Carving New Pathways to Learning

Posted On Monday February 11, 2019
Brock Middle School students
Brock Middle School students are carving a traditional Secwepemc Cottonwood Canoe

For 19 students at Brock Middle School, carving a Cottonwood tree into a dugout canoe is opening new pathways to learning. Since October they have worked with a Secwepemc carver, Frank Marchand, to learn this Secwepemc traditional skill.  

“This is ancient technology,” said Brock Middle School Teacher Brenda Celesta. “Building this canoe is very rare. Frank, our carver, is perhaps the only one in the Interior with these skills, so to be able to learn from him is almost a lifetime experience for these students.”

Cottonwood canoes were part of the Secwepemc traditional culture, and also used by Voyageurs and early settlers in the territory. Brenda said even though modern-daycarved cottonwood canoes are rare, students are learning about much more than history with this project. 

“They are learning about plants and the local area,” she said. “They can connect it with science, social studies, and English. They have even gone to the point of writing Haikus. They are eventually going to create a book with photos and poems and drawings. It has been an awesome journey.”

Mike Bowden, District Principal of Aboriginal Education, agrees this project is not just about building a canoe. 

It would be interesting to ask students in 20 years what their best learning memories were from school. I would be willing to bet that this will be one of them,” he said. 

“Not only are students learning in an authentic way and engaging in all content areas, they are also building the capacity to take action in a project that is meaningful to them and their future skills.

 “It is about reconciliation and honouring the valuable learning and teachings of the local Secwepemc People on whose territory we reside.”

The students have named the canoe Two Bears.  After completing the carving this month, they will get it ready for its official launch which is planned for Quaaout Lodge beach in June. There are hopes to take the canoe out on a couple of journeys this summer, before the canoe will be put on display at the school. Brenda is hoping to continue canoe carving as a part of the curriculum at Brock Middle School – she said there may be three more cottonwood trees available to the school for future canoe projects and the possibility of running the course for a second year. 

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