Finally the response I was expecting! I’m glad you raised this point Jack because it touches on an underlining theme to all this, the process of human understanding and interpretation.
Using the example of canoe names lets take our discussion a little further. Although it should be noted that this process of elucidation could be applied to anything, whether it be the naming of a boat or the lines of that boat.
I would whole-heartedly agree that names are used to sell boats, however, they are also intended to capture a certain essence. Not surprisingly some of my favorites are the more questionable names like the Champlain, Big Chief, or Indian Girl.
All told, one of my favorites is Dick Presson’s “Grey Owl.” In my mind its an absolutely genius name. Not only does it pay homage to the idea or representation of Grey Owl in Canadian history but also the idea of becoming native. Grey Owl, a.k.a Archie Belanie, was a white man of British decent. As a child he was obsessed with native culture. On coming to Canada he in fact became native by adopting various cultural and social practices and also by marrying a native women. In turn Grey Owl became a very popular public speaker and was generally understood as a noble savage.
To me the name of Dick’s canoe implies that I too could be come native, become in tune with the land if I owned this canoe.
Furthermore, this idea of becoming nature has had allot of currency in Western Culture. As far as I can tell it started with the American Transcendentalists, in particular Henry Thoreau and Emerson. Recall if you will, Thoreau’s essay “Walking” where he states that Western culture needs “some cedar vita in [their] tea.”
However, what this shows is that a name is not just a name, not a mere marketing tool. It evokes a series of very enticing concepts. If, and how we respond to these concepts is a matter of individual preference. However, when a representation, for instance the representation of Peterborough’s Champlain, is very popular, I would think that the representation in question is effective. This is to say, the name worked to touch the minds of the people and thus they subscribed to this particular vision of “Champlain.” As such I think it is possible, by looking into the social climate of the time to see how this representation of Champlain was understood and what in fact the people where buying into.
You are very correct in saying that, given the time frame, ones interpretation of Champlain was probably a product of schoolbooks. Thus, Champlain was probably understood as a very heroic figure. Was Champlain a heroic figure or should we remember him as such? I know that Chaplin dropped his cartography tools in the Ottawa River, and then used the knowledge of Anisinabe guides to produce his maps from that point forward. Without, I might add, giving credit it the highly skilled knowledge of these native peoples. That is not heroic in my mind. This is not to mention the numerous other horrid colonial characteristics of the man.
What we are dealing with is a miss-representation. A miss-representation that is preserved in various cultural artifacts. One of which happens to be canoes.
Don’t get me wrong, I love canoes as much as anyone else on this forum and I am living proof that Jerry and Rollin where correct in saying building canoes “…will ruin a man or women for any other work.” However, I think we are doing ourselves a huge injustice by buying into old and outdated cultural representations. I wouldn’t change a thing. I think these names and canoes should be preserved, yet, I think we should take into our hearts what we are truly preserving. It may be troubling, it may be humbling and it will surely call into question our own motivation and ourselves; however, in doing so I think we come to terms with a more accurate historical representation and in turn create a deeper appreciation for not only the craft, but for how and why we preserve cultural artifacts.
Am I searching for some hidden agenda that will expose the evil intensions of canoes builders across North America? Of course not; yet we do have the privilege of the historical record to reflect on. History is made in the future not in the past. That is to say, we have the good fortune to look back on the past with impartial eyes and see history for what it was. So why wouldn’t we do this? Why would we treat any history as finished and done when we have the opportunity to re-articulate it faithfully and to the best of our knowledge?
So thanks Jack for your critique, it was and is very appreciated. My apologies and thanks for those of you who actually read this whole thing!
It would be interesting to here from Dick, possibly to tell us why he chose the name for the Grey Owl, or possibly from Mark Reuten. If I’m correct Mark has had some experience learning directly form native peoples in B.C., so possibly he could tell us his feeling on the process of learning and then reproducing a skill that is centuries old.