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
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.
Hudson's Bay Company
Geography and Ecology
Employment (Wage Labour)