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Hudson's Bay Company
Hudson's Bay Company Post, Dog Head [Point], Lake Winnipeg, Man.
National Archives of Canada/PA-050764

Tripping and Trapping at Norway House

Adapt or expire - in the 19th century, as the European fur trade pushed inexorably westward, First Nations tribes had little choice but to become part of the advancing economic juggernaut.

At the far northern tip of Lake Winnipeg, the Swampy Cree of the Hudson Bay-Churchill region were drawn to the Hudson's Bay Company's strategic outpost of Norway House. Founded in 1814 as a hastily erected shelter for Norwegian road gangs in the employ of the HBC, the post became a pivotal staging point for fur trade traffic between the company's York Factory headquarters, and the commercial centre of Red River at the south end of Lake Winnipeg. Aboriginal "freighters" and trappers found employment at the

busy northern junction, supplying pelts and joining the fleets of freight canoes plying the lakes and rivers of the region. They joined the fur brigades to Swan River, Lake La Pluie, Island Lake and Red River, often making long and difficult portages. By the 1860's, a large and prosperous aboriginal settlement, known as Rossville, had grown up near the Norway House stockade, and British missionaries had arrived to attend to the business of Christian conversion.

But just as the Cree, encouraged by the missionaries, began to congregate permanently near the Norway House outpost, the era of canoe freighting began to draw to a close. Steamboats were beginning to make an appearance on Lake Winnipeg, and the role of the "tripper" began to decline.

Paddling and Portaging: Life as a Lake Winnipeg Freighter
Canoe freighting on Lake Winnipeg was a far cry from a leisurely paddle in a slim-lined recreational craft. Freight canoes were sturdy, over-sized boats, propelled by a carefully choreographed sequence of rowing and paddling. Portaging was an arduous part of freighting, often requiring several trips to transport heavy cargos of furs and supplies. Using "tumplines" - long leather head bands that formed a harness for their load - the freighters carried 60 kilogram bundles on their backs, ferrying salt pork, flour, tea, sugar, lard, canned goods, dried milk, hardware, and ammunition from one waterway to another. Inch by inch, by the sweat of the freighters' brows and the brawn of their sturdy backs, essential goods were transported hundreds of kilometres through the wilderness.

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