Valemount Secondary students learn canoe building

By: Laura Keil

It’s 5p.m. on a sunny Tuesday, but the shop class at Valemount Secondary is full of noise.

David Potter, Duncan Bennewith and Isaac Williams take turns with the palm sander and orbital sander on the flank of an 18-foot canoe.

Over the course of the school year they have watched a Western Red Cedar tree transformed into a water craft they will put to the test this summer.

The students are there after school thanks to teacher Todd Crossley who taught the shop course last semester. With the shorter term due to the strike, they were unable to finish it during the class last term. So they have been coming in during their own time to complete the job.

The three boys gather around their instructor for a quick debrief, but are otherwise hard at work on different parts of the canoe. Few words pass between them; it is noisy, but there is also a careful diligence in their work that requires concentration.

Crossley’s canoe, nearly identical, lies nearby. He has been working on a second canoe to stay one step ahead of the students and in order to troubleshoot. While he’s helped other teachers build canoes before, this is the first time he’s led a project himself.

The tree was donated by local millwright Jason Alexander and sawed edge grain by Gordon Carson. To build a canoe, the log must be cut in the same direction as the grain. Then, the builder will use thin “cedar strips” that are flexible enough to bend into the canoe shape.

How did they get the canoe looking so perfect?

“Hours of sanding,” Duncan Bennewith said, during a momentary break in the sanding. The boys say they plan to test it on the water when they’re finished. First they have to finish sanding and add the fibreglass and varnish so it is waterproof.

Crossley says it’s been great for students to see the transformation of a tree to a canoe.

“It’s really rewarding for them I think. And for me.”

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