Position at Fort William Historical Park: Canoe Builder
By Wendy Wright
The union of past and present is ever present at Fort William Historical Park, and Connor Hamilton, resident canoe builder at age 25, is an ideal example of this. Hamilton was brought up around FWHP (his parents met while working there), and the park has always been a central theme running through his life, both through work and play. “Oddly, I didn’t like history class growing up, until it came to the fur trade,” Hamilton says. “Then I started getting interested, especially with material culture—drawings, paintings, clothing, moccasins, snowshoes. I am interested in how all of those things were made in the early 18th century.” Hamilton started in the canoe shed as a summer student in 2014, and then moved on to become the Fort’s tinsmith and armourer before returning to the canoe shed full time in 2021. At present, Hamilton is happy in the canoe shed, building any of the three different types of boats that are in use at the Fort. “I’m like a jack of all trades. People say my hobby is collecting hobbies, because I have so many interests in all of these different things to make.” Building the 24-foot Voyageur birchbark canoe replica is a favourite of his. The time (approximately 300 hours) and attention it takes to produce these is and has always been well thought out, with no time or material wasted. Originally, communities worked together to accomplish all aspects of the boats needed, which made lighter work. The public is welcome to join him in the canoe shed to learn about the art of canoe building and try their hand at some of the tasks involved. Try to sew the bark seams together with spruce roots, work with cedar for the frame, or maybe mix some pitch for inevitable patching. Depending on the time of the year and how far along each boat is in the building process, the type of job the public can try their hand at will vary. Visiting the canoe shed is an experience, and a great opportunity to learn how and why individual items were made, historically. Every tool has a purpose, and is perfectly matched with the job it’s meant to do. Come out this season and get a feel for the old days, whether with an awl, axe, or crooked knife, which were the main tools used (and still are). For more information, visit fwhp.ca.