Early in the 1940's, Friberg saw "the most splendid Indian birchbark canoe" in a Chicago museum. He made a sketch and used it as a basis for several paintings, but finally wanted to capture it more richly as the subject of a large new painting. When he returned to the museum, they had long since discontinued the exhibit and the canoe was found dirty and falling apart in storage. It lives on in its full glory in this painting, afloat in a calm lake the Indians considered sacred. "Manitou" is the Indian name for God.