in the Wilderness: Work,
Food and Insects
Life in the
fur trade could be hard work. Not only did voyageurs
have to travel far in a short period of time, they also had to cope
with insects, bad weather, and sometimes boring food.
gathered in Montreal and formed the spring brigades. From there
they had just eight weeks to get from Montreal to the distant fur
posts. To do this they had to paddle more than 12 hours a day,
taking a rest every hour. At night they would sleep on the shore,
under their canoes or under the stars.
It was easier
for men traveling to HBC posts because most of their voyage
was downriver and required less portaging. Still, all fur traders
had some problems in common. Insects could be a plague in summer.
Local First Nations insect repellants included everything from bloodroot
and bay leaves to animal fat and fish oil.
Nor did they
have the choice of food that people in Canada have today. In
the wilderness the traders hunted ate what they could catch, as
well as berries and other foods. As they could not always rely on
a steady supply of wild animals to hunt some foods were brought
made from dried and pounded buffalo meat and fat, was one such food.
men serving far from their homes, in forts or in the Fur Country,
often had "country wives" - First Nations women they lived with.
Some were almost slaves, but other men fell in love and married
their country wives.
In the fur
trade posts, life was better. Records exist showing that the
food eaten by the men at York Factory was usually plentiful and
In all places,
though, men found ways to enjoy their free time. Archeology
and records from HBC reveal many examples of creative work,
including carving, painting, bead work, and many other crafts.
to more information
what people ate in HBC posts:
Hudson's Bay Company History:
Life in the Past: What's on the Menu