Friday, March 13, 2015

The Lansdowne Letters: March 13 ~ Heading for the Winter Traplines

I would have loved to have seen 
what my father saw when 
he was laid up with the flu;
but I arrived in Lansdowne House 
too late in the winter trapping season.

Northern Ontario Lake

On Wednesday, October 12, 1960
My father wrote:

Hi There Everyone:   
Your favorite correspondent is 
down with that well-known 
international ailment known as the flu, 
accompanied by that equally well-known 
ailment known as the runs.  

As a result of my ailments, 
there was no school today, 
and unless I feel much better tomorrow, 
school will be closed then too.

I spent the day in bed and have eaten little 
for twenty-four hours or so.  
Uno brought me over some soup at noon, 
but that made a very quick return trip to my stomach.  

In the afternoon both the Father and the Brother 
were in to see me and to administer 
assorted French-Canadian remedies 
guaranteed to “cure or kill,” to quote the Father.  
I was worried for a while after I took them, 
that they were going to do the latter, 
instead of the former.

Father Ouimet, Don MacBeath, and Brother Bernier
October 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

I spent a very interesting afternoon 
watching one of the Indian families 
starting their migration to the winter traplines.  

The family set off in three canoes, 
and they have over one hundred miles to go 
to reach the location of their traplines.
In these three canoes were 
the mother, the father, a grandfather, 
six children of assorted sizes, 
two dogs, and the family cat.

On a Portage

I hope the two dogs were the brutes 
that sang the base leads in the canine chorus; 
perhaps I will be real lucky, 
and it will turn out that 
the choirmaster was one of the dogs.

Along with the aforementioned live cargo, 
the canoes also contained:  
one large tent to live in until 
the family reaches their winter quarters, 
four pairs of snowshoes, 
all the winter clothing, 
all the equipment for trapping, 
$600.00 worth of staples 
that the husband bought on credit from the Bay, 
and two stoves (light sheet iron heaters 
similar to the ones we have in our cottages at Brighton), 
and all the cooking utensils.

Ojibwa Snowshoes

The means of propulsion for the canoes 
was one 3½ horsepower outboard motor, 
which was attached to the first canoe, 
and this canoe towed the other two.  

When I saw them out on the lake, 
they didn’t seem to be making any headway at all, 
and there was only about three or three and one half inches 
of free-board showing on any of the canoes.

The water is unusually low 
at this time of the year in the North, 
and this year it is much lower than usual.  

The Father tells me that it will take 
about three weeks for the family to reach its destination, 
and the trip will involve enumerable portages 
because of the low water.

  Handling a Canoe During a Portage

All members of the family help out during the portages, 
even the smallest children, if they can walk.  

It would not be unusual to see little girls and boys 
the size of Donnie and Barbie carrying things 
like pots or traps during the portage.

 We Five a Few Months Before We Went North
Barb and Donnie are in Plaid Skirts.
Photo by Sara MacBeath
Fall, 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Every member of the family is assigned certain articles 
for which he or she is responsible during the portages.  

Since the success of the entire winter operation, 
not to mention the very survival of the family, 
may well depend on each and every article 
(when you have to carry everything, 
you soon learn to take 
only the essentials on these migrations), 
Indian children soon learn to accept 
considerable responsibility 
for the welfare of the family unit.

Of course, the family that set off today 
was one of the poorer families 
(Yes, there are economic successes 
and failures among the Indians, 
just as there are among the whites), 
and this family had to travel 
the old-fashioned way of their forefathers.  

If the husband is a good hunter, 
and the family is well off by Indian standards 
(which actually amounts to whether the husband 
has the money in his pocket and doesn’t necessarily mean 
that he doesn’t owe it ten times over), 
then the family will charter a plane 
and fly to the winter traplines.

Float Plane with Canoes

It usually costs about $150.00 to charter a plane 
to fly a family to the traplines.  
It always fascinates me to see 
one of these chartered planes taking off 
with one or two canoes lashed to the pontoons.
Well, I guess I will wind it up for tonight 
and get to bed, as I still feel a little weak from the flu, 
and I am worried that I may have a relapse 
if I don’t take it easy.

Bye for now,
love,  Don.

I've added a video below of Wintertrekker on a canoe trip 
through the boreal forest of Northern Ontario.
The video gives you a taste of what it is like
to travel by canoe in the area west of James Bay.
Wintertrekker is traveling in the summer
with modern equipment, maps, 
and often cut portage trails in the bush.

Try to imagine it in late fall
with subzero winter about to set in
over fifty years ago ...
with three canoes, 
the mother, the father, a grandfather, 
six children of assorted sizes, 
two dogs, and the family cat!

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

Note:  Portage or portaging is the practice of carrying water craft or cargo over land, either around an obstacle in a river, or between two bodies of water. A place where this carrying occurs is also called a portage.  (Definition:  wikipedia)

You Tube ~ Wintertrekker


  1. WHAT and interesting post, thank you so much for shring, and the photos too.. 1960 I was fifteen and in the middle of studying for exams when | would be 16. Now over fifty years later, that era is ancient history to some, but really relavant to me and my generation. I shall be around to see more posts, so keep them coming** hugs from across the pond.. j

    1. Hi Janzi! Thanks for your kind comment! I'm so glad that you enjoyed my post. I have to shake my head when I realize that this time was like me looking back at the first years of the 1910s in 1961. But it seems like yesterday! Have a good one! Hugs from Hawaii (for now!)

  2. I just cringe to think of all that portaging! And you know what? I bet the cat was no help whatsoever.

    1. LOL, Debra! You would think of the cat's antics! I portaged once with my father ~ once was enough! But that's a tale for another post! Have a great weekend!

  3. The cat had the best gig, do nothing and just go with the flow haha they'd have to be a family unit to get through that. Flu and runs never a good combination lol

    1. Cats know how to work it, for sure, Pat! I can't imagine what it was like for that family! But that was the traditional pattern. During the winter the families dispersed throughout a large area in order to survive. If they all stayed in one place, there wasn't enough game to support them all. Then in the summer they would get together as a community. Of course, the arrival of the Hudson Bay Company and more and more government disrupted that. Have a good one!

  4. Dear Louise, your photos are beautiful and your post is fascinating, and always is. I remember portaging canoes with a group of people as a teenager. We had caught some fish and they were in a white waterproof bag that closed with a drawstring. When it came time to open the bags, the one I had opened had a wasp in it...and it was one very angry wasp, too. Even though there were 8 people in our group, the wasp knew the "culprit" who had opened the bag it was in...myself. So it went on a rampage and chased me down and stung me on my baby finger. The pain was excruciating, but thankfully I wasn't allergic, it seems, so it just turned red and got a little swollen. One of our group had a first aid kit and applied something to clean the wound and then an ointment and a bandage.

    1. Owie, Linda! I've been stung twice, and I've never forgotten the pain! Thanks for sharing your story ~ I enjoyed it so much! Have a great weekend, my friend!

  5. I am enjoying this so are showing me a life I would never have known about..thanks

    1. Thanks for your kind and encouraging comment, Jackiesue! It's a challenge here to try to get posts up because I have to work in our tiny hotel lobby. Comments like yours keep me plugging away! I hope ou are enjoying a fun weekend!

  6. That must be a rough life. Such a long trip to their traplines. And they took the cat? Hopefully they didn't lose him along the way.

    1. Hey, Alex! Cats were respected by the Ojibwa, and they treated them well because they thought the cats were either good or bad spirits. Either way the people wanted to appease the cats. Have a great weekend!

  7. Thanks for you wonderful comments, Everyone! I will reply and visit your blogs later today, if thing go according to plans. I appreciate all your comments so much!

  8. Thanks for sharing another one of your dad's adventure. :)

  9. WOW! For the life of me, I cannot imagine having to take a trip like that. SO HARD! But they were my kind of people ~ they took the dogs and the cat!!! Ha ha. Hope you had a lovely weekend, Louise!

  10. WOW! For the life of me, I cannot imagine having to take a trip like that. SO HARD! But they were my kind of people ~ they took the dogs and the cat!!! Ha ha. Hope you had a lovely weekend, Louise!

    1. Hi Audrey! So sorry that I somehow missed your comment. Yes, I too, cannot imagine going to the winter traplines, let alone in a situation like that! Thank goodness I don't have to know! XOX!


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