With his late father’s encouragement, Julien Hamon-Fafard learned to layer strips of wood to build his first red cedar canoe when he was 18. But his second one he is building by himself.
“The first canoe I built was actually my father’s idea,” Hamon-Fafard said. “He came up to me one morning and he was like, ‘Instead of hiring you for the summer to work on the farm, I’ll just hire you to build me a canoe.’ ”
Frans Lotz, Fafard’s studio assistant, co-built the first canoe with Hamon-Fafard. It took approximately a year to complete. This second one was started Summer 2020 and is on track to be finished this June.
Hamon-Fafard’s father, Joe Fafard, was an influential Saskatchewan-based sculptor. It will be two years since Fafard’s passing on March 16 and Hamon-Fafard continues to remember his dad through his own artistic projects, including building this canoe.
“I think this time I wanted to build a canoe for my dad and also for myself, on my own time and my own dime — kind of as a solo project to honor him a bit,” he said.
Hamon-Fafard read Ted Moores’ book Canoecraft and watched videos with actor/woodworker Nick Offerman to supplement his learning.
Alyce Hamon, Julien’s mother, attests to his self-discipline.
“Whatever Julien sets his mind to he will succeed at,” said Hamon. “He is very disciplined.”
Hamon-Fafard said the process of building a canoe is a lot about the “acceptance of faults”. It is a meticulous process but not one he is unfamiliar with. Growing up he made many things with his dad, including a crocodile scarecrow used to scare birds off their pond.
“[Building the crocodile] was a very similar experience to building this canoe,” said Hamon-Fafard.
“It brings me back to that memory of making something with my dad. We just did it because we wanted to.”
Hamon remembers fondly her son’s bond with his dad.
“Julien basically grew up in the studio,” Hamon said. “By the time he was two he had a little corner in Joe’s studio. He would give him clay, paper, a pen.”
As he got older, Hamon-Fafard held close his bond with his dad. Growing up on an acreage, the whole family spent a lot of time outdoors. Hamon remembers her son always being comfortable alone in nature, and alone in general.
“In the winter he would put his backpack on and go through the bush and make bonfires,” said Hamon. “Sometimes he had friends but sometimes he didn’t — he was very comfortable being alone.”
“I think his love of building but more so his love of canoeing kind of stemmed from that.”
Hamon-Fafard chose yellow cedar for his second canoe to give it a different look from his first.
“The more I work on it, the more I see it as kind of building a sculpture in the sense that it’s an object that I like a lot and therefore I see it as more of a piece of art,” Hamon-Fafard said.
Completing a canoe is a task that takes many hours. Hamon-Fafard estimates he has spent over 100 hours on this canoe.
“A lot of family members in my life are just good people that are driven by their own projects and drive me to do my own projects. My mom is awesome for that and my sister, too.”
Hamon echoes that statement with passion in her voice.
“Julien has always been a very creative young man — very thoughtful. He has this very quiet nature to him,” Hamon said.
“He is just a beautiful human being.”
Hamon-Fafard continues to bond with his dad through his love for his family and friends (four legged and two), his relationship with nature and his passion for creative projects.
“I’m wanting to do him proud but I also think he’d be happier knowing I’m doing my own thing — you know, my own stuff,” said Hamon-Fafard. “That’s a pretty big deal for me.”
Hamon-Fafard hopes to have his canoe ready to paddle in the creek that flows on his acreage by mid-June.