transportation was exclusively by dog team and carryall toboggan for
centuries in native trapper communities - up until the 1950s and 1960s.
Dog power was then replaced by motorized snowmobiles. In effect, the
trapper disposed of dogs, hung up the harnesses, put a solid hitch on his
toboggan and pulled it with his motor powered vehicle. Thus, snowmobiles
simply replaced the dogs and pulled the same carryalls. Snowmobiles do not
carry freight, only the driver and perhaps one passenger. For this reason,
the carryall, as it was when being pulled by dogs, is still the container
vehicle for carrying freight and passengers. The toboggan has survived the
change from dogs to snowmobile, but the dogs are gone.
Since then, backpacking by people, dogs and horses has also been replaced
by modern speedy motor-driven snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles,
four-wheel drive automobiles, transport trucks, aircraft and railways.
When the dogs were retired by motorized equipment, the dog-musher trapper
had to become a motor mechanic. The snowmobile was a more convenient means
of transport and afforded a speedier access to the trapping areas. Many
trappers, however, still claim that dog teams are more reliable. Dogs,
given proper care, do not break down on the trail, and their sense of
direction will take them home in the dark and in stormy, snowy weather.
Furthermore, the snowmobile is marked by a significant initial cost and a
continuing expense for fuel and repairs. In addition, it is noisy and
polluting to the environment as a whole and to the carryall passengers in
Fuel for a dog team could usually be obtained from the land in the form
of meat and fish, while snowmobiles require fuel imported from the outside
world. On the other hand, dogs need constant care all year, whereas a
snowmobile is simply 'parked' for the summer. Very few trappers
now own both dog teams and snowmobiles.
Continual dependency on convenient and effective transportation has
always meant that a trapper's home cabin be near the shoreline of a river
or lake at a point suitable for docking boats or aircraft. The same
location is equally suitable for landing ski-equipped aircraft if the
frozen surface of the lake or river is smooth enough. To facilitate this,
a trapper expecting an incoming aircraft makes a safe landing strip on the
ice by placing evergreen trees in the ice and snow along the edges of the
All large, centrally located communities in the North have privately
operated commercial air services, including charter services. Small
aircraft are equipped with floats for summer and skis for winter. Aircraft
are also often equipped with a combination of floats and wheels or skis
and wheels. Although air transportation is sometimes used for long hauls
from home base to trapping areas, such use of aircraft is seriously
limited by its high cost.
Aircraft operators, commonly known as bush pilots, are experienced at
hauling people and supplies to bush camps. Along with passengers are gas
drums, dogs, toboggan and other supplies that are typically part of the
cargo. Objects as large as canoes can be attached to the undercarriage of
an aircraft equipped with floats or skis.
Aircraft play an important role in emergencies. Emergency medical
evacuation can be arranged through government service, including both
fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. If acceptable flying conditions
prevail at the time of a medical emergency, and if a medical practitioner
determines that evacuation of the patient is necessary, it is possible to
transport a patient from the bush to a city hospital in a matter of hours.
For short periods of the year - during spring break-up of ice and fall
freeze-up of lakes and rivers - helicopters offer the only means of
Reprinted from Bush Land People
with the permission of the author. Copyright Terry Garvin, 1992-2002.