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Author of Native Canoe Routes of Maine David Cook in an authentic birch bark canoe on the Kennebec River in Maine. Photo by Ramona du Houx

Fall- 2007

Article and Photos By Ramona du Houx

Launching an authentic Native American birchbark canoe is an event in itself because there are very few in existence. Last summer James Eric Francis, Sr., Penobscot tribal historian launched a traditional birchbark canoe built by Maine’s four tribes, to highlight the importance of the book, Above the Gravel Bar: The Native Canoe Routes of Maine. David Cook, the author, was on hand to talk about the book.

People travel from all over the world to take to the waterways of Maine in canoes and kayaks. They come for the serenity, the unspoiled landscapes, and as some say — “the magic of Maine.” Some feel the connection to an ancient past where Native Americans used the rivers as their highways. Now they can read about that historic past in Above the Gravel Bar: The Native Canoe Routes of Maine.

The book retraces the routes Native Americans used as a central infrastructure to trade. Amazingly the rivers in Maine connect like roadways and often are more direct routes than modern highways. The book provides detailed maps for the routes if people wish to retrace them.

“Once you travel a route you feel more connected to Maine’s heritage. Being out on the river, watching bald eagles, takes you back in time,” said Cook. “Knowing what the Indians called landmarks, and that they traveled these highways bridges centuries. Canoeing in Maine is a direct connection with the past and a confrontation with the age-old realities of water and weather.”

56300202_1105031876348125_2324509546967465984_n“Above the Gravel Bar puts the true ancestral landscape into perspective,” said tribal historian James Francis, Sr., who wrote a foreword for the book. The book will be a part of the curriculum for Maine’s schools which Francis is working on.

“The canoe people of the North Woods and Gulf of Maine lived for hundreds of generations on the land we have inhabited for 300 years and we should know and respect that history,” said Cook. “Birchbark canoes are regarded as the most important technical achievement in Northeast.”

With ecotourism on the rise globally, taking to theses waterways, traveling the same routes as the Indians, could become a vacation families and the adventurous would enjoy thoroughly.

2a8972fa330b6e8f-canoe1Cook, who has enjoyed canoeing since he was a boy, served a tour in Vietnam before earning a masters degree in liberal studies at the University of Maine. He taught history at Winthrop High School. He also served as president of the Maine Archeological Society and since his retirement has been an adjunct faculty member at Central Maine Community College and the University of Maine at Farmington.

Above the Gravel Bar is available at bookstores throughout the state or directly by mail from Polar Bear & Company, PO Box 311, Solon, Maine or phone at 643-2795 or For the holiday season the book is available for $10 directly from the publisher.