Métis exhibit banner depicts history of York boats

From an article by: Duane Hicks in the Fort Frances Times on-line: http://www.fftimes.com/node/259472

Métis exhibit banner
Merv Ahrens and Wayne Barron displaying their York boats banner at the Fort Frances
Museum.

A Fort Frances artist and historian have teamed up to create a new banner for the Métis exhibit currently on display at the Fort Frances Museum.

Over the past few months, Wayne Barron and Merv Ahrens have worked together on the project, which depicts York boats—once used by the Hudson’s Bay Company to carry furs and trade goods along inland waterways between Fort Frances and York Factory.

Barron contributed hand-painted artwork for the project while Ahrens provided the historical details.

Ahrens said the idea for the piece came up earlier this year at a planning meeting for the exhibit, “Our Local Métis Story,” which will be at the museum until late June.

Ahrens was a member of the team of people working on the “Our local Métis Story” exhibit and has written books on the fur trade, including Fort Lac La Pluie of the North West Company 177?-1821. His books are used in Fort Frances area schools.

The poster depicts York boats, as well as a map and text describing some key points. Barron said he tried to convey the feeling of the era, such as having the map look like it was made of parchment.

“We wanted to make it simple,” Barron remarked. “To make it visually state what it’s talking about even before you read it. It’s about guys making an exciting trip in a big boat that is propelled in various ways.”

The poster was painted on a vinyl canvas and the colours really stand out on the non-absorbent canvas, Barron noted.

“It’s larger than anything I’ve worked on before,” said Barron. “It involved a bit of research. I went [to] Merv, consulted with him, got some archive photographs from the Hudson’s Bay Company, which I based those sepia pictures on.”

For about 40 years, from the 1820s to the 1860s, the York Boat was used to make annual round-trips between Fort Frances and York Factory on Hudson Bay, explained Ahrens.

These would be gruelling treks lasting 70-85 days and covering 3,600 km, he added, noting “that’s rather a spectacular distance.”

York boats carried furs to York Factory and trade goods to Fort Frances, hauling up to two tonnes in each boat.

“Portaging, however, was a difficult task. Far too heavy to carry, the York Boat was dragged on log rollers over rocks, through swamps, and up inclines of 350 metres,” explained Ahrens.

Ahrens pointed out that rather than “paddlers” which would propel birch bark canoe, York boats had a crew of “pullers”—called so as they pulled on the oars, as well as pulled the boats over rocks and other terrain.

“This is a very fine piece that will be displayed in our permanent gallery upstairs once we take down the Métis exhibit,” noted museum curator Sherry George. “We’re very grateful to both gentlemen for this collaboration.”

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