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14 Foot Canoe

Don Gardner

14 Foot Canoe


About the Artist

Don was born in Calgary, Alberta in 1946. His parents were avid outdoors people and as such would bring the children hiking and camping into the Rocky Mountains. He was always making objects from wood, rafts to go fishing, bows and arrows for hunting. Don's university education began with geology and summers were spent in Greenland doing fieldwork for a mining company. He met Inuit hunters who were hired to guide the geologists and he met Eigil Knuth, a famous Danish explorer and archaeologist. When Don returned to university he switched to the archaeology department in which he earned his degree. Don's love of the outdoors has included Nordic skiing, mountain climbing and arctic exploration. At the age of 19 he climbed 22 mountain summits over 10,000' all in six days. In 1967 Don and three friends were the first to cross The Great Divide on skis. He crossed Ellesmere Island in winter on skis pulling sledges and skied over 900 km from the prairies to the Pacific coast. During the 1970's Don worked with various organizations; The Thule Archaeology Conservation Project, The Kitikmeot Heritage Society in Cambridge Bay, the Thcho Dene in Behcholo, N.W.T., and the Inuvialuit in Kitigaryuit, N.W.T. All of these projects focussed on some form of hunting tools, canoe building, mapping and archaeological surveys. From the 1960's to the 1980's Don made annual trips to the Arctic adding to his remarkable collections of drawings and notes from personal experiences and museums along way. Don's company "Oldways" has produced replicas of hunting equipment, canoes, kayaks and tools many of which have been exhibited in museums and cultural heritage centres. He has mentored archaeological students and contributes to research at the University of Calgary. Now retired Don stays active in outdoor pursuits in around his Canmore home.

Comments on the Work

One of the most significant works in the collection is Don Gardner's "14 Foot Canoe" made in 2017. As Don told the owner it was to be his last foray into canoe making and the owner was thrilled with the opportunity to own it. Don's canoe is made to the specifications of a time long gone in canoe building, a single piece of clear birch bark 14' long incredibly hard to find these days as most of the large birch trees have disappeared. White cedar for the ribs, and gunwales and spruce roots for all the stitching and wrapping of the gunwales. As Don remarks in a film made by Leanne Allison "it's a culmination of human ingenuity." It is a beautiful craft made by the hands of a master of his craft after a lifetime of learning and experiences.

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