Fort Smith artist completes giant snowshoe build
Michel Labine of Fort Smith has spent the past four weeks building what he hopes is a record-breaking snowshoe, which awaits inspection by Guinness World Records.
At 25 feet and two inches long, the snowshoe replicates a traditional Ojibwa snowshoe, which Labine says is often used by the Cree and Dene people in the Northwest Territories.
Labine, known for his glass art, said he wanted the snowshoe to be as authentic and traditional as possible – except the size.
“I took a 60-inch-long Ojibwa snowshoe and scaled it up using a calculator and measuring different points on the snowshoe,” he said.
“If the frame of the smaller one is three-quarter-inch by three-quarter-inch, then how big does the bigger frame have to be if I want a snowshoe that’s over 24 feet long?”
After determining those measurements, Labine began by building a table large enough to hold the snowshoe.
“I then made a jig out of wood so that I had the shape of the snowshoe on the table,” he described.
“That way, when I steamed the wood, I could secure it to that shape so it would be the proper shape.”
Labine then steamed the wood to make it soft, which he said took five or six hours, longer than expected.
“Once it was soft enough,” he said, “I clamped it to the jig and let it sit for almost a week to make sure it was completely dry.
“Once it was dry, I took it out of the mold, fixed the two sides together and put the crossers in.”
Labine then started the lacing process, which he said was the most challenging part of the build.
With 583 feet of bison rawhide, Labine says correctly recreating the angles and knots of the lacing was a two-person job. Even then, he took it apart twice and relaced it to get the look right.
“It wasn’t until my wife took pictures from above that we could really see where the issues were with the lacing,” he said.
“We were eating supper and I was sunburnt from being out working on it all day. And I said: ‘We gotta get back out, there’s a couple mistakes.’”
The inspiration for this project came from smaller versions Labine has attempted as part of his work with stained glass in the past, incorporating glass features and selling the smaller copies to clients worldwide.
When his own supplier ran out of snowshoes during the pandemic, the artist decided to build his own. He discovered the existing world record for the largest snowshoe stood at nine feet and eight inches – and decided to go bigger.
Initially, even his 25-foot snowshoe was going to include a stained-glass element.
However, on contacting Guinness World Records, Labine was told the design had to be traditional to count, meaning it couldn’t include his desired stained-glass centre.
Speaking to Cabin Radio this week, Labine says he considers his snowshoe to be finally complete, though it was still drying from its final coat of varnish as he spoke.
Labine says he plans to keep it in the community of Fort Smith for residents to enjoy.
“Since I started building this one, I’ve gotten requests for large snowshoes from tourism companies in Yellowknife,” he said.
“I originally thought I’d sell this one, but I’ve decided to keep this one in the community and build new ones for people wanting to buy them.”
Certification of the official record could take eight to 12 weeks, he understands.
“I have high hopes, even if it does take a while,” said Labine.
“My build is a lot bigger than the current record-holder, so I think I have a good shot.”