. They come from varied tribes and show the different cultural settings and lessons. I think the writer did a great job of weaving contemporary Indian Country life with traditional lessons. Well acted and directed with good costumes and scenery. Another nicely filmed movie. I did an Ojibwe longnose canoe for it and it is shown in one of the stories.

Grey Owl

This is the screen adaptation of the Archy Belany/Grey Owl story presented by Sir Richard Attenborough. There is a small scene with birchbark canoes - wabanaki chiman. While it is not strict with the actual life of Grey Owl it is a well made and enjoyable movie. I personally think it is some of Pierce Brosnan's best acting.


Ikwe in Ojibwe means woman. Produced by the National Film Board of Canada it is a story about the fur trade and its effects on the Ojibwe people - specifically small pox. A few birchbark canoes were used in the film. One looked like the style built by Bill Hafeman of Minnesota and the others were wabanaki chimans. It's not a "warm and fuzzy" or fun movie but it is educational.

Silent Enemy

The silent enemy is hunger. Filmed entirely on location near Lake Temagami, Ontario and with local Ojibwe for actors this is a "must own" video. They made their own canoes, bows and arrows, wig wams, etc. Very authentic. Filmed in 1930 it must have been a monumental feat to pull this movie off. It is also a testemant of the canoe skills of Native Americans. Watching them handle the river they looked like Olympic white- water paddlers. The trek north and the winter hunting scenes must have been one hell of a challenge at that time.

Birchbark Replica Canoes

The following movies have some type of birchbark replica canoe in them


This mini-series from the 1970s has unmistakenly the finest made birchbark replica canoes of any of the movies. They were made by Ralph Frese of the Chicagoland Canoe Base. Ralph told me the story of how this happened. The producers first contacted Henri Vaillancourt to make real birchbark canoes. He was too booked up so he referred them to Ralph. Ralph made them as well as the dugouts used in the movie. The art people thought they looked too new or some such thing so re-painted them. Ralph said that he chose a Tete d Boule styled canoe because the courier d' bois was from Montreal. From everything that I have studied that style was not made by them at that time and the type of canoe that would have come from the Montreal area would have been an Old Algonquin style. The old Algonquin and old Ojibwe styles were the predominant styles throughout the Great Lakes. This is what Marquette and Jolliet paddled down the Mississippi and Ralph has done some fine replicas of their canoes.

The story is about a place in northern Colorado and traces its history through stories on up to the present time. The story opens with the courier d' bois - runner in the woods - paddling his birchbark canoe up the North Fork of the Platt river. If you haven't seen this you are in for a real treat. It is a several part mini-series and to buy the collection is expensive but worth it.

Last of the Mohicans 1992

Great movie. It didn't follow the book and was not authentic in all the details but compared to anything else this was a very well done and entertaining picture. The canoes were very stylized. The director wanted the high ended look of the old N.C. Wyeth paintings from the book and he also followed the script and canoe style of the 1936 version with Randolph Scott. .

Last of the Mohicans

This version has been referred to as that which most closely follows the book. It was filmed in Scotland. Much was done inside a studio but none-the-less it was an enjoyable film. The replica canoes were a disappointment but the lake scenes were beautiful.

Last of the Mohicans with Harry Carey

Welcome to an old Saturday matinee "cliff-hanger" series. It came out just after sound came into existence. There is no music - not even organ music like in the silent movies. It was filmed in southern California so it doesn't look like the forests of upstate New York. . The person who plays Magua does a great job. The Mohicans are a disappointment. The canoes are modified wood/ canvas and nice looking. Nice chase scene in the canoes. If you like melodrama then this is your baby.

Last of the Mohicans with Randolf Scott

This is basically the story that the most recent version copied. At the beginning of the 1992 version they even credit the screenwriters of this film. It's a fun movie. The canoes are stylized like the recent version and perhaps influenced their design.

Last of the Mohicans TV Series

Black and white '50s style TV show. The canoes were a big disappointment. They were a poorly done version of old style Algonquin canoes. From the looks of the scenery my guess is this was a Canadian collaberation. There were white pines and red pines in the back ground and they don't have those in the LA area.


A Hollywood color movie in a beautiful setting, great cast and good story. Costumes weren't bad either. The video is virtually impossible to get except in German and in the PAL format. I once saw it on some show like Turner Classics and then tried to get the video. I saw it in English. No go - just German so I got a PAL copy and converted it. If you really want this video I might be able to get DVDs made of it but need to see if it is public domain. I think it is. I think the Germans got around the copyright by inserting some crazy late 1800 western scenes in it. The birchbark canoes are not authentic but the shape and style are very attractive Ojibwe longnose style canoes. In my opinion it is one of the best 1950s-style depictions of the "Leatherstocking Tales" of James Fenimore Cooper.

Black Robe

Great movie. It won the Canadian award for best movie of the year. Not broadly promoted in the U.S. but big time in the UK it is a story of a Jesuit Priest traveling by birchbark canoe with a band of Algonquins to what most likely was St. Ignace in late fall/early winter. The canoes were very well made fiberglass replicas. It is hard to tell they are not birch bark. However at the time of Champlain the Algonquins did not paddle "wabanaki chimans". They paddled the Ottawa River style Old Algonquin. I think they really tried to be authentic in this movie but missed it on that point. Alqonquin is spoken throughout the movie, it was beautifully filmed and the script is haunting. If you haven't seen this I highly recommend it.

Last of the Redmen

Don't let the cover fool you, the costumes and make-up are much better in the film. Full color and fun, this is basically Last of the Mohicans with a twist. Not historically accurate at all, filmed in the Sierras but fun none-the-less... Monroe's daughters were good looking and Buster Crabbe made a good Magua. The canoes were pretty fake looking but still fun.

The Unconquered

Gary Cooper, what can I say. This is a fun movie. Most of the canoes were really stylized but one was OK There is a chase scene down a river and I can say the stunt man who handles the canoe is a pro. Good cast, good costumes. I liked it.


Good story, well filmed, good cast. The canoes look like they were made by the same person who did the canoes for Black Robe. They were wabanaki chiman.


Great cast, beautiful scenery and the replica canoes aren't bad. Despite the great cast the acting is stilted so my guess it's the director. Good story. Watch in reference to what is going on today. It's a good movie. Enjoyable and the scenery will get you in the mood to go canoeing.

Follow The River

While filmed in the same area of North Carolina as the 1992 version of Last of the Mohican and starring Eric Schweig who played Uncas in that film it seems like a take off of the Mary Jemison story - the woman who was captured by the Abenaki and taken to live with them. It is beautifully filmed, the costumes are good and the story is OK. The canoes were however a disappointment.


This is a 1950s western filmed in the area of Banff, Alberta, Canada in the heart of theCanadian Rockies. The main character is the setting. There is a chase scene at the end of the movie in supposed birchbark canoes. The canoes are not very realistic looking but this is a good movie - a nice 1950s style western.

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