Life in the hush as trappers for 10 years was a cherishahle memory and a worthy experience. I married a Cree trapper who trained me to clean and shin the game that he hilled. Because I was raised in residential school and lived the city life, I was inexperienced with the hush life.
Shortly after our marriage in 1970, we moved to live in the bush at a place called Gagnon Siding, Quebec. It was a lumber company and only operated during the seasonal year. We lived further up from the camp site. Our home was a log cabin which was built by a friend of my husband who died about 30 years ago. The cabin is 18-by-20 feet long, and we did not have any electricity nor an inside toilet We used lanterns for light and built an outdoor toilet.
In the summertime, we carried our water supply from the nearby creek. We got our drinking water from the well that was made by my husband. During the winter season, our water supply was fetched much easier, because I was able to pull the pails of water with the ski-doo. I washed clothes by using a scrubbing board in a metal tub that was filled with water; the water was heated on a wood-burning stove. Most of my laundry was hung outside on a clothesline. We used a wood stove for heat in our home and had to gather a lot of dry wood. The birch wood is better to burn, because the fire lasts longer and was especially good for the cold winter nights.
I learned to chop wood by using an axe. I find the birch wood is much easier to split due to the cold weather. During the winter period, we used about two cords of firewood per week. Living in the bush is a hard life. I didn’t do all the heavy chores because my husband helped a lot We bought our groceries in the town of Senneterre, Quebec, which is about 100 kilometres away, and the only transportation to town was by taking the train (Canadian National Railway). We generally bought large quantities of basic dry goods, such as hundred pound flour, fifty pound shortening, oats, rice, fifty pound sugar, tea, coffee, fifty pound potatoes, baking powder, one case of carnation milk and eggs, etc.
We also bought equipment for hunting purposes, such as a boat, ski-doo, chainsaw, naphtha, etc. We purchased two ski-doo’s and we used about eight drums of gasoline per year. We also bought propane for our oven stove, which was very helpful to have in the bush.
In our first year of trapping, we caught 10 lynx on number four traps or on the snares. Usually the lynx traps were set on nearby beaver dams, because the lynx tended to be around that area. In those days, the average cost per lynx was $100, and in the year 1987-1988 they were worth $500 to $700. Beavers were one of the main animals to trap, and we caught an average of 60 beavers per year. A large beaver’s fur was worth $25, depending on the colour and length of the fur.
Other game we trapped were marten, mink, fox and otter. We rarely caught martens because the trees had been cut down, and as of today, there are martens everywhere in that area. During the spring season, we would go muskrat trapping by camping out in the bush for about four weeks and we usually caught an average of 80 muskrats. At that time, the muskrat was worth $5 apiece for a large one. In most traplines, except for the beaver traps, my husband used baits. He made his own bait recipe which often helped the success in our trapping.
Moose was one of the important animals to kill for food, and the hide provided our material needs, such as mittens, gloves, moccasins and lace for the snowshoes. Also, my mother taught me how to tan the moose hide into leather. To prepare the hides takes at least six weeks. My husband killed about 10 moose per year; the meat was mostly shared by extended families and friends. I learned to hunt for smaller game by putting up rabbit snares because I enjoyed doing it Or partridge hunting.
As I stated in the beginning, it was my husband who had trained me how to skin the game that he brought home from his traplines. My first lessons were by observing and receiving lectures; as a beginner, I skinned the smaller game.
For the beaver, I used a tool which was made from a beaver bone called fresher, and then used a sharp knife to cut the meat off the back of the beaver. I also learned to butcher the beaver.
The next step is to dry the beaver skin by putting it on a round wooden frame. A needle and strong twine string are used to put the skin over the frame, then the skin is stretched out ovally shaped. The next procedure is to scrape off the meat that was left on the beaver skin. The holes on the beaver’s ankles and wrists were sewn closed. The final step is to dry the beaver skin, either to hang it inside or outside.
After I learned to skin the smaller game, I went into bigger game. By then, I had passed my lessons. It takes an average of two to three hours to prepare large beaver, including framing the skin, but it all depends on the speed of your strength. I had found the mink and otter too difficult to skin because of the thick grease in them. To skin an otter can take about four hours, depending on their sizes.
During my life in the bush, I had experienced strange dreams which I didn’t quite understand; however, it was brought to my attention that dreams are important for Natives, especially in our way of life. Dreams often gave messages for warning signs ahead; some messages are for good or bad. For example, some dreams could be having a relationship with the opposite sex, and both spouses have the same dreams, but not the same night. This dream usually meant that the hunter will be successful in his trapping or he will probably kill a big game in the near future. For another example, I dreamt a black fox came inside our cabin and bit my right hand; then about three days later, my right hand developed eczema and this had been created by washing too much doilies on the scrubbing board.
One of my favourite pastimes was reading novels and taking long walks on the railway tracks. I have strong memories walking on the railway tracks ever since I was 12 years old. I often walked with my mother when we checked our rabbit snares, and when I first met my husband, we took many walks on the same railway tracks. When my children became older, we loved to take long walks on the same tracks.
Since then, I still have those wonderful memories and I am especially happy that I gained knowledge in our Cree way of life as Cree trappers. I also grew to love nature and saw the beauty of our country in the wilderness.