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1899 and After

Trapline Homes and Traditional Camps

SnowmobileModern transportation by snowmobile, track vehicle or all-terrain vehicle requires much less travel time, and this now influences the selection of trapline camp locations. While the home base remains the same, the number of line cabins is reduced even though daily travelling distances are increased.

Furniture in the home base camps and line cabins was minimal. People squatted on the floor to prepare their furs and food, to eat and for leisure-time activities. Chairs and tables were not used. Even as recent as the early 1960's there were, in some communities, elderly people who had never used a chair to sit on. They would prefer to sit on the floor of a public place, for example, a church, rather than on a chair or pew. Older people still sit on the ground at their bush camp to eat. Sleeping is always done on the floor.

While some trapline camps were log buildings, others wereTent canvas tents. Tents were convenient, portable trapline homes, since they could be carried from camp to camp. Tents were usually used for spring and summer fishing camps and for muskrat hunting camps. For example, in the 1950's most Dogrib hunters and trappers lived in tents while away from their main settlement log homes. Tents varied in size, but a standard one was about 3-4 m long, with a 1 m sidewall. In winter the outside walls were banked with snow. Before the tent was set up, snow was removed from the floor and the cleared area covered with spruce bows. Usually the spruce boughs were then covered with canvas, blankets or hides. For sleeping a bedroll was laid out over a spruce bough mattress. The mattress cover was typically an animal hide, with the fur or hair still in place. A single stove kept the tent very warm, even in the coldest weather. A tent was a comfortable short-term shelter as long as an adequate wood supply was within reach. Travellers in small tents slept within reach of kindling wood and the stove, so as to be able to start a fire before getting out of bed, since the tent cooled off very quickly when the fire went out.

In the days before matches, fire was "stored" and carried about by igniting a natural slow burning substance. This was often a fungus growth - a parasite - found on living and dead trees. These fungus masses occur in sizes up to 300-400 mm in diameter and 200-250 mm in depth. This fungus was an excellent medium for containing a smouldering fire. When lit it smouldered slowly and could be fanned into a flame by a person blowing on it or exposing it to the wind. Such a flame could ignite other tinder and before long a full blown camp fire would be going. This fungus could be transported from one camp to another as the fire lighter for the next camp. Immersion in water or the suffocation of its oxygen supply would put it out. Elderly native trappers and hunters are still well aware of the traditional functional use of this parasitic growth.

The smoke from a smouldering fungus was also an effective insect repellent. It can be found and is still used for the same purpose today.

There were three traditional ways to light the fungus: (1) byFungus lighting it from tinder ignited by a spark made by striking a flint against a piece of steel or stone; (2) by rubbing two pieces of wood together to produce friction heating, which would set the wood pieces on fire; and (3) by igniting it in natural forest fires caused by lightning strikes in the summer months. These methods of "creating" fire were replaced long ago by matches and fluid lighters, and the fungus is no longer used as a portable fire.

One of the main activities at the base camp was the preparation (flushing) of animal skins, for example, of moose hides. A moose hide was first soaked in a tub of water to soften it. Then it was mounted in a flat frame made of poles from trees about 75-100 mm in diameter and 3 - 4 m long. The poles were fitted together to provide a square frame around the moose hide. In this way, the inside measurement of the frame was about 2.5-3 m, significantly larger than the hide to be flushed. Holes were cut around the entire edge of the hide at intervals of 75-100 mm. The soaked hide was then stretched inside the frame by alternately threading a length of strong hide thonging or rope through the holes in the hide and then wrapping it around the pole frame. As the hide stretched, the thonging was repeatedly tightened for several days until the hide was stretched as far as possible.

In this stretched position the hair and residual flesh would be cleaned off the hide using a flusher. A flusher was a hand-held bone instrument for scraping the hide of a moose, deer, caribou or other member or the deer family. Scraping flesh and hair off the hide was a first step in the transformation of a raw hide to fabric suitable for making clothing, footwear (moccasins, mukluks), mitts, carrying bags, gun cases, dog harnesses, thonging, lacing and so on.

FlusherA traditional  flusher was made of the largest of the two bones below the knee joint of the front leg of a moose. The narrow end was cut at an angle to form a flat, broad cutting edge. A rasp like surface, similar to that of saw teeth, was cut into the scraping edge.

At the other end, the joint end, a centre hole was made for a strong moose hide thong to be threaded through. This thonging was tied to form a ring large enough to encircle the lower arm of the user from elbow to hand. One end went around the upper arm of the user and the other was attached to the top end of the flusher. The user gained a great deal of leverage with the thong support to the upper arm. The flusher, the thong and the upper arm of the user became a single instrument, with the shoulder and arm joint as the fulcrum point. Flushing by hand was effective but quite hard work.

Reprinted from Bush Land People with the permission of the author. Copyright Terry Garvin, 1992-2002.

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