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The Métis in Western Canada: O-Tee-Paym-Soo-Wuk

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The BeginningsThe People and Their CommunitiesCulture and Lifeways
Provisioning

A crucial element of the expansion of the fur trade for everyone was the provision of food for voyageurs. The trip from Montreal to the Athabasca country, as they called northern Alberta, took two summers to complete. The first season took traders to Grand Portage, on the west end of Lake Superior. The voyageurs completed that portion on a diet of parched corn and salt pork. As a result, they were called mangeurs du lard by their inland colleagues.

Traders heading inland made the trip from Grand Portage to the Athabasca country on "pemmican." Pemmican is a native food and was a stable in the diet of fur traders. It is a compound of dried, flaked, pounded lean meat, (usually bison) mixed with fat (preferably the soft fat of the animal) and saskatoon berries or chokecherries. Properly prepared, pemmican is nourishing, with one kilogram considered to be the equivalent of four to eight kilograms of fresh meat or fish. The Métis were the main supplier of pemmican and it was also a main source of their income.

The North West Company required tons of pemmican to fuel its expansion into the north, as well as its network of posts across the forests of what is now Manitoba and Ontario. To provide the pemmican, they established posts around the rim of the prairies, from Fort Souris and Fort Dauphin in the east, to Fort des Prairies, Fort Augustus, and Rocky Mountain House. There, apart from collecting furs, company traders could trade in the ingredients necessary for pemmican: "green meat" (fresh meat), "beat meat" (meat already dried into flakes), or pounded meat (meat ready to be mixed), as well as containers of fat and baskets of dried berries.

When the HBC began to expand and plant posts across its territory, it too needed sources for pemmican, and also established "provisioning posts." The brigades of the competing companies shared passage and route from Lake Winnipeg out into the plains. This shared route was an element in the Pemmican War of 1814 to 1816. The competition for pemmican was a more crucial element in that dispute. It is said that the North West Company alone required 30 to 50 tons of pemmican each season. After the amalgamation of the HBC and NWC, the need for pemmican was cut in half. The HBC maintained specific posts as provisioning posts. Fort Ellice, Fort Pitt, and Fort Edmonton were among the main posts.

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Liens Rapides

Background

Montreal Peddlers

North West Company

Hudson's Bay Company

Geography and Ecology

The Trade

Provisioning

Buffalo Robe Trade

Company Employment (Wage Labour)

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