David Thompson, known as “the greatest land geographer who ever lived” was also the first European to descend the full length of the Columbia River. In the spring of 1811 at Boat Encampment (near the mouth of the now flooded Canoe River north of Mica Creek) he built the first of 9 canoes.
His journal reads: “Having now examined the White Birch in every quarter, for Birch Rind where with to make a Canoe for our voyage to the Pacific Ocean, without finding any even thick enough to make a dish; such is the influence of a mild climate on the rind of the Birch Tree, we had to turn our thoughts to some other material; and Cedar wood being the lightest and most pliable for a Canoe, we split out thin boards of Cedar wood of about six inches in breadth and builded a Canoe of twenty five feet in length by fifty inches in breadth, of the same form as a common Canoe, using cedar boards instead of Birch Rind, which proved to be equally light and much stronger than Birch Rind, the greatest difficulty we had was sewing the boards to each round the timbers as we had no nails we had to make use of the fine Roots of the Pine which we split. On the 16th April we had finished the Canoe and got all ready for our voyage.”
Thompson understood a lot about canoe design. He had observed indigenous designs from Hudson Bay to the Rocky Mountains and had paddled in birch and pine bark canoes. The natives really influenced him on the use of local materials. It is hard to comprehend how those few men out there in the snow, surrounded by huge trees, with only moose to eat, were so sure that they could make a boat with such primitive tools and materials that would carry them to the Pacific Ocean.