Birch bark canoe loaned

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Prairie du Chien city employees Mike Anthony, Todd Clanton and Rich Stovey worked carefully to install an authentic birch bark canoe at the Tourist Information Center March 11. (Photo by Correne Martin)

Editor's note: This article includes additional information than what was published in our Wednesday, March 13, issue.


By Correne Martin

A traditional Ojibwe birch bark ceremonial canoe, donated to the Wisconsin Canoe Heritage Museum in Spooner by Rochelle Lamm in 2017, is being loaned to the Prairie du Chien Area Chamber of Commerce for display at the local Travel Wisconsin Welcome Center for two years.

This rare example of the ceremonial use of a canoe was built by Ojibwe craftsmen in the 1950s at the Grassy Narrows Indian Reservation in Ontario, Canada. The canoe was presented as a gift to Barney Lamm, of Barney’s Ball Lake Lodge, in Kenora, Ontario, in the 1950s, as he was inducted as an honorary Chief of the Ojibwe tribe and gifted with the name “Chief Thunderbird Continuous Day.” According to Jed Malische, executive director of the museum, the loan of the canoe to Prairie du Chien will provide a place to display the canoe publicly and promote the canoe museum as well.

This canoe replaces one rural Wauzeka resident Jim Czajkowski had on display at the tourist center. Having built numerous canoes himself, Czajkowski loves the pastime and sits on the Spooner museum’s board of directors. He was instrumental in bringing the very fitting birch bark canoe to Prairie du Chien. 

Czajkowski said the presently loaned canoe is smaller but more authentic. “I didn’t believe they would part with a birch bark (canoe),” he commented.

“Taking a look at the Rendezvous and our location at the confluence of the Mississippi and Wisconsin Rivers, I think this canoe ties in the authenticity of our heritage in Prairie du Chien,” Chamber CEO Bob Moses said. “As we try to promote our history, when we have 40,000 to 50,000 visitors each year here, they’ll see that this is part of who we are.”

Malische said Rochelle Lamm had the canoe in Milwaukee prior to gifting it to the Wisconsin Canoe Heritage Museum. Just before its carefully-trailered trip to Prairie du Chien, the canoe was on display as part of Canoecopia in Madison last weekend.

“Because it’s older and fragile, we bag the canoe and then there’s cushioning in the trailer to ensure it’s safely transported,” Malische explained. “There is a process of misting it before transporting, so it doesn’t dry out.” 

He also noted that the canoe museum’s storage strategy allows for canoes of various stories and purposes from within its collection to be displayed, mostly in the Spooner area, but some in other areas of Wisconsin. He said the museum has 20-25 of its total 60-plus-piece collection on display in this way. The collection also includes an array of books, paddles and related paraphernalia from throughout North American canoe history. 

The museum is the only one of its kind in the country devoted entirely to canoes, Malische said. He shared there’s one in Ely, Minn., that has no physical building for tourists to visit. The next closest is in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada.

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