Monday, May 24, 2010

Largest Birchbark Canoe in the World, built by Matt Bernard of Golden Lake Indian Reserve

Single page, found removed from unknown magazine about the insurance industry, from about 1956 era; apparently removed by a Frank Fenderson, possibly from Maine, as there was an insurance man by that name in Calais, Maine.

"Largest Birchbark Canoe in the World, Protected with Insurance by North America.
Builders Risk covered Replica of Fur Traders Craft of 150 Years Ago, Built for the National Museum of Canada
by NEIL CAMPBELL, Neil Campbell, Ltd., INA agents, Ont., Canada

The National Museum of Canada and the Capital City of Ottawa will shortly place on display a new exhibit, "Oitchie-Chee-Mun", the largest birchbark canoe in the world.  This huge craft was built last year [from searching online, I believe the canoe was built in 1955]  at Golden Lake Indian Reserve, 100 miles or so northwest of Ottawa.

"During construction and until delivery at the museum it was protected with Insurance by North America, under a Builders Risk policy written through this agency, in the name of D. A. Gilles, of Arnprior, as sponsor for the National Museum of Canada.  It covered a six months period from May 23, or until delivery at the museum.

"Swarms of summer visitors to the Golden Lake Indian Reservation, curious to see 81-year-old master builder, Matt Bernard, and his staff construct the half ton replica of canoes used by explorers, travellers and fur traders of 150 years ago, actually hindered construction progress, so that early plans to paddle the craft down the Ottawa River, fully manned, for the opening of the Ottawa Exhibition had to be abandoned.

"However, the canoe was taken on a trial trip across the waters of Golden Lake under power supplied by sixteen Algonquin paddlers.

"Some idea of the size of the craft can be realized from its dimensions of 36-1/2 feet length, 6 feet width and 4 feet depth.  The bow and stern have an upward curve of 6 feet.

"Eventually the canoe was transported by truck to the National Museum, where students of early Canadian history and others will enjoy the privilege of viewing this exact replica of the great "Canoe du Maitre" or "Montreal Canoe", in the construction of which there is not a nail or a bit of metal or any modern material.

"To secure and assemble suitable birch bark for "Oitchie-Chee-Mun required hundreds of miles of travel, on foot and by jeep, in famous Algonquin Park and Temagami Forest Reserve.

"While the construction is a triumph to the building skill of Matt Bernard and his son, this amazing craft would never have been produced had the idea not been conceived by Mr. D. A. Gillies, with his unmatched knowledge of Canadian forestry and managing ability."

As you can see from the image, there are two additions, one in handwriting and one with a typewriter.  The handwriting is at top in blue pen: "Thought you might be interested in seeing this.  Frank Fenderson".  The typed portion is just above the photograph: "No metal used.  36-1/2 x 6 x 4 feet."

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  1. Hello ToddHouse,

    You maybe interested that another page is being added in the story of the Matt Bernard Canoe. For a number of years it has been on display at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, Ottawa. Plans are that on February 5, 2011 it will come off of display and will be returned to the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan, of Golden lake, Ontario,where it was originally built. The Algonquin Way Cultural Centre will be excepting this gift. The problem is that we do not have the space to store or display this mighty canoe. Temporary solutions are being investigated. We had plans to build a new building in three years time where the canoe would fit. But we are now quickly researching, applying and searching for funding partners so that the canoe can be set up in an appropriate exhibition in our new building. Those who might be interested can contact the Algonquin Way Cultural Centre at

  2. A Scottish media company contacted me about this canoe, as they are/were filming a history of Scottish trappers in Canada and were looking for water-ready birchbark canoes. I referred them to two noted birchbark canoe craftsmen in Maine, but one of them told me that huge canoes of this type were not used historically in Maine.

    You might want to contact the company:

    When you have the canoe installed in its forever home, please send info/pix, so that I can add an update to the post above.

    Thanks for your comment and good luck, bonne chance!

  3. My Grandfather was Frank H. Fenderson of Calais, Maine and he was indeed in the insurance business.

  4. Katie, that's neat! This page may have been found with the papers of the Rawding family of Calais or the Lyman family who summered at North Perry. Your grandfather read the article, realized that it would be of interest to one of his friends and took the time to forward it on.

  5. I believe my grandfather Alex Partrich Aird was involved in the building of this canoe

  6. Jean-Claude BernardJuly 7, 2022 at 4:59 PM

    I have not seen any names of the contributers to the construction of this canoe At Golden Lake by Mathew Bernard. The only contributers I was aware of is Mathew Bernard, Michael Bernard and Anthony Bernard. I believe Alex Partrich Aird my have been a cousin to Mathew Bernard. If there is a list of contributers I would like to see it.