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Bear Mountain Journey by Barry Scammell, Vermillion, SD, USA

By Barry Scammell

Two winters ago I began my Bear Mountain cedar strip canoe journey – building the strongback structure to hold the molds for my 15’ Bob’s Special.  The strongback turned out square, strong and true – ready for the final push the following winter.

Every summer we get busy – with an acreage and lawns to keep up with and gardens to keep, and a cabin on Lesser Slave Lake where we spend as much time as possible.  It’s where I plan to launch my Bob’s Special when it’s done.  So summers are out for making progress on the canoe in the shop.

Last winter I cut my molds and my stem moulds, and steamed and shaped my stems, and carefully set them up on the strongback, and waxed the edges of the molds.  All was square and ship shape – and in January I lovingly stapled my first cedar strip in place.  All was ready.

On February 8, I got home from work on a Friday night, after a usual busy week at work, then a workout before coming home.  I came in through the door and asked my better half if we wanted to throw some leftovers on the table or just go into the local town for a quick pizza and beer at our favourite local joint.  Maybe I’d get home in time to put another strip on the canoe…

I woke up, upside down, disoriented, head swimming, trying to understand.  “What happened, Nance?”

I think my wife’s panic had stirred me out of my unconscious state.  She thought the Jeep was about to burn.

“We got hit!”

I started to put it together…  I’d gotten home…  We’d started to drive to town…  We’d slowed down on the highway as someone turned off ahead of us…

Now we were hanging upside down, injured, trapped.  We couldn’t get out.  She could smell gas and we could hear liquids running.

“Well.  I was kind of hoping this wouldn’t happen for about another 30 years or so.  But if this is it, I’m glad I’m here with you.  It’s okay, Hon.  We’ll get through this.  I’ll see you on the other side…”

Thank God, the vehicle did not burn down.

Eventually, EMT’s arrived and fire rescue vehicles and police.  An EMT took the next hour on his back on the ceiling of our vehicle talking to us, assessing us, assuring us, telling us how they were going to get us out.

My wife was flown by STARS, the Alberta trauma helicopter service, into an Edmonton hospital, and I was taken by ambulance to a closer hospital.  Over the next days, she was operated on to repair a complex fracture of her right arm.  Stainless steel plate and pins.  I won the staple contest, getting 20 staples to close the gash in the back of my head.  For our broken ribs we just got to heal with time.  I turned our home into a hospital ward for the next 2 months.

It’s a year later.  This winter the cedar strips are going on carefully, lovingly, with appreciation for the curves and lines that are appearing under our fingertips as our efforts progress.  The grain and fragrance of cedar, the contrast of darker strips mixed against the lighter strips and an ash highlight strip, the tensions and twists of the strips from amidships and hull and bilges across molds and forms to stems at bow and stern, all coaxed and soothed by our hands. 

My helpmate at my side assisting, and being equally amazed as our canoe takes shape and comes alive under our loving hands.

Our Bear Mountain cedar strip canoe journey took a bit of a detour for a year or so there.  But we’re back on our journey.

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