The site for home base camp needed to be carefully selected with
respect to exposure with the sun. A family may have chosen to have a site
well lighted by the morning sun, or it may have wished to enjoy longer
hours of evening sun. It could then look about for a preferred site,
keeping in mind that in northern latitudes in the winter the sun is always
low in the southern sky, and in the summer it is in the northern sky.
Accordingly, an east-west shoreline was sought, with the camp either on
the south side or the north side of the water. A camp on a point of land,
for instance on a peninsula, sometimes offered both.
Access to fishing and other food-hunting areas was an important
consideration in the selection of a home base camp. The bush person was
always familiar with the feeding and spawning areas of fish and the
feeding grounds favored by animals. Moose, for instance, were likely to be
found in areas of low land with new, succulent aspen and grass, rather
than in a mature spruce or pine forest. Meat for human consumption was
from the cloven hoofed animals (moose, deer), birds, fish and rabbit (hare). To some degree, the meat from fur-bearing animals was also eaten:
muskrat and beaver (water-habitat animals), squirrel and lynx (white
meat). Porcupine was used occasionally.
A good supply of logs was required for building a home base camp. Thus
there was a need for a good stand of bush with 70 - 80 trees, preferably
spruce, 200 - 250 mm in diameter, eight to ten metres long and straight.
This was the material for a log home, and it was desirable, of course,
that the trees be within dragging distance of the building site. While
spruce trees were preferred, pine and poplar were used sometimes. A choice
log was one with a consistent diameter throughout its length because
each log stretched the full length or width of the main part of the house.
Each tree was felled, limbs trimmed off and all bark removed. Logs were
cut to the new home's sidewall or endwall lengths. After the actual
construction, log ends were trimmed off and piled for later use as
firewood. Up to this point the builder sometimes worked alone, but more
often the builder had help to drag the logs into place and to lift them
one upon another to form the walls.
The ideal home base included a stand of timber nearby that had a
mixture of both dry (dead wood) and green (live tree) firewood. It was
standard practice to clear away all the trees (except tall shade trees),
shrubs and tall grass in the area immediately around the home and in the
space between the home and the shoreline of the lake or river. In this
way, the clearing gave an open view of the transportation route. It also
gave a path to boat docking and an open space for boat storage. It reduced
the risk of entrapment of the home in the event of a forest fire, and it
provided a sunny, open space. It also created room for a garden and for an
outdoor fireplace, a smoke tent for curing meat and fish, and an outdoor
drying rack. As well, it offered a work place for building boats, cleaning
hides and preparing fur. Cool breezes off the water helped control flies
and bugs around the home and made it a pleasant space to work and live in.
It was important to build the home on ground that had good drainage
above the floodplain of the river or lake. The bush person assessed past
years' high water levels by looking at 'water marks' on
shoreline trees, rock formations and lake and river banks. The highest
water levels usually occurred during spring break-up of ice, when ice jams
downstream cause waters to back up. This usually occurred during June
runoffs from mountain ranges upstream. Another hazard was that the water
level of large lakes could rise as much as a metre by being
"pushed" by high winds blowing from the opposite end of the
lake. Heavy rains and unusual drainage from other locations could
cause local flooding. People in this area of northwestern Canada expect
changes of water levels at all times under such conditions and choose
their building sites accordingly. [continue]
Reprinted from Bush Land People with the permission of the author.
Copyright Terry Garvin, 1992-2002.