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July 5, 2009

Canada’s Oldest Birchbark Canoe is in New Brunswick First Nations Exhibit Now

Canada’s oldest known birchbark canoe which went to Ireland with a British officer 180 years ago is back home in Fredericton New Brunswick as a part of a Beaverbrook Art Gallery Exhibition.  Fredericton was designated as the Cultural Capital of Canada for  2009 so it is appropriate that a First Nations exhibition should be featured there this summer.  The St. Mary’s First Nations people -the Maliseets- who built  the original canoe  were in New Brunswick long before Fredericton was established. 


The canoe currently on loan from the New Brunswick Museum in St. John was one of 3 built by the Maliseets First Nation people for British Lt. Governor Howard Douglas who took this one to Ireland.  The canoe was donated by the National  University of Ireland   in Galaway in 1847 where it remained and eventually was in a state of disrepair. 

The canoe was brought to the Canadian Museum of Civilization for repair a couple of years ago.  The canoe is called The Grandfather Akwiten Canoe and was brought into focus when an Irish  researcher took an interest in it eight years ago and sent it to the Museum of Civilization for restoration by Canadian First Nation builders. 

The original Maliseets were not informed but descendants Kim Brooks and her family heard about it and activated a claim for it.  It looks as if it will be back in New Brunswick possibly in a place of its own connected to the original builder.  It was quite an endeavour by the first nation group with letters published in newspapers in Ireland. 

The canoe recently arrived at the Beaverbrook Gallery on loan  from the New Brunswick Museum for a native exhibition. A smudging ceremony and drummings chanting and dance by the Maliseet people welcomed the arrival..  After a few days of acclimatization the 6 metre canoe was unveiled and added to a larger native exhibition which runs to August 31.  The canoe will eventually go back to the band if a location can be established or will be in the New Brunswick Museum. It is a remarkable piece of craftsmanship and history. 

Ekpahak (Where the Tide Ends) Exhibition 

The Beaverbrook exhibition features New Brunswick First Nation Artists and craftsmen and celebrates their artistic heritage.   


The multimedia exhibition is curated by Terry Graff and native artist Alan Siliboy.  They visited various reserves across New Brunswick to gather the art and crafts of the people.  There is a large scale photographic installation showing the native way of life.  The exhibition recognizes the legacy of the native people.  The exhibition is the first of its kind in the 50 years of  the basically eurocentric Gallery.  It is a credit to all concerned.  The canoe is a major artefact in the exhibition and recognizes the birchbark canoe in the early development of the Canadian way of life. 

The exhibition runs to August 31st 2009.  For further information contact lglenn@beaverbrookartgallery.org or Google Beaverbrook Art Gallery. 

Photos as provided by Beaverbrook Art Gallery

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