ELY – Work is underway once again on the birch bark canoe project at the Ely Folk School, offering participants handcrafting skills and more as they learn, in traditional detail, the many …
ELY – Work is underway once again on the birch bark canoe project at the Ely Folk School, offering participants handcrafting skills and more as they learn, in traditional detail, the many aspects of creating a remarkable watercraft.
Master Birch Bark Canoe Builder Erik Simula is leading the project.
“Our goal is to complete and paddle our 20-foot, traditional Ojibwe-style birch bark canoe, which is in its fourth year of construction, by this August,” he said.
While the first class of 2022 was held in early June, work will continue through the summer. “We are almost done and I am confident we will float her this summer,” Simula said. “We have some lashing to do on the ends and we need to add a few more ribs and some other work on the gunwales.”
The canoe project classes meet outside on the lawn by the Folk School, at 209 E Sheridan St., each Sunday, 1-4 p.m., weather permitting. Community members and visitors are encouraged to stop by and watch and ask questions while the class is working.
“Observing and learning the process of building a birch bark canoe gives people today an understanding of the history, culture, art and craft that is embedded in the canoe,” he said.
Simula, a Finnish-American outdoor educator, has overseen the project the previous three summers.
“Because of COVID-19 the canoe was stored in the EFS garage for more than a year. We worked hard on the project in 2021 and this canoe is waiting for its day to greet the water,” he said.
The group’s first task was to carefully carry the canoe from its display in the folk school to the front lawn for a good washing and cleaning. Simula noted that a good portion of the canoe was completed back in 2019 before the project was halted in 2020 and resumed last year.
Folk school students completed a smaller 13-foot Ojibwe-style birch bark canoe under Simula’s guidance during his first summer at the EFS. Simula is also the executive director of the Minnesota Canoe Museum here in Ely, and continues to promote its growth and exposure.
With extensive teaching experience at Voyageur Outward Bound School, Vermilion Community College, Ely Folk School, and the North House Folk School, Simula said he enjoys giving back to the community. He lives in Finland, Minn., and spent most of his 50-something years in the northeast part of the state.
“Canoeing has always been a big part of my life,” he said. “This community has great people and I’m glad to be a part of it. Ely has always been a special place for me.”
For those who cannot attend any of the classes, but wish to help support this project, consider making a donation to the Ely Folk School for the BBCP. For more information, go to www.elyfolkschool.org.
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