Patrick Calihou, a Métis craftsman from Pitt Meadows, is leading a new bateau exhibit at Fort Langley National Historic Site (FLNHS) – he’ll be constructing a 40-foot-long York boat by hand over the next several months.
Visitors will be able to watch the work take place from now to January, and chat with Calihou, who has a personal connection to the Hudson’s Bay Company’s boats.
Calihou comes from a long line of voyageurs. He traces his roots as far back as his great-great-great grandfather, Louis Calihou, who was born in 1782 and worked for the Northwest Company.
His great-great grandfather, Michel Calihou, born in 1823, worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company in Edmonton for nearly 30 years as a river boat pilot from Athabasca to Fort Garry.
Today, Calihou makes his living as a carver, crafting paddles and designs while presenting his culture to classrooms and tourists.
“I started carving when I was 11 or 12, making shapes out of soap stone with a file,” Calihou recalled.
He said it was finding his connection to the Métis culture that look far longer to uncover than his interest in woodwork.
“My family came from Alberta in the thirties, a time when indigenous people weren’t even allowed to live in city limits,” Calihou explained. “My dad didn’t learn about his history and my mom was too busy raising me and my siblings.”
After traversing past his Cree lineage and speaking with family members, a book titled Education for Métis Reconciliation contained much information on his Métis heritage.
York boats were a specialized indigenous designed modes of transportation used by the Hudson’s Bay Company to carry furs and trade goods along inland waterways.
Calihou said he will be using a mixture of fur, spruce, and possibly even hemlock to construct the boat – depending on what will be available.
He will use an array of hand tools to get the job done, specifically chisels, files, and mallets to carve out the design, while contending with seasonal weather with a tent, heater, and determination to get the job done.
“It will be something to honour all of the Métis people who live before, who are here now, and all that will come come after,” Calihou explained.
Once it’s completed, the boat won’t be going anywhere. Though Calihou said it’s a dream of his to paddle an authentic York boat, this one will be left on site for people to interact with an actually sit in.
“It’s not something you just read about in a book, you can actually touch it and see what our ancestors had to go through to get around,” Calihou added. “Can you imagine paddling a boat like this on their diet? They we’re strong.”
Calihou said he’ll be carving on site Monday to Friday, behind the walls of the Fort at a temporary set-up.
Fort Langley National Historic Site is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and located 23433 Mavis Ave.
More information on Calihou can be found on his professional Facebook page.
Calihou additionally travels to local schools to showcase his culture through woodworking; he built a model Red River cart for FLNHS last year, which now sits on display in the Big House.
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