Saturday, April 17, 2010

Handmade Craft

The term 'stone boat' refers to a flat farm implement used for moving heavy rocks and stones. It was usually pulled with horses by the Canadian settlers hauling huge stones off to the sides of fields of newly cleared sections of farmland. The device looks like a low-profile sled. They were usually made of wood, but some flat metal stone boats were used too. The word 'stone boat' is not exactly an oxymoron but nevertheless it does combine two somewhat contrasting concepts.

In Port Hope the 'stone boat' has come to take on a different meaning altogether. It was here in 2006 during the annual dry stone festival in Canada that a structure was built by a team of enthusiastic wallers to commemorate a book by the internationally acclaimed author Farley Mowat, who has lived here in Port Hope for many years. His book 'The Farfarers', about a Pre-Viking people who came to Canada in search of walrus hides and tusks, was the inspiration for a dry stone boat which replicated the shelter made by Alban people who wintered over in parts of Arctic Canada by building dry stone enclosures and roofing them with their up-turned double-ended ocean going crafts.

Today, four years after its completion I needed to do a minor repair to this stone boat. It took five minutes. As the simulated walrus skins of the hull fade it has started to look even more authentic. As a point of interest in town it has started to take on a history of its own. Thankfully it has not been subject to any vandalism even though it is not situated in a prominent section of town. Even the ropes, with heavy stone weights stretched across the hull to simulate the boat's needing to be held down against strong arctic winds, have never been tampered with, although they are not secured in any way to the structure.

This temporary boat 'dwelling-place' with a foundation of dry stone is a surprising thing to come across in a small Canadian town. It stands as a public monument but is situated in a private setting. It is an enigma. This rugged looking craft, a hand-made structure of stone - is it a building, a boat, a sculpture, a monument, or a reproduction of historic fantasy?

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