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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
Travel and Transportation

Jock and Duleau McDonaldPrior to Europeans' arrival, the chief means of travel on land was by foot. Dogs or humans pulled sleighs, toboggans or a travois to transport game and camp supplies.

Paul Kane's painting titled 'Winter Travelling' 1852 depicts Métis sleighs or carioles. The dogs wore decorative pom-poms, which would help locate the canines in deep snow. The dogs' decorative back covers were called tuppies.

Toboggan comes from the Algonquian word odabaggan. Native toboggans were made of strips of hickory, ash, or maple, with the front ends curved back. The Inuit made toboggans from whalebone.Plains Natives used a travois to drag game and/or supplies. A travois consisted of two shafts, which were trailing poles. Attached to the poles was a platform or netting which held the load. A dog commonly dragged the travois. Although sleighs and toboggans are still used today, the arrival of horses transformed travel and transportation. Spaniards introduced horses to the Americas and through inter-tribal raiding and trading, horses made their way northward to Canada. The Blackfoot were riding horses by the 1730s, the Plains Cree and the Assiniboine had them by the 1770s and the Ojibwa acquired them by the 1790s.Aboriginal incorporation of European technology and horse culture into their own culture and technology proved how adaptive they were. Horses allowed quicker land travel over wider territories. Hunting and particularly warfare took on a different dimension on the backs of horses.

Canoes allowed Natives to traverse waterways over extensive areas. The demands of the European fur trade led to the adaptation of canoes so they could carry heavier loads. In addition to the standard birch bark canoe, there was the canot maitre or master canoe and the canot du nord or north canoe. A large canoe, with provisions, trade goods, bags, and eight men could weigh over four tons, making a portage an event for superhumans. Paddlers, especially if a Company man was onboard, made 40 strokes per minute. European fur traders and explorers recounted numerous stories about the incredible strength and stamina of Métis boatmen.

The York Boat is another example of technology adapting to supply and demand. Modelled after the Orkney Isalnd fishing boat, the plank construction of this boat allowed large items, from cattle to wheeled carriages to be transported. It had a flat bottom for navigation in shallow waters. Its sharply slanted bow and stern helped reduce damage to the boat if it ran into a gravel bar. A large York boat was about 14 metres (42 feet) from bow to stern. The largest boat could carry over six tons. Towing the boat in shallow waters, where neither paddling nor sailing would suffice, was usually executed by the crew or by draft animals. A portage with a York boat required that a trail was first cut through the bush and then dragged overland on rollers made of poplar trunks. Rowers sat on the sides of the boat opposite of where their oars entered the water. Tremendous manpower was needed so they stood up at every stroke. Steering was accomplished by the steersman using a long pole. If the boat was under sail, the steersman had the help of a rudder to navigate through waterways. Steamboats eventually replaced the York boat

The Red River Cart, drawn by horse or oxen, was one of the cleverest adaptations made by the Métis. In addition to carrying provisions, goods, people, and game— the cart could be converted into a raft.

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Liens Rapides

Early Metis Clothing


Hunting and Fishing


Travel and Transportation

Written Language

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