Steve Cayard

Steve Cayard demonstrates steaming and bending a canoe rib for a class of Lincoln Academy students. Cayard is the master boatbuilder in charge of the birchbark canoe currently under construction in LA’s ATEC center.

The Native American Wabanaki tribes, or “People of the Dawnland,” have inhabited the coastal and riverine environment of this region for at least the last twelve thousand years. Their primary means of transportation, the birchbark canoe, is a reflection of their intimate knowledge of the woods and waters through which they traveled. The superbly adapted craft is sturdy and flexible enough to be handled offshore or on the big lakes, yet light enough to be carried by one person.

This month Damariscotta River Association (DRA) and Lincoln Academy are offering a special program to construct a birchbark canoe using traditional Wabanaki methods, with master boatbuilder Steve Cayard and two interns, Dan Asher and Tobias Francis.

The canoe is currently under construction at Lincoln Academy’s Applied Technology and Education Center (ATEC), where students can participate in the building process throughout the month as their class schedules allow.

Cayard builds birchbark canoes in the traditional style of the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, and Maliseet builders of Maine and New Brunswick dating from the early- to mid-1800’s. The boatbuilder has spent years gleaning information from research on old canoes in museums, old photos, and written accounts. He works closely with native groups, sharing building techniques to help revitalize this traditional craft.

Steve Cayard, Tobias Francis, and xxx

The birchbark canoe starts to take shape under the careful work of Steve Cayard (center) and his interns, Dan Asher (left) and Tobias Francis (right).

The construction process includes soaking and steaming the cedar ribs and birch bark skin in order to bend them into shape, stitching pieces of birchbark together with split spruce root, weighting the gunwale frame to create the right curvature, installing planking and ribs, and fitting the headboards. Each step uses technology the Wabanaki would have used, with very little help from modern manufactured tools.

“The idea behind the project is to help connect students to the local landscape through hands-on experience with natural, native resources,” said Sarah Gladu, Education Director at the DRA. “We are extremely fortunate to have a community that fully supports this endeavor, bringing Lincoln Academy, DRA, and skilled craftspeople together to benefit local students. Seeing a project like this come together is a rare chance to experience our local history.”

“Sharing this process with the students is one way to preserve and sustain this traditional craft, which so perfectly combines the talents of humanity with the gifts of the forest,” reflected Cayard.

Members of the public are invited to stop by from 2:30 to 5:00 p.m. any weekday beginning on Monday, April 3, with the exception of Thursday afternoons, to ask questions and witness the process, which is expected to be completed by the end of April.

Lincoln Academy is an independent school that serves 580 high school students from 16 local towns and 19 countries worldwide. The school’s new applied technology building, the Cable-Burned Applied Technology and Engineering Center, or ATEC, was completed in 2015. The building has three working bays, and offers an ideal space for this partnership with the DRA.

wabanaki clamps

Wabanaki clamps made of cedar and deer hide side by side with their modern counterparts. Both ancient and modern tools have a role to play in the construction of a traditional birchbark canoe.

Damariscotta River Association is a non-profit, membership supported, and nationally accredited land trust and conservation organization dedicated to preserving and promoting the natural, cultural, and historical heritage of the Damariscotta region, centered on the Damariscotta River.

DRA has active programs in the areas of land conservation, stewardship, community education, water quality monitoring, marine conservation and cultural preservation. For more information call 207-563-1393, email, or visit

See more photos of the project in this album on Flickr.