Chicagoland Canoe Base
Birchbark Replicas
The fiberglass birchbark replicas created by Ralph Frese appear to be the real thing to the casual observer. However, they have several advantages over a true bark craft in that they have a fine underwater hull shape for ease of paddling, dryness, and maneuverability and with a seamless one-piece hull, they are not subject to constant need to regum the seams. They have been made for canoeists involved in historical interpretation, for state parks, national parks, for several historical reenactments, clubs, and for film work. They range in size from 14 feets to 34 feet and can be varied to conform with various traditional and regional shapes.

The hull is fiberglass with the larger craft having a bottom stiffened with a foam core eliminating the necessity of ribs. The outer surface has the pattern of birchbark with a three dimentional texture. Each piece of bark is tinted to a different color and each section is highlighted with additional shading.

The three dimentional pitch marks are carefully placed to give the illusion of additional panels of bark sewn on the hull pieces and the gore marks made to give the canoe its shape. The gunwales, thwarts and seats are of Sitka spruce, the lightest, strongest wood available. The gunwale caps are of white ash. Thwarts are mortised into the gunwales Indian fashion and lashed into place. Seats were slung from the gunwales in the old days with cordage but we use stainless steel bolts to simulate the cordage hanging them from the gunwales. The gunwales are lashed with vinyl simulating the root lashings used on historic craft. The bow and stern upper stems are also lashed for realism. Such attention to details are not found in other so-called voyager canoes on the market.

To achieve such a high degree of realism requires costly materials and much time and patience, but the results are worth it. For more information contact Ralph Frese at the Chicagoland Canoe Base or via email at

Photo Gallery

Here are several samples of birchbark replicas, many of which were built for historic reenactments. Click on any photo for a larger view.

A small 14 foot bark replica such as a hunter would have used.
  A 20 foot early Algonquin style, typical of the four man caft used by our early explorers.
A 20 foot early Algonquin style four man canoe decorated with winter bark designs created by Ralph Frese at Chicagoland Canoe Base.
A 26 foot North canoe sailing off the Garden Peninsula in Lake Michigan.
A 34 Foot Canot du Maitre or Master canoe being picked up at the Chicagoland Canoe Base.
One of six 20 foot early Algonquin birchbark canoes built for the LaSalle Expedition II in the bicentennial year.
Twenty-three participants at the starting ceremony in Montreal in August of 1976, ready to ascend the Lachine Rapids.
Voyaging down Lake Michigan during the coldest winter in 100 years, the ice-coated craft rest on the beach during a meal stop.
Arriving at the mouth of the Mississippi River in April of 1977, the party gave thanks, sang the Te Deum, and LaSalle once again claims the entire Mississippi watershed for the glory of France!
  The arrival of the voyageur's brigade at the annual Feast of the Hunter's Moon in early October each year is the highlight of this reenactment of the days of the french and indians on the Wabash in the 1720s. Ralph Frese built these craft and started this type of historical reenactments back in the 60s.

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