Vintage Photographs of the Canoe from across Alberta

“In the history of watercraft, the canoe of the Aboriginal Peoples is perhaps the ultimate expression of elegance and function. All its parts come from nature, and when it is retired, it returns to nature.”

                         ~Canadian Canoe Museum

With the exception of the Plains tribes, the canoe was the principle means of transportation for virtually all pre-contact First Nation people. The earliest designs were as varied as the people creating them. Some were carved from massive trees on the Pacific coast, while others were fashioned from the bark of Birch trees.

Junction of Echo and Bow Rivers, Banff National Park, Alberta, 1880s

The canoe also played a vital role in opening up the rest of the country to exploration. Early European settlers utilized the canoe as their preferred method of transportation. Venturing deep into the unknown wilderness in search of furs, they discovered an already established trade network along traditional First Nation canoe routes.

North-West Mounted Police constables, Peace River Crossing, Alberta, 1905

You can’t mention the history of the canoe in this country without including voyageurs. Voyageurs were the independent contractors of the fur trade. They were licensed for transporting goods to trading posts across the country and beyond. They paddled large canoes piled high with goods and were responsible for connecting the western and northern reaches of the North American continent.

C. V. Alloway’s boat on Lesser Slave Lake, Alberta, 1899

The history of the canoe in Canada runs deep and it still holds a distinguished role in transportation and recreation today. Enjoy these historic photographs depicting the canoe in different locations from across this province.

Paddling on Athabasca River, Alberta, 1899

For additional stories about water sports, please see my previous posts about the lives of White-Water Raft Guides and Stand-Up Paddleboard Guides.

Revillon canoe on Lesser Slave Lake, Alberta, 1906
Group on Beauvais Lake, Pincher Creek, Alberta, 1900-1903
Lake Minnewanka, Banff, Alberta, 1880s
Vermilion Lakes, Banff, Alberta, 1880s
Members of treaty party crossing the Athabasca River, in Peterboro canoe, 1900
Duck hunters on Big Slough near Springfield Ranch, Beynon, Alberta, 1905
Imperial Oil Company geologists paddling on Clearwater River, Alberta, 1919
Canoe party, Banff, Alberta, 1922
Surveyors in canoe with sail, Whitefish Lake, Alberta, 1910
Assiniboine man, Alexis reserve, Edmonton area, Alberta, 1926
Portaging around Vermilion chutes on Peace River, Alberta, 1933
Lake Wabamun, Alberta, 1916-1919
Charles H. Attwood of a survey crew on the, Athabasca river, Alberta, 1912-1915
Canoe on Peace River, Alberta, 1914-1918
William J. Oliver, photographic equipment and First Nations guide, with camera equipment and canoe, n.d.
Fishing on the Red Deer River, Rosedale area, Alberta, 1912-1919
People canoeing at Bowness, Calgary, 1920. Object #A14697
Survey trip to Northern Alberta and Northwest Territories. First Nation boys in a canoe, 1923. Object #A3308
Canoeing on the Athabasca River, Alberta, n.d. Object #A5504
View of area around Banff. Photographer is William Copeland McCalla, 1913. Object #A9603
Men and women canoeing on the Echo River at the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) Camp, Banff, Alberta, 1907. Object #A10207
Interior of North West Industries. Unidentified people building canoes, Edmonton, Alberta, n.d. Object #A5872
Boys in canoe, Calgary Boys Naval Brigade, Sylvan Lake, Alberta, 1906-1928. Object #IR411
G. J. Longham, Dominion Land Surveyor and party in canoes on the Athabasca River, Peace River district, 1917. Object #A14231
Man portaging canoe, n.d. Object #A9404
Boy with paddle and canoe at Winterburn cub camp, 1932. Object #A9536

The photos above were collected from the Glenbow Archives, with the exception of the final ten, which were obtained from the Provincial Archives of Alberta. If you’re interested, additional information can be found for each photograph on the Glenbow website by searching the identification number that is printed on the photo. There is also the option to purchase a high resolution copy. If you search the object number that can be found in the photo captions, you will find additional information about the photographs on the Provincial Archives website. Stay tuned for additional posts featuring historical photos from across Alberta. We’d love to know what you think in the comment section below.

About Tyler Dixon 219 Articles
Tyler is originally from Saskatchewan, and yes he cheers for the Roughriders, but don’t hold that against him as Calgary has been his home for the past eight years. He is a teacher working at a wilderness- based treatment program for youth working to overcome addiction. Tyler is also a volunteer with the GOT Parks initiative, which aims at reconnecting Canada’s youth with our national, provincial, and territorial parks. During his time away from work, Tyler enjoys outdoor activities, such as hiking, biking, and snowboarding, team sports, travelling, photography, spending time with good friends, and being at home with his wife and German Shepherd, Rome.