Halvor Ausland emigrated from Evje, Norway, in 1920, he was just 17 years old. The photograph below was taken in Evje shortly before his departure for Canada.
He had just returned from Bear Island part of the Spitsbergen Islands in the Arctic,
where he had been working as a foreman on a diamond drilling crew. He earned 10,000 Norwegian dollars and this money paid for his boat fare to Canada.
He came to Saskatchewan and settled in the town of Renown, not far from the town of Watrous, Saskatchewan. He found himself alone and lonesome for home, with only ten cents in his pocket. To make matters worse, it was the middle of winter and a job with decent pay was difficult to find. In later years, he would recall passing a house hungry and cold, and he could still remember the smell of a roast coming from that house. Anyone who lived in those times would understand this, as there was no welfare, or unemployment insurance to fall back on and if you did not have a job, you went hungry. After a while, he got lucky and found a job on a farm. He was there for a month, ploughing the farmer's fields and when he asked for his pay, the farmer had no money but gave him a shirt worth one dollar. With that, he swore he would never again work for anyone but himself. The photograph on the right shows Halvor Ausland with a team of horses ploughing a field (left in photograph).
He then got a job as a carpenter and helped
build a theatre in Shellbrook, Saskatchewan, (photo below) he earned sixty-four dollars for this job. When the theatre was completed, a fellow worker by the name of Sam Lyons, persuaded him to go trapping in Northern Saskatchewan. Once he made up his mind to go trapping, Mr Ausland, like so many others before and after him, travelled by train to the town of Big River, which was located ninety-five miles northwest of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. Big River in the 1920s, was a small village on the fringe of a vast wilderness. At that time, there were no reliable maps or roads and few if any aircraft. Travelling into the north was an adventure into the unknown and was accomplished by canoe or home-made boat. This is what faced Halvor Ausland, who at this time was still in his teens, a stranger to the country and the trapping way of life.
When he arrived in Big River he purchased an outfit consisting of a rifle, about sixteen traps, and eight dollars worth of food. The muskrat season was open and on his way North in a small boat, he camped at Crockard Lake. There, he shot and trapped 126 muskrats which he sold to a fur buyer for fifty cents each. He then passed through the Cowan Lake dam, into Crooked River, and then into the Beaver River.
Travelling down Beaver River he finally reached Grand Rapids, a long dangerous stretch of river. He then proceeded to run the rapids in his small boat. In later years, he would recall that it was a foolish thing for a greenhorn to have done and with hindsight, he would never
have done it had he known then, what he knew now." When he reached the foot of Grand Rapids he camped for the night. When he woke up in the morning the river had frozen over and he was now forced to build a shelter for the winter.
That day while he was camped, an Indian came walking along the shore and asked him what he was doing. He replied that he was going to build a cabin and trap for the winter. The Indian told him not to build his cabin by the river as the ice would destroy it in the spring. The Indian then pointed to marks high up on the trees and riverbank, that showed how high the ice would reach at the breakup in the spring. The Indian told him to build a cabin at the top of the riverbank instead of down by the river. The Indian also showed him how to set traps and gave him some other advice about how to survive the winter.
So with this information in mind, he proceeded to dig a hole in the top of the riverbank and put up three feet of logs above ground for walls. The roof was covered with poles and birch-bark to keep it from leaking and dirt for insulation, the walls were chinked with moss. The stove consisted of pieces of tin bolted together. Having no stove-pipe, he made one out of carnation milk cans held together with haywire. Haywire was a valuable commodity in the North and the expression "everything is haywire" was very appropriate in those times.
With his shelter taken care of he then set out his traps and the first animal he caught was a silver fox. He received four hundred and fifty dollars for that fox at the Hudson's Bay Company trading post at Green Lake, a considerable amount of money in those days. The winter's trapping brought him a few more dollars and in spite of having to live in a hole in the top of the riverbank, the young green-horn trapper could see a future in trapping and had become thoroughly hooked on the North and the trapping way of life.
In the fall of 1921 together with a partner, he set out for the North in a 21-foot home-made boat with only oars for propulsion. The going was tough, but he finally arrived at Skeleton Bay on Frobisher Lake (known locally as Island Lake). They rowed that boat for some 250 miles! Then the usual preparations, building a cabin and scouting for fur sign, as well as hunting for big game to supplement the food supply. That winter things were looking up, he caught 128 foxes, 92 mink, 1028 muskrat and several other furs such as wolves, lynx and so on. It was a long winter and spring and he did not get out of there until late June. He received some four thousand dollars for the fur he caught that winter. In the 1920s that was a lot of money for a young man to have in his pocket.
In 1922, with finances considerably improved by the sale of his furs, he bought a new outfit. He purchased two new eighteen-foot Chestnut canoes and a brand new two-horsepower Evinrude outboard motor. This was the first outboard motor to ever enter that part of the country. He then set out for the Mudjatik River, locally known as Deer River, for the barren-land caribou that wintered in the area.
It was a gruelling trip down the Churchill River and up the Mudjatik River. On the way, the motor's propeller hit a rock and shattered. He now had a serious problem, however, with ingenuity that was common in the north, he went into a swamp and cut down a dry tamarack snag (known for its hardness), and carved a wooden propeller. Heating a bolt from his toolbox, he then burned a hole through the wooden propeller in order to fit it onto the shaft.
In this manner, he continued his journey having to stop every few miles to fashion a new propeller, the wooden variety would not last very long. As well, the propeller was not balanced properly, the vibration causing the motor to shake so badly that a bolt from the bracket holding the motor on the canoe came loose and fell into the water. To solve this problem another piece of tamarack was driven into the hole to hold the bracket. By the time he arrived at his trapline, the motor was in pretty poor shape. The photograph on the left shows Halvor Ausland with this motor. The photograph was taken at Patuanak, Saskatchewan, a small Chipewyan Indian village located on the Churchill River 40 miles north of Ile-a-la-Crosse.
He finally arrived at the forks of the Ithingo and Little Deer River, he was all alone. He built his home cabin at the forks of these rivers and an additional seven cabins as far as the head-waters of the Mudjatik River, some two hundred miles away. He also built a cabin on the Girouard River to the east.
By this time, Mr Ausland had purchased a dog-team and even had his own camera and developing kit. He was able to take photographs of many of the things he did on the trapline and in his travels in the north. Unfortunately, many of these fine old photographs have been lost, however, those that remain give us an idea of what he did. He caught a lot of furs. Beaver was plentiful, as were marten, mink, otter and fox. His efforts met with considerable success and he continued to trap in that area until 1925. He then moved to Deep River, twenty-four miles west of Ile-a-la-Crosse, where he continued to trap, commercial fish and later he started a fur farming business raising foxes and mink. The photograph on the right shows Halvor Ausland with his dog team on the Mudjatik River trapline in the winter of 1923. Notice the frost on his whiskers, the winters are very cold in that part of the country. It is not uncommon for the temperatures to dip to -50 or -60 degrees Fahrenheit or more. Many a night was spent sleeping around campfires with only his sleeping bag to keep him warm while he slept. He remarked in later years about waking up in the morning, very uncomfortable, with snow down the back of his neck.
In later years, Halvor Ausland was to recall a journey he made from his trapline in the north, out to civilization. His toboggan was filled with furs, and the weather was extremely cold. During that trip, his dogs froze to death one after the other. He started the trip with twelve dogs and ended up with three. This was during the worst years of the depression and the fur provided him with good money at a time when people in the cities had no work and went hungry. The poor northern trapper was frozen in the winter and eaten to death by mosquitoes and black-flies in the summer.
Travelling to the trapline on Little Deer River was extremely difficult before the advent of the outboard motor. It was accomplished by poling the canoes upriver against the current some 150 miles, however, due to the meandering nature of the river, it amounted to far more miles than appear on the map of the area. This, along with numerous rapids in the river that had to be portaged, made the trappers lot a difficult one.
In 1923, three men were also heading up the Mudjatik River, they called themselves "the Wolfers from the south". They kept bragging about how they were going to show Halvor Ausland how to trap. That winter, they caught eight foxes between the three of them and they sat mostly in their cabin. They were also eating the wrong kind of food and developed scurvy, that spring, very weak, they came to Mr Ausland and asked him to take them out to Big River. He loaded his fur catch in one canoe and the Wolfers in the other and brought them out to Big River. The three wolfers headed straight to Manitou Lake, outside of the town of Watrous, Saskatchewan, the mineral waters of that lake were supposed to heal them. It took them all summer to recover and the Wolfers were never again seen in northern Saskatchewan.
The photograph on the lower right, shows Halvor Ausland (right in lead canoe), en-route to his trap-line on Little Deer River via Ile-a-la-Crosse Lake. He is travelling North with a group of Chipewyan Indians.
Many trappers travelled in groups, enjoying the company of fellow trappers until they arrived at their destination. They would see few if any other trappers during the long winter months ahead. On one occasion, Halvor Ausland spent thirteen months in the North without seeing another white man! This often led to odd behaviour by trappers after long periods of isolation. Mr Ausland remembered a visit he made to a fellow trapper by the name of Joe Keller, who was trapping about seventy miles south of him. When Mr Ausland climbed out of his canoe and up the cut-bank at Keller's cabin, he heard very loud barking coming from one of Keller's sled dog huts. Upon investigation, Mr Ausland discovered Keller inside the doghouse, barking at his dog, who was on the outside, barking at him. Mr Ausland asked, "What in the sam hell are you doing Keller?" To which Joe replied, "I am just having some fun with my dog."
On the left, is a photograph of two of Mr Ausland's sled-dogs. The animal in the foreground was the lead dog in his dog-team and was named Happy. Dog-teams were the only means of transportation in the winter and were well cared for. In the fall, the trappers would catch and dry whitefish in large quantities for dog food. They also killed caribou for this purpose if necessary, due to the large numbers of these animals in the area. Most of the sled-dogs were obtained from the local natives ready for the sled, or as pups. The photograph on the right shows a variety of husky-pups that were available to trade or purchase for the right price.
Most of these dogs were of mixed ancestry and many of the trappers purchased pure-bred dogs as well. The dogs were tied up at all times, as they would return to their previous owners, or run wild along the rivers if given the opportunity. They knew by instinct, exactly how to find their previous home. With his trapline so remote from civilization, Mr Ausland made all of his own equipment. This saved him the job of hauling extra equipment in over-loaded canoes. Sled-dog harness was made from moose-hide. Snowshoes and toboggans were made from birch-wood and strung with moose or caribou hide. Caribou hide was preferred for stringing snowshoes as it was much tougher. Footwear was usually moose-hide moccasins and rubbers. Unlike some trappers, Mr Ausland would take plenty of flour, dry fruit, sugar and other staples on his trap-line, but his daily diet consisted mostly of bannock and moose-meat. Moose were plentiful, as were caribou, and for variety, partridge, ptarmigan, spruce hens, and ducks were also eaten. Blueberries, cranberries, and other native fruit were also eaten in season. Mr Ausland was to recall that when the first snow had fallen and he went out with his dog-team to set traps, the snow in his toboggan trail would be completely blue where the toboggan had run over the blueberry bushes.
In the summer and fall, moose, caribou, or deer that were killed, were cut up into strips and dried over a fire to make jerky. Mr Ausland said he could travel all day without getting tired, on a diet of dried moose-meat.
Many of the northern trappers, particularly the Chipewyan Indians, lived on a diet of bear fat and meat and fish for the entire winter. The photograph on the left shows Halvor Ausland with his .300 Savage rifle in one hand and a knife in the other. He is standing by a moose he had shot and was in the process of skinning. The meat would later be dried over a fire and made into jerky. Caribou were plentiful, the appearance of these animals each fall was a god-send to both Indian and white trappers alike. They provided meat and hide for everyone. With the migration of the caribou, numerous fur-bearing animals such as timber wolves, coyotes and foxes appeared in the country. They followed the herds and preyed on them throughout the winter. The following photographs were taken by Halvor Ausland on his trap-line on Little Deer River. In one photograph, you will notice his foot; the photograph was taken from a sitting position. Unfortunately, the caribou migration was erratic and in some years, failed to appear when and where expected. This caused much hardship for those who depended upon them.
In 1936, the caribou travelled as far south as Deep River Fur Farm on the Churchill River (right), but that was an exception. Caribou were eaten by the trappers and fed to their dogs, but moose meat, without doubt, was their first choice. Unfortunately, the caribou were infested with warble-fly larvae and at times, were unfit for human consumption. Nothing could stop the caribou migration when they appeared, it was in a continuous stream, much like the migration of the wildebeest in Africa. They would stop for nothing to reach their wintering grounds including, swimming the numerous rivers and lakes they encountered. They lived on the caribou moss which blanketed the entire country from the barren grounds south to the Churchill River. In the spring the caribou returned North in small groups until suddenly there were no more to be seen. However, a few stray animals were known to stay in the country all year round. They seemed none the worse because of it.
In those days, with the seemingly endless herds, no one was too concerned with conservation. As a result, the caribou were to eventually disappear from most of the area.
This was due in large part to over-hunting and loss of habitat from the numerous forest fires, some from natural causes and some from fires set by local people looking for work fighting forest fires. Once the forest was burned, the caribou moss took some twenty-five to fifty years to regenerate. As can be seen in these photographs, the caribou were quite unconcerned with the melting ice for they were excellent swimmers. They were relatively fearless and exhibited a great deal of curiosity, but when necessary, could run at a very fast pace. On open ice, they could easily out-run timberwolves without difficulty. In spite of this, a great number were killed by wolves each year, mostly the young and the older, weaker animals. The following photograph, shows Halvor Ausland's cabin, with some of the furs he had caught at the time and there is also a silver fox hanging from a tree beside his homemade snowshoes. The pelts are beaver, fox, mink and marten.
He usually trapped long-haired furbearers, such as fox, coyote, wolf and lynx, these types of furs were more valuable in the 1920s and 1930s. In later years, the short-haired fur animals such as mink, replaced the long-haired variety in value as women's fashions and styles changed. High prices for furs, led to many experiments in raising fur-bearing animals in captivity and consequently, a very large domestic fur trade followed, particularly, in Canada and the United States. Unfortunately, this eventually led to over-production, mostly in European countries such as Russia and Scandinavia. As a result, fur prices dropped sharply in later years, wiping out a large number of fur farms established in the Buffalo Narrows and Ile-a-la-Crosse areas of Northern Saskatchewan.
In 1925, Mr Ausland ceased trapping operations in the Little Deer River country.
He left behind much of his equipment because of limited space in his canoes for the return journey South. He hid five hundred traps in a small cave near his cabin, those traps remain there to this day. He also abandoned many other items, which no doubt were picked up and used by other trappers. This included his photography equipment, which he left on the table in his cabin. Upon his return to Ile-a-la-Crosse, Mr Ausland settled on a section of the Churchill River called MacBeth Channel, known locally as
Here he set up trapping and commercial fishing operations. There is a chain of lakes, (right) running north of Deep River and he trapped this area as far north as Ithingo Lake some two hundred miles away. He built trapping cabins approximately twenty-five miles apart and travelled by dog-team through-out the area. He also trapped extensively, along the shores of the Churchill River and in one ten-day period, caught one hundred and twenty foxes. Wolves, foxes, coyotes, otter, beaver, marten and lynx were the main fur-bearers on the Deep River trap-line, he concentrated on these as there were very few wild mink in that part of the country. The photograph (below left), shows Mr Ausland's trapping cabin on Ausland lake (the lake cannot be seen in the photograph.) The photograph ( lower right), shows four frozen timberwolves, that were trapped by Mr Ausland. They are propped up in the snow for the photograph, there are two black and two grey wolves. There were numerous wolves in the area, their pelts were valuable, as well, the Saskatchewan Government paid a bounty of twenty-five dollars on wolves in those years. Wolves were difficult to trap as they are very intelligent animals. They usually preyed upon moose, deer and caribou in the area, but would eat almost anything if necessary. This at times, led them into difficulty, since many trappers used to fish or meat baits poisoned with strychnine to kill them.
In the early 1950s, the Natural Resources Department of the Saskatchewan Government, placed horse meat on the frozen lakes and rivers in Northern Saskatchewan. This meat was laced with a deadly poison known as "1080". This was done to control the wolf population. According to one Natural Resources officer at the time, a single drop of blood laced with this poison was enough to kill a full-grown wolf should it be ingested.
Unfortunately, the poison killed everything that ate the meat including foxes, coyotes and birds. When they died, other animals would eat the animals that died and they, in turn, would die. The number of animals and birds that perished in this manner is not known, but it must have been a considerable number.
Halvor Ausland told many stories of his encounters with wolves, including times, when the wolves came around his campfire at night. He never experienced any difficulty with them and never felt threatened at any time. Since he carried a .45 automatic pistol on the trapline, as well as a hunting rifle, he probably felt reasonably secure in the presence of wolves. Though wolves were magnificent animals, the trappers killed them along with other furbearers to make a living. While it may seem cruel to the modern-day world, in those days, particularly in the days of the depression when there was no money or jobs to be had, it was a necessity.
During this time, Mr Ausland, having married and with several children to raise, continued to trap and commercial fish. He had fishing outfits on all the big lakes, such as Churchill, Big Peter Pond and Little Peter Pond lakes as well as Deep River. He then began to look for other ways to earn a dollar, including running a stopping place for the numerous freighters who hauled the commercially caught fish south to Big River. He planted a large garden every year and hunted big game particularly, moose to feed his family, and the freighters that camped at his stopping place.
The local moose population, was the salvation of many northern families during those tough times, including the Ausland family. Halvor Ausland killed his share of moose and the photograph at left, shows him sitting on one. He is holding his .300 Savage Model 99E rifle, which he used through-out his trapping career, having purchased it in the early 1920s. In later years, Savage Arms Corporation would restore this rifle free of charge, because of the history behind it. This rifle is now owned by Mr Ausland's son, who has again had it restored to its original condition. The Savage 99E is no longer manufactured by Savage Arms and finding replacement parts was quite a task. The photograph (right), shows a moose that Mr Ausland had killed with this rifle, the horse was used to haul the animal out of the bush and onto the ice of Deep River so it can be skinned. Unfortunately, today the moose, caribou and other wild game have been greatly reduced by over-hunting, the advance of civilization and loss of habitat from numerous forest fires that seem to become more numerous every year. The days of an abundance of game and the old way of living has come to an end and will never be seen again, except in the distant memory of the few old-timers still alive today. Hopefully, this website will provide people with a glimpse of what the Northern Saskatchewan once was and the tremendous amount of effort that was required to succeed there.
Halvor Ausland's restored .300 Savage Model 99E. The rifle is 77 years old.
Selmer Ausland used it to bag this nice buck near Inwood, Manitoba
A series of larger photographs from Northern Saskatchewan.
Halvor Ausland in his Chestnut Canoe and Evinrude motor at the Patuanak,
Chipewyan indian village, Saskatchewan. Circa, 1922.
This is Grand Rapids on the Mudjatik River it was a 7 mile portage
to get past this stretch of the river.
Island with a lone tree in the middle of Mudjatik River.
A series of barrenland caribou pictures taken by
Halvor Ausland on Little Deer River.