New Brunswick lumbermen used this storage box on a raft or a scow to transport to a new site personnel and camp supplies. Canoeists still use a wooden wanigan to carry various supplies.
In the old lumbering days of New Brunswick , the word was sometimes applied to the raft itself. The cook shack could be on the boat too with a floating mess hall, until facilities on shore were set up.
Whites borrowed the term into English from local Algonkian-speaking peoples.
- In Ojibwa wa’nikka’n was a storage pit containing a cache of odds and ends that might be useful for trade.
- Montagnais has atawangan ‘trade storage’ related to atawan ‘to trade,’ the same Algonkian root that named the Ottawa people, the trading band that gave its name to our capital city.
- In the Abnaki language waniigan is a ‘pit trap’ or ‘a container for sundries.’
A variant of wanigan was wangan (no relationship to the computer game, that's a Japanese word). “Running the wangan” was taking a loaded boat downriver.
In Seven Rivers of Canada, Hugh MacLennan writes of lumbering on New Brunswick ’s St. John River : “Within three weeks the Wangan boat men clear the river of stray logs all the way from Beechwood to Maugerville.”
A wangan or wanigan box was a large chest in which New Brunswick lumberjacks kept clothing, pipes, tobacco, and other camp necessities.
Out west, logging company stores were called wanigans where the logger could buy bush clothes and supplies.
During the gold rushes wanigan was used to name a one-room shed on skids that was used as instant accommodation in boom towns. Up north, huts mounted on sleds with runners and towable by Bombardiers were called wanigans.
Another use of this all-purpose term can be found in a 1966 western edition of Eaton’s Fall & Winter Catalogue: “Natural sheepskin wannigans for wear under overboots.” This wannigan is a short-laced, leather-soled boot. Adaptable wear. Adaptable word.
* The picture at the very top of this entry is a new wanigan made by the West Coast Canoe Company (Handcrafted Cedar Canvas Canoes). Contact Larry Bowers, proprietor 1-800-446-1588 or local 250-287-7348.
© copyright 2012 William Gordon Casselman
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