The Chinook Canoe was a craft of extraordinary beauty and was as much their home as it was the outward expression of their graceful relationship with the life-force that sustained them, the Columbia River. These canoes came in all sizes and shapes, from one-man hunting canoes, hand held canoes for gathering Wapato, or the large cruising canoes that could hold thirty to forty people and all their equipment. The abrupt vertical cliff at the stern stood in contrast with the extended curve of the prow, and between, the barely visible waterlines swept the length of the canoe to unify its sense of grace and purpose.
It took years of work to fashion such a canoe. At first it was hollowed out using fire, flint and beaver-tooth chisels. Then it was filled with steaming water and stretched into shape with stretchers sewn into place until the desired proportion had been achieved. The resulting craft was sleek and seaworthy even in the tempestuous Northwest swells.
But it had an Achilles heel. Where the tree was cut across the grain to square off the stern or cut the advanced edge of the curvaceous bow – there the grain was exposed. It was at either end of these graceful craft, that the strains and stresses of the ocean squeezed the hardest. In a heavy seaway the canoe could twist and split from end to end. Many tragedies at sea resulted from this fatal flaw. While the Chinook courageously paddled their craft the entire length of the Pacific coast from Alaska to California, the old Indians often told of clinging to the split canoe, for hours and days until the surf finally rolled them ashore.