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Gum and Gumming

All of the seams of the canoe are sealed using spruce gum tempered with a bit of bear fat.  In Ontario, we used white spruce because that is what grows here.  In the north, black spruce would be used.  When melted and strained, the gum is like peanut brittle, and hardens likewise.  That is why the fat is needed:  you don't want a brittle sealant.  If you add just the right amount, the gum will flex with the bark without cracking.  If you add to little, the sun will melt your gum away and you will be in trouble.  If you add to little, you will have cracks and therefore leaks.  And, just to make matters more fun, you have to take into acount the temperature of both the water and the air.  You typically want a bit more fat below the water line, where it is cooler, and less above, where the sun will cause temperatures to be warmer.  You can obsess about all this.  No need.  Close is good enough.  You need to fiddle all the time, no matter what.  Just don't ever leave the canoe out in the sun, which makes transporting them fun - since the sun is pretty much unavoidable.  Hence, after driving to the start of a trip, one typically has to work on the gum before putting the canoe in the water.

This is a lovely blob of new gum.  After a year, it starts to get harder and harder.  This is the good stuff, but I take what I can find.. The best place to find gum is where branches have been broken or cut off.  When travelling, that means on portage trails and camping spots.  Closer to home, and my favourite spot, is on golf courses.  Hunting for gum is my biggest pleasure playing golf!
Here I am cutting a lump of gum off of the tree.  I catch on a piece of birch bark. This stuff is sticky, so the trick is to try not to handle it. Young gum like this is a bit like cold honey in terms of consistency.  From here I put it in a freezer bag.
This is a nice haul harvested in the course of a clearly successful 9-holes of golf.  About three bags of this size are enough to do a 16 foot canoe. I load the gum into this pot and heat it up on the BBQ.  I have learned not to do this on the stove in the cabin.  It seems that the family does not appreciate the smell in everything.
Once melted, which takes a lot of stirring, I pour the gum into a frying pan, filtering it through some burlap to take out twigs and junk.   Here we are making a kind of tourniquet out of the burlap to get all of the gum out.  You really don't want gum all over you during this.  Once in the frying pan, one would mix in about a tablespoon of bear (or bacon) fat.
Here Tom is starting to gum the canoe that I took on the Northern Saskatchewan trip.  Some people add ashes to the gum.  I do not.  Bad idea if the gum runs.  Looks like tar!   The gum takes a fair bit of careful maintenance if you want to keep things dry.  You don't always need to add gum.  Here Jim is heating up the existing gum which he will rework with his fingers.
You always travel with extra gum, and collect it en route.  Here, Jim and I are fixing two gashes in my canoe (hidden rock in eddy in a rapid, sigh).   Notice Jim licking his fingers in the previous image.  Saliva on them keeps the gum from sticking to them.  Here you see him working the gum into the "seam".
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