People have been trapping in the Buffalo Narrows region for centuries. Most of the early settlers trapped at least part of the time. Fur trade companies have been active in Northern Saskatchewan since 1713, although, the first post in the immediate vicinity of the present day town of Buffalo Narrows was established by the North West Company in 1790. (For a more comprehensive account of the fur trade posts in the Buffalo Narrows region refer to the Historical Background page. After 1888, Buffalo Narrows operated as an outpost of the Ile-a-la-Crosse H.B.C. post. Buffalo Narrows remained as an outpost of Ile-a-la-Crosse until 1916, when it became an outpost of Buffalo River (Dillon). It was not until 1942 that Buffalo Narrows was officially designated as a post. This information tends to indicate that Buffalo Narrows itself did not play a very important role in the fur trade, although, the surrounding area was quite important.
In later years (1906) Revillon Freres of Montreal gave the H.B.C. stiff competition in the Buffalo area with posts at Buffalo River and Clear (Churchill) Lake.
Some of the fur trade companies included Western Grocers Company, American Hide and Fur Company (est. 1920), M.H. Levinson & Co. Ltd. (est. 1922), A.B.Schubert Ltd., (1919), the Northwest Hide and Fur Co.(1893), Carruthers Hide and Fur Co.(1893) the George Soudack Fur Company and the Western Traders Co. In addition, there were many other small companies and independent traders in the area.
These companies often employed local people to act as fur buyers or clerks for them. Some of the local people who worked for these companies as buyers were Celestine McKay (H.B.C.) and Louis and Maglaire Morin (H.B.C). Sam Seright was a clerk for the H.B.C. for a while. Kenneth MacDonald was a clerk for the H.B.C. prior to coming to Buffalo Narrows. Maglaire Morin recalls that in the 1930's and 1940's the fur trade companies sent buyers to the trappers to get furs. Often there was stiff competition to see which company's buyer would get to the trappers first and get the most fur. It was not until relatively recent times that the fur trade companies made the trappers come to the posts to sell their fur. The Grubstake was a common device used by the fur traders to obtain a secure supply of furs. The company would outfit the trappers with food and equipment at the beginning of the trapping season. The trapper was then obligated (morally at least) to sell his winter's catch to that company. The company would pay the trapper in cash for his furs, less the value of the grubstake.
The trappers caught many different kinds of furbearing animals such as beaver, mink, muskrat, squirrel, lynx, marten, fisher, fox, coyote, otter, rabbit, skunk, and bear. The prices varied considerably from year to year depending upon the market. In 1901 the Hudson Bay Co. is reported to have paid fifty cents for one mink or one lynx. It took ten muskrats or two marten to get fifty cents. It was the trappers job to skin, flesh, stretch and dry the pelts.
There were far too many trappers in the area around Buffalo Narrows to mention them all, but a few of the trappers were the Kiezies (1895), Ross Cummings (who started trapping at the age of ten in the Primrose Lake area), Frank "Dutchy" Hansen and Antoine Moberly at Virginia's Point on the northwest side of Churchill Lake in 1920.
These early trappers used snowshoes and dog teams for transportation. Dogs were a valuable possession of these early trappers. They were reliable and inexpensive to maintain (they ate fish), but not as fast as the snowmachines that replaced them. In at least one case, a man's life was saved by a dog. In 1943 John Swanvick's dog "Tuffy" prevented John from being frozen to death, although he lost his legs from the knee down, while fishing on Big Buffalo Lake.
An interesting, though somewhat illegal device, used by some local trappers to increase profit, was to live-trap foxes and/or skunks in the summer. These animals were then put in long pens made of wood until the cold weather arrived. At this point (when the pelts were prime), the animals were killed and the pelts prepared for sale. In 1952, the total value of fur sold by trappers in the Buffalo Narrows Fur Block was twelve thousand dollars. This compared to a total of fourteen thousand dollars for trappers in Buffalo River, and twenty four thousand dollars for the trappers in Clear Lake.
The number of trappers in the Buffalo Narrows Block has decreased in recent years. In 1965 there were seventy registered trappers in the area. In 1968 this number had decreased to forty-one. At present there are very few, if any, full time trappers active in the Buffalo Narrows Block (N15).
The Trappers Association
The Trappers Association was set up in 1965 to help the Department of Natural Resources set quotas, record trapping results and prevent raiding of traplines. The association holds annual meetings and has elected officers.
(Photographs Courtesy of John and Mary Hanson.)