By Rick Garrick
FORT WILLIAM FIRST NATION—The Fort William canoe builders who created an 18-foot birch bark canoe last summer are featured in The Canoe documentary film that is available online.
“It was really cool because we got to do a bunch of scenes and camera shots,” says Georgia Bannon, an 18-year-old youth from Fort William who worked on two birch bark canoes over the past two years. “We had a lot of laughs and it was a really good time. I would like to do it again and I would like to get more youth involved with it.”
Although Georgia had to wake up early in the morning to paddle the canoe along with two other youth on Lake Superior with the rising sun and the Sleeping Giant behind them for filmmaker Goh Iromoto, she says the experience was ‘pretty good’.
“Watching these youth go out and paddle the vessel they created with their own hands, sweat, and blood, as the sun rose in a perfect orange glow was an emotional and powerful moment for sure,” Iromoto says. “Turning back and watching Gail gaze over proudly at the youth was equally as moving. It was a moment I’ll never personally forget and one that I am lucky to share with the world. A story about a mentor and a strong-willed group of youth who displayed a true sense of pride and effort into building something so simple yet magnificent.”
Georgia enjoyed working with the other youth on the birch bark canoe.
“It was one of the best experiences I could ever have; knowing how to go to pick the right roots and learning how to make a boat,” Georgia says. “It’s something more people should get involved with because we don’t see [birch bark canoes] very much anymore. They are strong boats and I think they are better than man-made boats.”
The film project also featured Fort William’s Charlene Bannon, Shaylah Fenton, Tanya Fenton, Dylan Bannon, Bess Legarde, and Gail Bannon as well as canoe builder-instructor Darren Lentz.
“I’m just so thankful for the opportunity and how it presented itself that Fort William youth and the projects and programs that they are doing were highlighted in such a beautiful way,” Gail says.
Gail wants to keep the canoe-building project going for a few more years to continue building skill levels among the youth. Another canoe build is scheduled for this upcoming summer.
“It’s not just about a canoe,” Gail says. “By doing the canoe project, they are learning so much more skills along with it. They know now that they can do something like this — it’s not impossible.”
Lentz says the film was part of the canoe project that Gail initiated two years ago.
“She always puts the kids first and that is what I really respect about Gail,” Lentz says. “It’s her vision and her work that has led to this opportunity to show her community to the rest of the world.”
The Canoe trailer and The Mentor film were screened on Jan. 26 during writer James Raffan’s presentation on Canoe Country: A Lovingly Skewed Sesquicentennial Geography of Canada at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay.
“I think the film is going to win awards — Goh’s imagery is amazing,” Raffan says. “I’ve never seen anything quite like that trailer. It was released a week ago Tuesday, and for a canoeing film, more than 100,000 people have looked at it all over the world.”