Face the North Wind

A Visit With Ed Theriau

Barrenland Caribou. Barrenland Caribou.

If you spent some time with Ed Theriau (photograph below at Poorfish Lake cabin), he would tell you tale after tale of his northern experiences. What follows is just a sampling of his conversation during my six-hour visit with him. "Each year when I arrived at my cabin I had to get some fish for dog food and bait, a moose for meat, and a bear or two for grease. A man cannot live on straight meat without grease; it took 150 pounds of bear's grease to last me for a trapping season, as well as all the meat I needed. When out on the trail in the coldest weather, I could eat a pound of grease for each pound of meat. One year, I got a bear from which I rendered about 150 pounds of grease. It was a large male black bear and an exceptionally fat bear. Some bears carry very little fat, even at denning time, and those usually die in hibernation. Ed Theriau. "There were always plenty of bears around Poorfish Lake. There was a good-sized, old, burned-over area close by and it grew lots of blueberries. That is where the bears lived. I would always try to get a young bear, a cub or a yearling. They are much better eating than an older bear. When you see an old bear and her cubs, the mother is always busy foraging for berries. The cubs see you right away and stand up on their hind legs. Then the mother gets wise and begins to look for you, too. "Ordinary black and brown bears, if they are healthy, hibernate in this country as soon as the winter weather sets in, usually between the middle and the end of October. One winter I had a bear on my trapline that followed my line all the month of December; it ate anything that it found in my traps. I finally killed it and found it to be old and thin, its teeth in poor condition. This type of older bear can be a real nuisance around a fish cache in the fall and I have had trouble with them on occasion.

"An old, thin bear like this is not going to make it through hibernation, but will die later on in the den. I suppose this is the way nature takes care of old bears since they have no natural enemies. As far as I can recall, I never saw or heard of a healthy bear being killed by wolves. I think that a bear in his prime is king of the North.

Nothing except man himself can do him much harm. A bear is a rough customer in the spring when he is hungry and there is nothing much for him to eat. That is the time he will get into your camp if possible and create havoc among your supplies. "As far as I know there has been only one grizzly bear in this country. Just after freeze-up Otto Okerberg Grizzly Bear. made a trip overland to a small line camp he had about ten miles north of Cree Lake. On his way, he came across these very large bear tracks in the fresh snow and recognized them for what they were. You see, Otto was an old logger who had worked in the mountains of British Columbia where grizzlies are common. What surprised him was that he had never seen such tracks in northern Saskatchewan nor had he ever heard of anyone else seeing them. At the cabin, examination revealed that the bear spent some time in the vicinity, had broken the cabin door and had even spent some time inside. The tracks then led off to the northeast. Otto tracked the bear for a long way, then gave it up. That winter, Chipewyan Indians reported that they, too, had seen the tracks. One hunter, who had never seen the like before, stated that he had turned back on seeing the tracks and returned to his cabin. I later confirmed with a government biologist that there are grizzly bears in some high hills to the north of Cree Lake.

"I have lived on meat and bear grease alone for as long as three months at a stretch. If a man goes without vegetables for a few years, he does not want any. After I had been on the trail for a month, when I got back to my cabin I would bake a bannock and eat it all. Then I could go back on the meat and fat diet for another month. It did not do me any harm.

"I never suffered from toothache. I suppose I was lucky in this, for it seemed that any time my teeth needed attention, it was in the summertime when I was in someplace handy to a dentist. Fred Darbyshire, however, did have plenty of toothaches. At one time a tooth was giving him so much pain that he broke it off at the root, using a hammer and chisel to do the job. He got the root removed by a dentist when he came out in the spring.

The Indians taught me to eat the meat of the lynx I trapped. Once I had eight lynx carcasses. We were out of meat so I told Fred to have some: 'It tastes like chicken,' I said. 'I don't like chicken,' he answered. (Webmaster: The lynx is known in the north as the "trappers turkey" and I have eaten it myself.)

"There are many edible birds in this country - partridges in the bush and later in the winter, flocks of ptarmigan that come to feed on willow buds along the creeks. When out on the trail I often used them for food. I got so I could shoot the head off one consistently at ranges up to one hundred yards, and occasionally at longer range. I had a lot of practice through the years, so I got to be good at it. If you use your big game rifle you must hit the bird in the head. If you hit it in the body the bird is blown to bits and is useless for food.

"Caribou meat, eaten by itself, is the poorest meat in the North. We used to place all our caribou leg bones in the fire, then crack the bones and eat the marrow with the meat. I recall that often when camping out, I would roast a caribou back with the kidneys still in there. There is always some fat around the kidneys.

"We used to run behind the dog team in the winter, but one cannot run far on caribou meat - you can only run a few steps. Bear meat is the best to run and work on; you can have a feed in the morning and run all day. Moose meat is also very sustaining if the meat is not from a bull well into the rutting season, and at that, it is better than caribou meat. Ed Theriau with a Bull Moose. I tried to get a good bull moose as soon as I got to Poorfish Lake in late September. At this time a bull is fat, but he loses his fat as the mating season wears on. (right: Ed Theriau with a bull moose.) "I did a lot of moose calling over the years. Often on a moonlit night, I lay in my sleeping robe to keep warm and called from time to time. You try to get into a spot where you are concealed but have a clear field of vision on all sides. Most of these moose were suspicious of my calls and only came into range after many stops on the way. But a young bull would sometimes come charging right in. Once I had two bulls coming at the same time-a young bull trailing, at a respectable distance, behind a really big one. I wanted to shoot them both, so I had to call the big fellow in real close so that the smaller one came into range. I did get them both, which sort of evened things out for the year, I was not able to get another moose at all.

"I saw many interesting sights on those clear, moonlit nights: a red fox playing on a sand beach in the moonlight, exactly as a young dog will do; night-travelling bears, when they got wind of me, standing up and trying to see me; otters cavorting in the water, enjoying life; and frequently, timberwolves that howled as they travelled over their hunting territory. There were always a lot of wolves in that country. Mostly the nights were silent, however, and sometimes it was as mild as summer.

"I never kept a diary and never did know what day of the month it was. I knew that when the lakes began to freeze over in the fall it was time to start trapping, and when the ice left the lakes in spring, it was time to head South to civilization. One time, in the middle of winter, I was six days out from my cabin following my trapline north with the dog team when I ran across another fresh toboggan trail. I followed it for some miles and found Fred Darbyshire sitting at a campfire eating his lunch. He was the first human being I had seen in four months. I asked him what day it was. "It is Christmas Day," he replied. He said he was three days' travel from his own cabin.

"Some years I would contact travelling Chipewyan Indians, but it was not often that I did so. If I saw where their toboggan crossed my line, I tried to catch up with them and have a visit. Two of these, Sam Bighead and Joe Gunn, I met far back in the wilderness one winter. They had a tent and I camped with them overnight. Sam could speak English. It was nice to meet them and get all the north country news. (Mocassin Telegraph)

"Jack Murray was a trapper who was in the country in the early years when I first went there. He was the best rifle shot that I ever met in the North; he never missed a flying goose within range or a running caribou in the bush. Carl Lind was another fellow in the country in those days, and every time they met, Murray and Lind would shoot at a target for a dollar. Lind was very good with a rifle, but he was no match for Murray

"Carl Lind once made a deal with a fellow who was in charge of the Hudson's Bay Company Brigade of freighter canoes taking winter freight to the Cree Lake outpost. Lind was to be taken with the brigade, assist them over the portages and, in turn, he and his supplies would be taken to his camp on the east side of Cree Lake.

The man in charge, a Cree half-breed, was called the 'Big Boss.' This chap had a reputation for being a great bully. When the six loaded canoes eventually arrived at Cree Lake and had to wait at Stony Narrows until a strong north wind died down, an argument developed between 'The Big Boss' and Lind. 'The Big Boss' swore he would take Lind no further but would leave him and his supplies on the shore. About this time two Chipewyans with a canoe appeared at the Narrows. Lind, now assured that he could get the Chipewyans to take him home, got into a fight with 'The Big Boss'. The bully turned out to be more of a braggart than a fighter. He got about the worst beating any man ever received in the North. Besides, there was a pot of porridge cooking on the fire, and 'Big Boss' who was barefooted, stepped into it. The men had to carry him across the portage on their return trip. There was not a Cree or a Chipewyan in the country who did not think he got exactly what he deserved.

"When the ice got thicker I started out with the toboggan and dogs, travelling north. I had learned that the caribou migration was on its way south about the time the lakes began to freeze. I could almost depend on the fact that the barren ground caribou would migrate to the Poorfish Lake country about the fifteenth day of November when the lake ice was solid enough for them to cross.

" As Fred and I never packed any amount of food, we depended on the caribou. As I travelled North, I knew I would run into them someplace. The dogs knew it too. They were uncanny about it sometimes: about a day or so before we saw caribou, they would begin to race across the bush trails-rough going over deadfall and rocks at that time of the year when there was usually little snow. They would break out into the open on a lake, look all around, then hightail it across to the next bush trail, always getting on the right trail, even if they had not been over it for years. Sometimes I thought they were off the line, but soon I would see where the toboggan had knocked off some bark years ago.

"The timberwolves were doing the same as the dogs and I, travelling north to meet the caribou. Every wolf track you see at this time of the year is heading north. Often they encountered my fox and mink sets and devoured anything caught in the traps. I once lost twenty mink that way on a single trip.

"At last we were in caribou country. We used to see great herds of them in the early days. The dogs go into a frenzy when they see the first herds, but after a few days, they lose some of their interest. But even when they have been on the trail for a month and have become very lazy, they never fail to show some interest when near caribou.

"This was the usual pattern of caribou migration, but one winter was quite exceptional. That fall I was out on the lake with my canoe in mid-October, just before freeze-up. I had one dog with me, a perfectly fearless type who would tackle anything, even a bear. I always chained this dog near my canoe when I left it onshore to keep away marauding bears, who have been known to break apart a canoe that smells of fish.

"That night, as we camped, the dog would not eat his fish but kept testing the wind to the northward. I did not see anything around, but in daylight, I found out what the dog was so interested in. That morning as I was boiling my tea pail, I counted seven large caribou herds swimming across the narrows near where we were camped. It was the first time I had seen them come so early. I saw caribou all around the lakeshore all that day, hundreds of them. When I went into the bush, caribou were on all the trails around the shore. Many of them passed within six feet of me: if I got in their way, they just passed around me.

"I did not shoot any since I had plenty of meat at the time and I expected I could go out and get one any time that I needed meat. In this I was much mistaken, the caribou passed through the country for ten days. Caribou. After that, there were only a few stragglers to be found near Poorfish Lake that winter. The main migration went as far south as the Churchill River. They were seen at Patuanak and at Deep River, where they had not been seen before in living memory. (Photograph was taken by Halvor Ausland: barren land caribou migration to Deep River Fur Farm in 1936.) They were slaughtered by the thousands for they had reached the fringes of civilization. People came from a long way south to get in on the hunting. My guess, from what I observed, is that less than one-quarter of their number migrated north that spring, for I saw only a few small herds heading north when spring came. I saw, that year, five or six calves following one cow, for their own mothers had been killed.

"Caribou cows and calves start off the migration north in April; the bulls follow along some time later. One year I was camped on their route and any time I woke up in the night I could hear them walking on the snow crust.

"Another spring I was travelling alone on the lake ice when I saw a big herd of caribou lying on the ice, resting on their long migration to the barren lands. As I drew nearer they all got up and headed north, except for one yearling which continued to lie on the ice. I walked toward it as quietly as I could and finally, I was standing beside it. The young bull was asleep, likely tired out by travelling with a herd of older bulls. I touched it with my foot, saying, "What's the matter, are you sick?" It opened its eyes, looked at me, jumped up and headed north at a gallop. They knew in what direction they must go.

"Occasionally, in early winter, I have seen a woodland caribou among a herd of the barren ground variety. It is quite easy to pick them out, they are much larger. The visitor is by no means welcome in the herd; older bulls will butt it and hook it with their antlers until it gets the message and leaves.

"I travelled through the winter, every day until well after Christmas. I was usually on the trail at night if I wanted to make a long trip. Sometimes I travelled in the dark if I wanted to get a real early start. I did not need a lot of sleep, I think some people spend too much time in bed and so never get a lot of things done. I never stayed in camp, even for cold weather or snowstorms. A man should see his traps as often as he can, cold or not. If the day came for me to look at certain traps, I went out, regardless of weather conditions. I have known several old trappers who would stay in camp whenever the weather turned really cold. They kept staying in camp until they were afraid to go out.

"A real problem is preparing the fur catch, that is, skinning and drying the pelts. You must take time to do this, even when you know you should be out on the trapline. I have thawed frozen carcasses by placing them in a sack and hanging them in the river through a hole chopped in the ice. They thaw out, but it is a really cold job skinning them out by campfire in the dead of winter.

"This was always a great country for otters. They have wonderful fishing grounds here to get food. Between some of the smaller lakes they had deep pathways through the muskegs where they had travelled back and forth for hundreds of years, I never saw anything like it anywhere else, Lynx and Rabbit. and I never heard of anyone else who ever saw so much evidence of otters. There are still many otters in that country today. "There were never many lynx in the country, but you find them in certain places where there are concentrations of rabbits in the thick jackpines. Rabbits are their main food. I caught a few lynx each year, but never very many. I had a good scent that I made myself from ingredients I learned about. (Note that Ed, like all trappers, is not specific about the mixture he was using.) I never did think that I was much of a lynx trapper. "The Arctic, or White foxes, came into the country at times, migrating from the far North. We caught a few, but never very many. And there are a few pine marten scattered through the North. They seem to range in the same territory year after year. Years before I came into the country, there were many more marten, but they are easy to trap and so were pretty well wiped out. I was limited by law to seven marten skins in a winter and there are still as many marten in the country I trapped at the time I left as there were when I first came.

"The weasel is one animal that I did not trap intentionally, but I did catch them in my mink traps accidentally. I always had one or two around my cabin to keep the mice under control. There was a married couple down on the Churchill who kept a weasel in their cabin one winter. The lady was lying in bed one morning. Her foot was sticking out of the blankets and she was moving her big toe. The weasel grabbed it and would not let go until the husband killed it. Wolverine. I was a little suspicious of those bloodthirsty little creatures after they told me about it. "You hear a lot about wolverines bothering trappers by following the traplines and eating the animals caught in the traps. All the years that I was in the North I only had three or four that gave me any trouble. The legs of the wolverine are very short, so he kind of plows his way along in deep loose snow; of course, a packed toboggan trail suits him fine, and that is the reason he follows it. Once I had a cache of caribou meat hung up high on a pole between two trees. A wolverine found it and gnawed and chewed at it until the meat fell off the pole. I am told that there is more wolverine in the country to the north of where I trapped, that is, near the tree line on the edge of the barren lands.

"Bald eagles have given me some trouble from time to time. These birds migrate into the country about March 1 and leave about the first of November. In springtime, they hunt along the creeks. If they see a muskrat in a trap, they will pick it up, trap and all, and fly off with it. Bald Eagle Nest. I have had them kill and eat mink, otter and beaver in my traps at various times. I have also seen the remains of young foxes and mink below the nests of bald eagles. "Some of my winter travels were through new country and sometimes I had to contend with very rough travelling. In particular, there was one river I had never seen before that I named Burnt River. This was by far the worst country I have ever travelled in winter. There were side hills so steep you could hardly make it along them, and great, steep cut banks along the river, some of them almost perpendicular. At times I had no choice but to travel on the river ice. There was only a little snow on the ground at that time, so I had to haul the toboggan over the great rocks that were sticking up from the riverbed. If ever any man had travelled here before me, I saw no sign of his journey. "A considerable proportion of this country has been burned over at one time or another. One spring, as I was waiting at Cree Lake for the ice to go out so I could be on my way, I noticed an immense forest fire that had developed, apparently to the north and east of Poorfish Lake. I climbed up a high hill and estimated where it was burning. I have no idea what started the fire, perhaps lightning, for there was no one in the country as far as I knew.

"That fall, as I was returning to my cabin, I passed into the burned country as I paddled downriver to Poorfish Lake. It was that way all the way to my camp, and I felt sure the cabin and a canoe I had left there had been burned. I deliberately paddled close to shore so that I would not see the cabin site until I was right there.

"The first thing I saw was my canoe, intact, on its pole stand, or scaffold. Then the cabin into view, still standing as when I had left it. My fish cache was burned, as was all my stove wood. The thing that had saved the cabin was the sand I had piled on the roof and around the walls. Fortunately, it had been one of those creeping fires that burn at night when there is no wind. I figured I was the luckiest man in the North. I would have had to put in a tough winter if all my property had been destroyed.

"Another year as I paddled into the country I raised my paddle upward to drink water off the edge of the blade, an old trick some canoe men use to get a drink. As I looked up into the sky, I saw a smoke cloud. I discovered the fire later coming in from the South toward Poorfish Lake. As I drew nearer to the lake and the fire, I saw red squirrels jumping into the water to swim across the narrows, trying to escape the crackling blaze. When I put my paddle into the water, a squirrel ran up the blade, up my arm and across my shoulders to the back of my neck. I could not knock it off and it refused to move until I stepped out on shore, where it skittered away into the bush.

"At the time my cabin nearly burned in the forest fire, a great deal of the country around Poorfish Lake had been blackened. The fire had not bothered the mink and otter very much, it seemed. They were still in the rivers for their food supply was not altered. But there was no big game left in the burned area: everything had left the country. The wind that year toppled many of the burned trees so that in places the deadfall lay crisscrossed to a height of five feet. I had to go north to find green country. It was most difficult to drive a dog team in country like that. I did not have the time to cut out a trail for the dogs and toboggan but pulled the load over downed trees.

"I finally got to Close Lake, where the country had not been burned. Here there were caribou and foxes in considerable numbers, for they had moved out of the burned area, just as I had. I caught seventy-five foxes there in two trips. Then the caribou arrived in earnest; anytime I looked out on the lake I could see a couple of thousand of them. They tramped down all the snow, it was impossible to keep a trap set, for they would set it off by walking on it. Toward spring they moved out, but the fox trapping was over long before that.

"The next year after the fire, the first things to grow back were the blueberry bushes. Soon the bears came back to feed on them, as well as foxes and wolves who eat blueberries. Young shoots of jackpine were next to grow. The moose like to feed on these young shoots about as well as they like anything, and you will see them come back into burned country before too long. It takes caribou moss from twenty-five to forty years to grow back. Caribou that come back to the burned country must feed in the low muskegs where it has been too wet to burn. In some places, there is a good deal of grass in the swamps. Caribou prefer to feed on this grass even if there is moss nearby.

"I have seen a few white-tailed deer move into the country from their normal range to the south. They can live here in the summer, but I have found their emaciated carcasses where they died of starvation in mid-winter. It seems to me they could live on this grass in the muskegs, but they stick to the wooded country, where there is no food for them, and will not leave it.

"For fifteen years I 'camped out' on the winter trail. This means that you spend the night outside. To sleep, I put down a spruce bough bed after I shovelled away the snow to the ground with my snowshoe. Then I spread my sleeping robe and strung a tarpaulin over it if it looked as though it might snow during the night. I got along with this arrangement, and I was always at home wherever I camped. Eventually, I grew tired of camping out. I had seen the Indians using small tents as shelters on the winter trail. Tent Camp. One year I bought a tent and a small, portable stove. I had five sleigh dogs and a large toboggan and I thought that the dogs could easily haul the extra weight. The new outfit did not take up much space since I placed the stovepipes inside the stove when travelling. "At the freeze-up time that year, I started up my north trapline from Poorfish Lake to Little Cree and Waterbury Lakes and back again, a great circle about two hundred miles long. I was using my tent and stove for the first time. For camping, I picked places where there was plenty of dry wood and spruce boughs to cover the tent floor. I found this to be quite handy, for you could return to such a spot, in the dark if necessary, on a later round. The snow is then all packed down, the tent stakes are in the ground and perhaps some wood is cut and in its place. If you have time you can cut wood for the next visit.

"When I was on a long trip, my sleigh dogs grew more unwilling to work the farther I travelled from my cabin. However, as we returned their will to work increased so that by the day of arrival they were enthused and happy, tails up and anxious to go. They knew that they would get a short rest at the cabin when they arrived. My dogs were great company for me and I certainly could not have done without them. I acquired my dogs from the Indians, who were always anxious to trade dogs or sell them. I learned the hard way that an Indian will probably not part with a good dog; he will try to sell you a good-looking dog who is spoiled or just won't pull. We got some of them. In the years that followed, we preferred to buy only pups, and I never bought a dog that a man was trying to sell me, but only one that he did not want to sell at all.

"Once I made a trade with an Indian for a dog that looked to me like a good bet. This dog was two years old when I got him, and he turned out to be my all-time favourite dog. He slept at my feet when I camped out. I never tied him up at night and, unlike the others, he would never steal anything. What's more, he would never permit any of the other dogs to steal any part of the food. When we travelled in summer he would follow me across a portage and guard the load I had brought across while I returned for another. He became a fine lead dog in my team, the best leader I have ever owned. He was big and powerful and a steady worker. A man gets attached to a dog like that.

"After I had driven him for nine winters he began to grow old and to slow up. I had acquired a younger dog to take his place and I did not need the old veteran anymore. In the spring I took him out with me and left him with a man who lived on the Churchill River year-round, and who fed my dogs for a fee while I was 'Outside.' On my return, I made a deal that this man was to care for my old dog through the winter. He assured me that he would hold sacred my wish that the dog was not to be put in a harness. In the spring which followed, I stopped on the Churchill again, and the man told me that the dog was dead. I heard later that my dog had been killed in harness. Dog Team. That was the last dog I brought out when I was through with him. It makes one feel bad to give an old, faithful animal the shot that ends its life. But I felt worse about the fate of my old leader, and I still regret it, after all these years. One time I had a couple of half-grown pups. We were travelling over a portage in summer, and I had the dogs pulling a cart I had fashioned for them. The pups kept trying to get into the train to help. I put them in a harness and had no trouble. That winter, when they were full-grown, they took to pulling a sleigh just as naturally as you could wish for. Those dogs were born pullers. I once set a trap in my own toboggan trail as I did from time to time to catch a trailing wolf. On the return trip, the trap was drifted over with snow, so I drove the dogs forward, thinking the trap could not be sprung. I caught my lead dog. For years after, that lead dog would get off the trail at that spot every time we passed it.

"There is the occasional stray dog that gets away from its owner and wanders through the country. One such dog once got at a cache of meat I had hanging from a tree. I heard it in the night and sneaked over to the cache, where I could see a dark shape at the meat. I thought it was a small bear so I shot it. It turned out to be a fine black dog which I could have used in my team. I certainly regretted shooting that dog. When Fred and I would meet in the spring, our dogs fought savagely. If three or four picks on one, he is quite likely to be killed. At such times we kept our dogs muzzled.

"The muzzles served another purpose. As our dogs roamed along the riverbank in spring, they came across porcupines from time to time. With the muzzles on, they would only get a dose of quills in the nose, where they could be pulled out with a pair of pliers. But without muzzles, the dogs got quills into their mouths, even into their throats. We had great difficulty in removing these, having to put a stick in the dog's mouth and tie it behind his head so he couldn't bite you. I had one old dog once who would snap at a porcupine, but never put his nose within a foot of its quill-laden tail. This would encourage the younger dogs to go in closer where they absorbed all the punishment. One of Fred's dogs would get a load of quills, then come and walk beside Fred until he stopped and pulled out all the quills. Then that dog would go right back and get another load of quills.

"I used five dogs in my train as a rule. I have driven four at times, or even three or two, and got along very well. But when there is slush under the snow, you need the pulling power of five dogs. When a toboggan gets into slush, ice begins to form on the bottom and you don't have the power to move it. Then you have to drag it out to a dry place and scrape the bottom, a real problem when you are trying to make a certain destination at a certain time. I was mighty concerned when travelling on lakes where slush was lying under the snow. I always worried that the dogs would get their feet frost-bitten, or that I might freeze my own feet if they got wet in severely cold weather. I always carried an extra set of footwear against such an emergency.

"One chap I knew wasn't so lucky. He got into slush, wet one foot and tried to walk back to his cabin. He froze his foot so badly that he could not walk on it and had to stay in the cabin all that winter. The big toe broke open and he could see the bone. Of course, he had no medicine, so he kept bathing his foot in a salt-and-water solution. It healed after a long time, but that foot gave him a lot of trouble every winter after that.

"I know several people who have drowned in the North by falling through the ice. I know of two brothers who were drowned, one in the fall and one the following spring. I fell through the ice myself many times. In the fall it is much more difficult to crawl out onto the smooth slippery surface. In the spring, the ice is thicker and has a different texture, and even when it is disintegrating you can get a solid handhold somewhere and pull yourself up and out.

"One day in late fall, I was out on a string of lakes in my canoe and it was beginning to freeze up. I had been away from my camp for about twelve days. I paddled on into the night and kept running into skim ice, and in the dark, it was not too pleasant to think that I might get frozen in and not be able to get to shore. I was very tired and when I got to the far shore, only four or five miles from my cabin, I camped for the night. The next morning all I could see on the lake was ice. I left my canoe and my bedroll took my rifle and tarpaulin and started out for the cabin. It was hard travelling, through thick brush and around large bays. After two days I arrived at the cabin. I certainly wished I had kept paddling for a few more hours that night.

"About the first of March I would begin my spring trapline, usually for beaver. The otter is also still prime so I often trapped as many otters as beavers. The spring catch is often not too great in this country, depending on your luck and the weather and ice conditions. You do it to have something to do while you wait for the ice to leave the lakes so you can travel out to civilization. The weather often turns cold and contrary in May and June when you are expecting it to warm up. I think this is what has beaten many white men in this country, waiting long weeks for the ice to break up. I always kept busy during this time. Of course, I, too, looked forward to going 'Outside,' as northern people call the civilized South.

"At one time I did not go "Outside for five years. When I finally did go to Big River, I did not want to talk to anyone and would cross to the other side of the street if I saw someone I knew, I got over it, but I came out each spring after that experience. The girls looked wonderful to me. I have known men who came to Big River after a whole winter in the bush and stayed in town only long enough to gather the next year's supplies. Then they left for the North again. Those men, as a rule, did not last too long in the bush.

"A group of us would gather in Prince Albert each summer back in the 1930s. There were trappers and commercial fishermen, fur traders and men just in from the Northwest Territories. We were the only people who had any money in those days. A group of us would settle in a hotel room with six or eight cases of beer. We had some wonderful things to talk about, and compared experiences in the North. Of course, there was a lot of horseplay and occasionally a fight. Once I got into an argument with a fellow who was beating his wife. I picked him up and threw him into the bathtub. He came back for more, so I pinned him down on the floor. He was as strong as a bull. I had three or four day's growth of beard so I gave him a whisker rub; he was all through after that.

"Once, one of the fellows burned a big hole in the carpet with a cigarette butt. I sneaked out early the next morning, went downtown and bought a small tube of Ambroid glue. I plucked off some of the nap from under the bed and glued it over the burn. You could not detect the damage. Another time we were asked to leave our hotel; they said we were making too much noise. Well, we all moved over to another hotel, and we got along fine with the management at this next place.

"Some of these fellows were very interesting to listen to. There was George Olman, in from the barren lands where he had spent the winter on the Arctic coast. Here a dead whale had been washed up on shore. The great stench created by the rotting carcass had attracted all the white foxes in the country, and George had made a fortune trapping them that winter. He always wanted me to go to the Arctic with him, but I always turned him down. I was doing well enough where I was.

"Some of these fellows were great spenders. Most of them went broke during the summer: poker and drinking took a lot of their money and the women looked after the rest. However, the trappers could always get a grubstake on credit at one of the northern trading posts, and the commercial fishermen knew that the fishing companies would advance them their supplies for the coming season. There was nothing to worry about.

"By the first day of August, I was back in Big River and a few days later, on my way back to the North. On the first leg, to Ile-a-la-Crosse, I often travelled with others going north, with Fred Darbyshire some years, or with some other fellows, sometimes with commercial fishermen freighting supplies in their wooden scows. I travelled in company with others as far as I could. I could be with people until I got to Cree Lake, but from there to Poorfish Lake, I was often alone. It was a bad time for me then, I was very lonely for a few days. However, I kept so busy that I was soon over that feeling of loneliness."


Author: Webmaster - jkcc.com
"Date Modified: May 17, 2024."

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