Building Johnny Pov’s Kayak

Archival photos from the 1950s show how an Inuit community came together using skill and sealskins to build a traditional watercraft.
Produced by Kate Jaimet Posted August 21, 2023

Driftwood and sealskin might not sound like much in the way of raw materials. But with those natural components — and a lot of ingenuity — ancient Inuit invented a boat that was light, fast, versatile, and aerodynamic: the Kajak.   

Today the Kajak — or kayak, as it’s known in English — is paddled recreationally by people all around the world. But as recently as the mid-twentieth century, Inuit used these nimble one-person vessels for hunting sea mammals and for travelling between distant settlements. 

In the October-November 2023 issue of Canada’s History magazine, Kajak-builder Noah Nochasak delves into the history and culture of the iconic Inuit watercraft. He reveals that some Inuit communities continued building Kajait (that’s the plural of Kajak) with traditional materials and methods up until the 1960s. 

One of those communities was Puvirnituq, in the Nunavik region of Northern Quebec. In 1959, Inuit guide Johnny Pov, his wife Akenesie Novalinga, and a group of men and women got together to build a Kajak. Hudson’s Bay Company photographer Frederica Knight captured the process on film, and her images can be found today in the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives in Winnipeg. 

This short video uses Knight’s photos, and the captions that accompanied them, to give modern audiences a glimpse of the building of Johnny Pov’s Kajak.

Subscribe to Canada's History

Save as much as 52% off the cover price! 6 issues per year as low as $29.95. Available in print and digital.

Related to Transportation