Build a Canoe, Explore Indigenous Culture

Posted on Monday, March 6, 2017

The construction of birch bark canoe is in progress

Everyone is invited to continue the work completed so far on the uOttawa birch bark canoe. Credit: Julie Gareau


The uOttawa community and the Ottawa public are invited to lend a hand in building a 13-foot birch bark canoe on the Main Campus from January 24 to March 23. The University is hosting the project in collaboration with the Institute of Canadian and Aboriginal Studies, the Indigenous Students’ Association and the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa.

Marcel Labelle, a recognized canoe builder of Metis and Algonquin ancestry, is leading the project. He has conducted canoe building projects across Ontario at post-secondary institutions and various English and French school boards.

The communal act of building a canoe is said to open the door for deeper understanding and celebration of the economic and cultural practices of the Anishinabeg and Métis peoples. It is also an opportunity to learn first-hand how the disciplines of art, engineering and science intersect in the traditional process of building a canoe.

This unique project is a complement to several initiatives within our own Faculty that promote understanding of diverse cultures, peoples and backgrounds. The Indigenous Program, for example, enhances the Undergraduate Medical Education curriculum with course material and student experiences dedicated to Indigenous cultures, health and social issues.

Example of a finished birch bark canoe

A completed birch bark canoe. Credit: Marcel Labelle

DIME’s Medicine and the Humanities is another program that promotes cultural fluency and social accountability by equipping health professionals, students and faculty with humanist methods and approaches. The program infuses the medical curriculum with arts and humanities to increase competencies in evaluating, interpreting, and applying qualitative information such as patients’ narratives, cultural values, and human behaviour.

From 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every weekday until March 23, individuals and groups are invited to assist in the canoe’s construction or to simply observe the process and listen to Mr. Labelle’s teachings and stories. Drop-ins are welcomed at any time, but larger groups are asked to register on a first-come, first-served basis. Construction is taking place in the Couch Lounge at the University Centre.

Once complete, the canoe will be placed on-campus as a symbol of multi-disciplinary knowledge and the importance of fostering a society that is inclusive of all peoples.

For more information about the birch bark canoe project, to register, or to learn more about the craft of canoe-building, visit the project’s main page. Those unable to participate on weekdays may inquire about registration for the community day on March 18 by contacting

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