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1899 and After

Snowmobiles and Aircraft

Snowmobiles at a Line Cabin Winter transportation was exclusively by dog team and carryall toboggan for centuries in native trapper communities - up until the 1950s and 1960s. Dog power was then replaced by motorized snowmobiles. In effect, the trapper disposed of dogs, hung up the harnesses, put a solid hitch on his toboggan and pulled it with his motor powered vehicle. Thus, snowmobiles simply replaced the dogs and pulled the same carryalls. Snowmobiles do not carry freight, only the driver and perhaps one passenger. For this reason, the carryall, as it was when being pulled by dogs, is still the container vehicle for carrying freight and passengers. The toboggan has survived the change from dogs to snowmobile, but the dogs are gone.

Since then, backpacking by people, dogs and horses has also been replaced by modern speedy motor-driven snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles, four-wheel drive automobiles, transport trucks, aircraft and railways.

When the dogs were retired by motorized equipment, the dog-musher trapper had to become a motor mechanic. The snowmobile was a more convenient means of transport and afforded a speedier access to the trapping areas. Many trappers, however, still claim that dog teams are more reliable. Dogs, given proper care, do not break down on the trail, and their sense of direction will take them home in the dark and in stormy, snowy weather. Furthermore, the snowmobile is marked by a significant initial cost and a continuing expense for fuel and repairs. In addition, it is noisy and polluting to the environment as a whole and to the carryall passengers in particular.

Sled DogFuel for a dog team could usually be obtained from the land in the form of meat and fish, while snowmobiles require fuel imported from the outside world. On the other hand, dogs need constant care all year, whereas a snowmobile is simply 'parked' for the summer. Very few trappers now own both  dog teams and snowmobiles.

Continual dependency on convenient and effective transportation has always meant that a trapper's home cabin be near the shoreline of a river or lake at a point suitable for docking boats or aircraft. The same location is equally suitable for landing ski-equipped aircraft if the frozen surface of the lake or river is smooth enough. To facilitate this, a trapper expecting an incoming aircraft makes a safe landing strip on the ice by placing evergreen trees in the ice and snow along the edges of the proposed strip.

All large, centrally located communities in the North have privately operated commercial air services, including charter services. Small aircraft are equipped with floats for summer and skis for winter. Aircraft are also often equipped with a combination of floats and wheels or skis and wheels. Although air transportation is sometimes used for long hauls from home base to trapping areas, such use of aircraft is seriously limited by its high cost.

Aircraft operators, commonly known as bush pilots, are experienced at hauling people and supplies to bush camps. Along with passengers are gas drums, dogs, toboggan and other supplies that are typically part of the cargo. Objects as large as canoes can be attached to the undercarriage of an aircraft equipped with floats or skis.

Aircraft play an important role in emergencies. Emergency medical evacuation can be arranged through government service, including both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. If acceptable flying conditions prevail at the time of a medical emergency, and if a medical practitioner determines that evacuation of the patient is necessary, it is possible to transport a patient from the bush to a city hospital in a matter of hours.

For short periods of the year - during spring break-up of ice and fall freeze-up of lakes and rivers - helicopters offer the only means of transportation.  

Reprinted from Bush Land People with the permission of the author. Copyright Terry Garvin, 1992-2002.

©copyright Heritage Community Foundation 2002.  All Rights Reserved.