Saturday, 16 June 2012

Fish and potatoes.....1870's

Francoise Janvier born in 1918
Francoise Janvier preparing fish to dry.
La Loche 1980. Photo by Ray Marnoch.
"Fish....make up almost the entire diet of the inhabitants....along with potatoes" 

Food supplies in the North West.

Fish and potatoes made up almost the entire diet of the inhabitants of the North West during the fur trade and still make up an important part of a northerner's diet today. Fish were always there in the lakes and potatoes were easily grown. Large game such as moose and caribou was not always available. It takes a lot to feed a family every day of the year.

Alex Janvier born in 1903
Alex Janvier in his potato field in
La Loche 1980. Photo by Ray Marnoch.


There were year round fisheries at West La Loche, Bull's House and Ile a la Crosse. When the fishery at Ile a la Crosse failed on year Bull's House was able to supply them with fish.
In 1868 Father Boisrame of the Providence Mission (Northwest Territories) and his team of fishermen caught and dried eight thousand whitefish in fifteen days. This insured the Mission of enough food for the winter he wrote.
Snare fishing; In La Loche every year in spring and fall the fish run in the creeks and rivers around the lake. Fish are caught with a long pole. Snare wire is tied at the end of the pole in an adjustible loop big enough for the fish to pass through. When the fish is partly in the snare the pole is immediately jerked up with the fish trapped in the snare.  


Potatoes and the produce of gardens were also part of the daily diet. Potatoes have been grown in the North West for a long time and were introduced by the early fur trading posts and the missions. The Hudson's Bay post at Cumberland House grew its own vegetables as early as 1776. In 1779 Peter Pond grew potatoes near Lake Athabasca as well as turnips, carrots and parsnips. 
La Loche: Potatoes may have been grown on Lac La Loche soon after the first post was built in the 1780's.  
Father Legeard of the Ile a la Crosse Mission wrote a description of La Loche in 1875...."almost all the Chipewyan that reside there have made themselves nice little houses and each house has a small field of potatoes."
In the 1930's Father Ducharme mentions having 100 bags of potatoes stored in the basement for the winter.
In photos of La Loche from the 1900's to the 1980's potato fields are seen near the Mission and many of the homes.

La Loche 1952. This photo shows a potato field in the foreground. In the
Mission grounds are more fields of potatoes. Photo

Lac Ile a la Crosse in the 1870's

"The land around the lake is very fertile. Wheat, barley, potatoes and all sorts of vegetables are grown. The fort and the mission raise nice herds of cows and horses. We see pigs, chickens, and I believe a few sheep. Fish are plentiful in the lake and make up almost the entire diet of the inhabitants along with potatoes since big game has almost disappeared from the countryside. There are large numbers of game that fly or swim. In the month of September 1873, I saw two Cree sell the missionaries five hundred ducks that they had hunted in just a few days. During one week, priests, nuns orphans and students ate only duck in all kinds of sauces." wrote Father Emile Petitot. in his book 'En_route_pour_la_mer_Glaciale'.

Buffalo tongues: Kennicott's daily fare at Fort Simpson in 1858:

"The “Fort” consists of five square houses arranged in a hollow square open in front and facing the river. The buildings are very good. The “gentlemens house” has a large kitchen behind and is divided into a mess room, a bed-room for Onion and I each, a library and bedroom for Mr. Ross. These are on the ground floor. Above are summer rooms used by the gentlemen in fall. About a cord of wood is burned in the mess room daily.
We live well; our bill of fare consisting of dry meat (tongues finished), potatoes, fish, tea and an allowence of sugar, bread and butter with puddings of rice or raisins on Sundays and Wednesdays! In fact we have quite enough.”

Letter from ROBERT KENNICOTT to SPENCER BAIRD   Ft Simpson Mackenzies River, Nov 17th 1859

Father Petitot 's supplies in 1862 

In 1862 Father Petitot and Father Grouard left the Red River with the Portage La Loche brigade.
The following are the personal supplies they took with them.

"At the Stone Fort, I bought some more provisions for our journey. Our complete list of supplies now included 125 kilos of flour, two bags of sea biscuits, 25 kilos of pemmican, 4 smoked and cooked hams, 6 large loaves of bread, a big bag of buffalo tongues and smoked meat, a small case of eggs, a little bag on onions, 3 pounds of Congo tea, a small barrel of maple syrup; some sugar, ground coffee, salt, pepper and butter.
Two blankets rolled in a oil skin bag, a hatchet and a case of clothes completed our baggage.
I had not expected to travel in such a grandiose way. I had even protested in all my power. This brought to mind “St. Paul et son baton”! As a response the good bishop who had accompanied us, Monsignor Tache, smiled like a father and with a little irony told me:
-Take what is given, dear one. You are still too much of a “mangeux d’lard’ to make sacrifices right now. You will soon be so abandoned!  Saint Paul did not travel to savage lands. Hard days and misery will come for you sooner than you think.
And with this prudent council he gave us his benediction with tears in his eyes.
In a friendly manner the old Lesperance added jokingly:
-Ah! Well, I will tell you that you are set up like men of importance. It’s too bad that you have to travel with such rich supplies. You’ll hope for a little bit of it when you are on the great northern river; there you will only find “du tondre et des bardeau” to eat.
Enjoy, enjoy this ham while you have it. It may be the last one that you eat for the rest of your life."  (translated from the original French)

Pemmican: Fur Brigades: 

The fur brigades travelled fast and they depended on the supplies they carried.
They did not have the time to stop for any length of time to hunt or fish. 
When they arrived at the posts along the way they were supplied if they ran short of provisions. 
These posts were supplied in part with food by the small settlements around them.
The fur brigades, the posts and the villages depended on each other. 

An order for supplies for Ile a la Crosse for the passing brigades in 1871 included: 
240 bags of common pemmican each weighing 90 pounds and 8 bags of fine pemmican each weighing 45 pounds,
10 bags of hard grease each weighing 100 pounds and 1 bag of soft grease weighing 100 pounds,
6 large new leather tents for boat covering and 2 packs of pack cords each weighing 100 lbs.

For the Portage La Loche Post the supplies ordered were:
24 bags of common pemmican each weighing 90 pounds, 1 bag of fine pemmican weighing 90 pounds,
1 bag of hard grease weighing 100 pounds, and 12 large hides for cart coverings in the transport at Portage La Loche.

"The pemmican, which forms the staple article of produce from the summer hunt, is a species of food peculiar to Rupert's Land. It is composed of buffalo meat, dried and pounded fine, and mixed with an amount of tallow or buffalo fat equal to itself in bulk. The tallow having been boiled, is poured hot from the caldron into an oblong  bag, manufactured from the buffalo hide, into which the pounded meat has previously been placed. The contents are then stirred together until they have been thoroughly well mixed. When full, the bag is sewed up and laid in store. Each bag when full weighs one hundred pounds. It is calculated that, on an average, the carcass of each buffalo will yield enough pemmican to fill one bag." Red river by Hargrave 1871 (page 168)                 ........Metis buffalo hunt

read more about pemmican......