People living on bush traplines call their home “camp,” as in “Come to our camp” or “Tie your dogs at our camp.” Of course, in the harsh climate of the boreal forest, shelter is essential, and a comfortable camp usually included a permanent, weatherproof home built from local timber.
- Terry Garvin, from Carving Faces, Carving Lives: People of the Boreal Forest
In the northwest boreal forest, the centre of traditional hunting and trapping life is the base camp and supporting line cabins or shelters. The base camp consisted of a permanent cabin and adjoining facilities for equipment, food and hide storage and preparation, boat docking, dog shelter, toilet, and any other elements that would make life in the bushlands a comfortable one. The base camp, being the central area from which hunting, fishing, gathering, and trapping would take place, had to be placed strategically to best serve the needs of the hunter or trapper using it. It would have to be built close to a major body of water, like a river or lake, as overland travel in the bush is difficult, and water transportation is a viable and critical alternative for getting around to various areas along a trapline or hunting and gathering grounds. While close to water, though, the area built on would have to be one above the floodplain of the river or lake in question to ensure that the home would not be water damaged in times of run-off or flooding. A suitable location would also include a local stand of trees, so that building materials and firewood were close at hand.
Both base camp cabins and line cabins were traditionally built with logs (usually spruce, but at times pine or poplar) which were cut down and dragged or floated to the selected building site. About seventy to eighty logs anywhere from twenty to thirty inches in diameter were needed to build a proper log home. Once such logs were cut down, branches and bark were removed from the logs before the logs were cut to desired wall lengths. More slender wood poles, along with a centre supporting ridgepole, were used in the construction of the cabin roof. Gaps in the walls and roof were filled in with chinking, a type of caulking material made of mud and one of either grass, animal hair, or moss, while a layer of grassy sod was placed on the roof to help keep out rain and snow. Animal hides were used as window coverings and hide covered logs were used to make doors with hinges made of rawhide. While main base camp cabins often had wood floors, line cabins had dirt floors covered with spruce boughs and grass to keep the place tidy. Line cabins were also not as long lasting as their main camp counterparts, and without regular maintenance, would not usually last as long before beginning to deteriorate. Sometimes, canvas tents were an alternative shelter to using a line cabin along points of a trapline.
More recent base camp shelters are designed with a combination of logs cut from the forest, and commercially purchased lumber, roofing materials, doors, and windows. More modern conveniences, like propane stoves, can be found in such homes. Many homes are more modern still, as generations of northern people gradually leave bushland life behind in favour of a community based lifestyle. These homes are found in town neighbourhoods rather than remote and scattered locations throughout the boreal forest.
Featured Video: Camp Life
The Heritage Community Foundation, with the kind permission of Terry Garvin, is pleased to present this feature excerpt from the Bush Land People video.
The centre of traditional life in the boreal forest is the main camp, which provides a comfortable and permanent shelter for people, as well as storage areas for all the supplies needed to sustain a hunting and trapping lifestyle.