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Bark basket

With its rectangular base and round leather-lined opening, this basket is made from birch bark. The white birch is valued for its bark, which peels off in layers as it grows. In addition to being easily accessible, this bark contains substances that make it watertight and resistant to decay. As a result, bark baskets are very useful for holding both food and liquids such as maple water.

White birch is an important tree species for Indigenous peoples. It is used to make containers and canoes, and to cover homes called wigwams. Its bark can be stripped year-round, although it is preferably harvested in spring when it is more supple. The basket is made following the natural curve of the tree. The various sections are first cut and then sewn together with roots softened by soaking in water. These can also be coloured with pigments. To create a watertight basket, the seams are sealed with resin.

Baskets are embellished with floral, animal, or geometric motifs obtained by scratching the bark. Over the seasons, the growing birch tree forms a new layer of bark, overlaying the previous one and alternating between lighter and darker colours. To create decorative shapes, the bark is scratched in certain places to reveal the lower layer, which has a contrasting shade. Other decorative techniques include biting the bark, porcupine quillwork, and moose-hair embroidery.


Date: Unknown

Origin: Province of Québec

Owner: Site Traditionnel Huron Onhoüa Chetek8e. Wendake.


Gouvernement du Québec. (n.d.). Fabrication d’objets en écorce de bouleau [The crafting of birch-bark objects]. Répertoire du patrimoine culturel du Québec. Retrieved September 9, 2022, from https://www.patrimoine-culturel.gouv.qc.ca/rpcq/detail.do?methode=consulter&id=21&type=imma

Kata, Sonia. (2022, May 26). Embellishing birchbark: All bark, and some bit. McCord Stewart Museum. https://www.musee-mccord-stewart.ca/fr/blogue/ecorce-de-bouleau-un-art-qui-a-du-mordant/

Illustration: Bark basket