Michael Gabriel and Dennis Leon from the Kwantlen nation blessed the canoe in a traditional ceremony, and led members and youth from the clan to dance and brush branches of purification over the boat. (Sarah Grochowski photo)

Aboriginal artists bestow special blessing on club’s newest canoe

Fort Canoe and Kayak Club paddles ‘a collaboration of cultures’ on maiden voyage

Fort Canoe Kayak Club (FCKC) was given a floating work of art on Thursday after it was blessed by the Kwantlen First Nation, to evermore journey up and down the Fraser River.

Various groups gathered on the village’s waterfront plaza to formally celebrate the maiden voyage of the “war” canoe.

The 30-foot sprint racing classic canoe pays tribute to Canada’s traditions of old, said commodore of the club, Inga Kruse.

Kruse emceed the ceremony, introducing members from the B.C. Sheriff’s Ceremonial Unit and Langley RCMP’s Cpl. Kurt Neuman in red serge.

The sleek vessel was designed specifically for the Bedford Channel’s waterways – both in how it was built by Ian Magrath and Rod Tait, and in its presentation by Canadian artist Paul Windsor.

Windsor, having Haisla and Heiltsuk Aboriginal ancestries, spoke to a rapt audience about the symbolism of his black and red paintings on the canoe.

“I watched it from the beginning to the end and I was in amazement at the technology, and the mathematics” that went into building the boat, Windsor first explained.

“It is a real symbol of culture,” he went on to say, “it’s a collaboration of cultures and a symbol of friendship between our culture and the Canadian culture.”

Executive director of Dragon Boat BC and the Canadian International Dragon Boat Society, Ann Phelps, was instrumental in seeing that the boat was given to youth at FCKC, Windsor said.

She helped organize its construction at Burnaby Youth Custody Services (BYCS), a juvenile detention centre, as part of a program that allowed those in custody to be mentored by Windsor, who also works at BYCS.

“What you see now is a culmination of [everyone’s] hard work,” Phelps emphasized.

Windsor made mention of the several youth at BYCS, whom he felt enriched the canoe art by working alongside him until its completion earlier this month.

“I feel a lot of the reason why our young people end up in predicaments is because they don’t have things like this – racing clubs – and they’ve lost touch and connection with their culture and their elders. And so they end up in gangs and addictions and vicious cycles.”

Windsor and his helpers burned a dragon emblem to represent the BC Dragon Boat Society and a Coast Salish-style paddle onto the walnut foredeck of the canoe, inspired by the work of Coast Salish artist Susan Point.

An eagle and salmon, known to populate areas of the Fraser River, adorn the symmetrical left and right sides of the canoe.

Windsor was sure to honour the Kwantlen, Kwikwetlem, and Katzie First Nations and other Coast Salish groups with his work, some of which encapsulates both his grandmother and great grandmother with a painted killer whale crest.

“I feel that the artwork is a part of me. So when they do the brushing ceremony, I’ll be there and be brushed along with the canoe,” Windsor explained, “to purify the artwork.”

READ MORE: Aboriginal masks unveiled at Aldergrove school

Michael Gabriel and Dennis Leon from the Kwantlen nation blessed the canoe in a traditional ceremony, and led members and youth from the clan to dance and brush branches of purification over the boat. 

“When we sing these songs they’re not really songs, it’s not a performance – it is our way of prayer,” Gabriel emphasized.

“When we share these songs the ancestors come and join us.”

Langley Township Coun. Petrina Arnason capped off the ceremony with words in support of paddling in the community, for which FCKC hosts competitive sprint canoe and kayak programs for youth ages nine to 19.

“We also host summer camps for junior paddlers as young as six,” Kruse added.

“Many of our club’s members first get addicted to the sport during camp.”

After the blessing, the canoe was hauled down to the water by club athletes, and carefully placed in under the leadership of FCKC head coach Connor Fehr. A flotilla of club rowers and paddlers rushed up to accompany the canoe on its first voyage along the Fraser River.

“It was touching to see how many people came out. We cheered them on from the dock,” Kruse said.

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Heiltsuk artist Paul Windsor (middle) accompanied youth from the Fort Langley Canoe and Kayak Club and took out the war canoe on its maiden voyage down the Fraser River last Thursday in Fort Langley. (Special to the Aldergrove Star)

After the blessing, the canoe was hauled down to the water by club athletes and taken on its first voyage atop the Fraser River. (Special to the Aldergrove Star)

Langley RCMP Cpl. Kurt Neuman (right) stands with Kwantlen First Nation’s Michael Gabriel (left) who led songs of prayer during the vessel’s blessing ceremony. (Sarah Grochowski photo)

A flotilla of club rowers and paddlers rushed up to accompany the canoe on its first voyage along the Fraser River. (Sarah Grochowski photo)

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