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Virtual Museum of Canada The Making of Treaty #8 in Canada's Northwest
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1899 and After

Trapline Homes and Traditional Camps

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.

LogsA 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.

Smoke TentThe 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.

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