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CANOE. Native Americans constructed several kinds of canoes, including the birchbark canoe of the Eastern Woodland tribes; the dugout canoe, or pirogue, used by the Southeastern and many Western tribes; and the kayak of the Arctic Inuit. Light birchbark canoes were easily portaged, and they were responsive enough to be guided through rapids with precision. White explorers and fur trappers quickly adopted this remarkable watercraft for their travels across the continent. They also developed large trading canoes capable of carrying several hundred pounds of furs.

The pirogue, the traditional dugout canoe of the Indians of the Southeast, was usually shaped from the trunk of a cypress tree, hollowed out by burning and scraping. The pirogue drew only an inch or so of water, and it was well-suited to being poled through the vegetation clogged bayous.

On the northern Pacific Coast of North America, elaborately carved and painted dugout canoes, some a hundred feet long, were made from the giant cedar and other light woods. The Chumash and Gabrielino Indians of the southern California coast and the offshore islands made plank canoes, the planks being lashed together and caulked with asphalt. The Inuit kayak is a specialized variant of the canoe, with a frame of whale ribs or driftwood, over which sealskins are stretched to make a watertight covering.

Until railroads and highways became common, the canoe was the principal form of transport wherever water routes allowed. As these Newer forms of transportation and motorized boats became more common, most American Indians abandoned traditional canoes and the skills needed to make them.


Roberts, Kenneth G. The Canoe: A History of the Craft from Panama to the Arctic. Toronto: Macmillan, 1983.

Kenneth M.Stewart/j. h.

See alsoIndian Technology ; River Navigation ; Rivers ; Waterways, Inland .

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ca·noe / kəˈnoō/ • n. a narrow, keelless boat with pointed ends, propelled by a paddle or paddles. • v. (-noes, -noed, -noe·ing ) [intr.] travel in or paddle a canoe: he had once canoed down the Nile. DERIVATIVES: ca·noe·ist / -ˈnoōist/ n.


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canoe Light, shallow-draft boat propelled by one or more paddles. Primitive types are dug out of logs or made of skin or bark stretched over wooden frames. Modern types are made of wood, metal or fibreglass. Canoeing became an Olympic sport in 1936.

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canoe XVI. — Haitian (whence Sp.) canoa.

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