Sturgeon Nosed Canoe

Sturgeon-nose canoes were used on the Columbia River by the Kutenai, Sinixt and other First Nations people. While instantly recognizable by the unusual reverse slope of the bow and stern, they possessed other features that distinguish them from other North American bark canoes.

According to Adney (in Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America), sturgeon-nose canoes were built from many barks: birch, spruce, fir, or white pine, the latter being a common choice. All woodwork was cedar.

Often, only one thwart was used amidships to keep the gunwales apart and spread the boat’s opening. Hide straps, between the center and end thwarts, were used to pull the gunwales inward.

Bottom sections tended to be very round, but some canoes had a slightly flattened bottom and flaring sides, The bottom tended to be hogged, but because of the boat’s light structure, the ends came up when it was loaded so that in use, the boat had a slightly rockered bottom. Most were 14’ to 20’ in length and quite narrow — 24” to 28” in beam.

The overall form is a bit of a mystery. Although they have a reputation of being well-suited to large open lakes, swamps, and swift rivers, it’s hard to see what makes them superior to other First People designs. The ram bow might provide benefits when crossing large areas of open water, by extending the waterline and by providing a “bulbous bow” similar to that on most cargo ships. But the narrow beam is a liability, and the bow, with its lack of flare and its rapidly diminishing buoyancy, is far less suitable than that of a conventional flared bow in wind-driven waves. Furthermore, the pointed bow at or below the waterline would tend to catch vegetation in swamps, and would impair both maneuverability and durability in rocky rapids.