Who were the Ojibwa and how did they travel? What's the big deal with the Trent-Severn Waterway? Why were merchant ships so important in WWI?
Ojibwa Life and Travel
The Ojibwa lived in dome-shaped, birchbark wigwams in small villages along the shores of Georgian Bay right up to the shores of Lake Superior. They survived by farming corn in the summer months, hunting in the winter, and gathering all sorts of wild foods such as plants and berries, and even making maple syrup. But fish and wild rice, harvested from the lakes and rivers, were perhaps the most important food sources for the Ojibwa.
Because they spent so much time near the water, canoes were an essential part of Ojibwa life. If you can believe it, a family could make a whole canoe in ten to fifteen days! First, the men would soak pieces of white cedar for several days so that they could bend it. Then, women would sew long sheets of birch bark to the wooden frame and waterproof the seams with heated spruce gum and grease. When a canoe was completed, symbols were painted on the boat in the hopes that they'd bring both protection from evil spirits and good luck. To learn more about canoes, visit the Canadian Canoe Museum.
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The Trent-Severn Waterway was used for transportation, communication, and trade as early as 1900 b.c., and though it's changed quite a bit over the years, the waterway is still used for many of the same things.
It took nearly eighty years to build the chain of interconnected lakes and rivers that Millie saw when she visited the Kawarthas in 1914. In fact, at that time, the canal system was still under construction in parts. This was because in the 1830s, when construction of the canal began, men had to use shovels, spades, wheelbarrows, and horses to dig and excavate trenches to connect existing bodies of water. It was slow work!
If you wanted to travel the full length (240 miles!) of the Trent-Severn Waterway today, you'd need about a week. Along the way, you'd pass through thirty-six locks, two sets of flight locks, and two of the world's largest hydraulic lift locks. But what's a lock, you ask?
Sometimes one body of water was higher than another and locks needed to be installed to help boats go "downhill" easily. By putting a chamber with doors that can be raised and lowered between the two bodies of water, people were able to control the speed at which water flowed from the higher body of water to the lower. This chamber is called a lock, and while hydraulic locks and flight locks work differently from conventional locks, they all do the same thing—help boats go uphill or downhill.
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Canada's Maritime Role in WWI
When most of us think of WWI we think about trench warfare and great land battles, but WWI was also a maritime war, dependent on the success of merchant ships carrying both troops and cargo.
When war broke out in 1914, Canada had but two ships and three hundred and fifty men in the Canadian navy. They could offer little in the way of a navy since it took so long to build a new ship, but they could offer manpower. Canada had once had a proud fleet of wooden ships, and though the fleets were gone, the skilled men who sailed them were not. It was these men who manned many of Britain's 12,600 steamships.
As enemy armies became bogged down in trench warfare, Canadian sailors were making treacherous voyages across the Atlantic with much needed goods for the allied forces. In 1915, Canada shipped an average of forty-five thousand tonnes of cargo-troops, horse, guns, ammunition and other supplies-each month. By 1918 we were shipping over three hundred and fifty thousand tonnes. These crossings pushed Canadian resources to the limit and formed a major part of our naval effort during WWI.
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