Most people are familiar with the use of red cedar to make dugout canoes on the Northwest Coast. It is not as commonly known that Sitka spruce was also used for this purpose, especially on the northernmost coast where red cedar did not thrive or was absent completely.
Via the Sealaska Heritage Institute Special Collections blog, I just found a nice, extensive photo set from 1987 of the carving of a spruce canoe near Hoonah, a Tlingit village in Southeast Alaska. The introduction to the photo set reads:
As part of the bicentennial of the Constitution celebration of 1987, the National Park Service and the Sealaska Heritage Foundation (now Sealaska Heritage Institute) sponsored the carving of a Tlingit canoe using traditional tools and methods at Bartlett Cove, which is near Hoonah, Alaska. The canoe, called Yuxwch’ee Yakw in Tlingit, means Sea Otter Canoe, which was the indigenous canoe of Hoonah and was photographed by the Harriman Expedition in Glacier Bay in 1899. The canoe was constructed at Bartlett Cover in August 1987. George Dalton, Sr, born in Hoonah in 1879, and other elders with personal knowledge of canoe making traditions served as cultural advisors to the project. Lead carvers Nathan Jackson, Steve Brown, Richard Dalton, and Mick Beasley carved the canoe using a Sitka Spruce log using traditional tools, such as the xot’ah or Tlingit adze.
What is particularly interesting to me about the use of Sitka spruce is that on, say Haida Gwaii, there was little to no climax red cedar until about 3,000 years ago: forests were dominated by Spruce and Hemlock between about 11,000 and 3,000 calendar years ago. Elsewhere, cedar reaches climax levels between about 6,000 years ago in the south to the northern panhandle where it never really is established. Yet, at the Haida Kilgii Gwaay site dating to about 10,700 years ago, a number of tools were found only consistent with splitting planks and other major woodworking projects normally tied to red cedar. While skin boats were certainly possible, it seems to me that spruce dugouts may also have a very long history on the Northwest Coast.