Queens canoe builder showcasing their craft in Lunenburg

A woman and man sit in a workshop in front of a table where a canoe is being built
Melissa and Todd Labrador sit in front of the beginnings of a birch bark canoe. Photo Ed Halverson
Ed Halverson - CJQC/QCCR - LiverpoolNS | 14-09-2021

Todd Labrador is taking his canoe building on the road.

The Queens-County based artisan and builder has set up shop at the Lunenburg School of the Arts for the next month to construct a 16-foot birch-bark lake canoe.

Labrador says part of what inspires him to build is passing on knowledge to others.

“We can build it in the privacy in the backyard and nobody gets to learn anything except whoever’s there at the time. But if we go out in public and build it in front of people and allow them to come in and ask questions and watch the process, come back every other day and see how we progress, that way we get to share with everyone, what we do. That’s important to me,” said Labrador.

He and his family harvest the materials themselves often spending days scouring the woods for pliable birch bark and digging for spruce roots.

Labrador uses many traditional techniques to build his canoes but welcomes some modern tools into his methods.

“If great-grandfather, who was born in 1874, died in 1961, if he had a nail, boy, he would use it. And I know if he had a band saw, he would’ve used that too.”

His daughter, Indigenous Guardian and artist, Melissa Labrador is helping with the build.

While their family’s roots are in the Wildcat Reservation in Queens, Melissa says they have a Lunenburg connection.

The Labrador family was known to have a home near the harbour close to where the fall hall currently sits.

“It’s really neat to be able to return to an area that our family occupied and create something here that probably hasn’t been done for a very long time,” said Melissa Labrador.

Her father has built several canoes over the past few years.

Some have gone into private collections; others have been acquired by museums or Indigenous communities.

Todd Labrador says each canoe always finds a home.

“Usually what we do is we build them. We don’t think about where they go. The joy for us is to build them,” said Labrador. “It’s my hobby, my passion and we paddle them as long as we can but eventually someone comes along and says we’d like to have that for our museum or cultural centre.”

The public is welcome to watch the Labrador family build the canoe at the Lunenburg School of the Arts Monday through Friday between 11:00am and 3:00pm.

E-mail: edhalversonnews@gmail.com
Twitter: @edwardhalverson

To listen to the broadcast of this story, press play below.