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Mink and Fish

Mink Ranching and Fishing, Northern Saskatchewan.

Aircraft Line.

Arctic Adventure, Mink and Fish

By Ritchie Calder

Buffalo Narrows, Saskatchewan, it was only when we skidded over the ice to a safe landing at Buffalo Narrows on the channel between Churchill Lake and Peter Pond Lake (55 deg. 50 min. N 108 deg. 75 min. W.), that I realized how scared I should have been. From the moment Cliff Labey, the pilot, flying charter for the Hudson's Bay Company, wrenched free the plane's skis, freeze-welded to the ice at Ile-a-la-Crosse, until touchdown, we had been groping our way.

Bush Pilot Cliff Labey.
Bush Pilot Cliff Labey - left in picture.

The snow covered ice of the lakes merged into the snow-laden whiteness of the sky; we had no horizon. The landscape was a crude charcoal sketch, blackened trees against the snow. The Churchill River, which should have been our guide, was lost in the flurry of clouds.

Map of area on the Churchill River.
Map of area on the Churchill River.

Labey brought the Beaver, the pony-express of the air, through and apologized for the rough landing as our plane taxied over the waves of snow from last night's blizzard. As we hove to, George Greening, a legendary bush pilot who was thawing out his fish plane, greeted us in the languages of the bush, then thought of the Hudson's Bay factor's wife, faced with five of us to feed. A few hours later, from a lake 100 miles to the north, he brought us the king-emperor of all trout for our supper.

George Greening with large trout.
George Greening with large trout lake trout on the tail of CF-BBQ.

That is the way of the bush pilot, the errand boy, the mercy flier, the Good Samaritan of the Canadian north. If a person is lost or sick, no risk is too great to bring succor. The pilots will go miles out of their way just to fetch nipples for an Indian baby's bottle or, news of an ailing wife to a half-breed trapper miles from home. Salute them! Buffalo Narrow with its fish factory, is a little village by other standards, but a metropolis up here.

From the lakes, the fish is flown in or, ferried by "snow bug" across the ice of the lakes and the snow of the "portages" (the land links), the "snow bug" is appropriately named. From the air, this van, with caterpillar tracks and skis, looks like a scurrying beetle.

Hudson's Bay Company snowmobile.
Hudson's Bay Company snowmobile.

At Buffalo Narrows the fish is skinned, filleted, gutted and sliced into fingers. These are deep-frozen and (but maybe this is a trade secret) labeled with the brand-names of firms hundreds of miles away in the United States.

Mink coats and fish-and-chips may sound incongruous, but, believe me, I have seen here in the wilds a mink farm run in partnership with a fish factory. Mink eat fish, and the trappers use fish as bait, but when mink the are mass-produced, lots of fish are needed, and the factory has lots of scraps. The mink farm which I visited is an improbable place, mink are bred in seven sheds each 210 feet long. One shed may contain 450 breeding mink. For a trapper to catch that many he would need a trap-line 400 miles long.

Churchill Mink Ranch.
(L-R) Richie Calder, Alvin Vickland of Churchill Mink Ranch at Buffalo Narrows, H.B.C. District Manager, W.J. Cobb and Post Manager Steve Preweda.

He could never catch the mink I found on the farm, they do not exist in nature. There was a range of colors browns, blacks, blondes, pastels, palominos (creamy) whites, sapphire blue, topaz, winter blues, silver blues and Aleutian blues. The prevailing fashion is Aleutian blue, a coat of that shade, containing 80 to 90 pelts, can cost $25,000.

Alvin Vickland holding a saphire mink.
Alvin Vickland holding a saphire blue mink.

Churchill mink ranch from the air.
Churchill Mink Ranch from the air.

A mink averages four "kits" or young, a season, all the farm has to do is to feed the mink with fish offal, mink meal, vitamin preparations and mink husbandry is to rear those kits to the exact size the furrier wants. He may spend $4.50 producing a fur that will bring him $50 to $70.

A really experienced trapper counts himself lucky if he catches 30 mink in a year, the Indians and half-breeds often trap far fewer and barely make a living. Indeed, their plight is a matter of grave official concern. The government of Saskatchewan is doing its best to encourage them to adopt new, or subsidiary, occupations. It has made itself responsible for handling the furs. It has established crown industries like lumbering and saw-milling.

A photo of Saskatchewan  T.C Douglas at the Saskatchewan Fur Marketing Services.
A photo of Saskatchewan T.C Douglas at the Saskatchewan Fur Marketing Services. The Saskatchewan Crown corporation was dissolved in 1982, and now there are few in Saskatchewan who rely on fur sales as their primary source of income, according to the Saskatchewan Trappers Association president Wrangler Hamm. Photo by Troy Fleece - Regina Leader-Post.
Saskatchewan Fur Marketing Services.
Saskatchewan Fur Marketing Services was a Crown corporation that graded furs from northern Saskatchewan, hosted live animal shows and broadcast a fur-focused weekly radio program. Photo - Troy Fleece Regina Leader-Post.

It controls the fishing of the lakes, so that the local people can derive the benefits of the growing commercial fisheries. It helps them to set up their own producer co-operatives, and is encouraging them to go in for cultivation of much needed vegetables and other crops.

It is trying other things as well, like Malcolm Norris's activities, Norris is a half-breed who helped to organize these descendants of (mainly) Scottish and French fur traders and Indian women into a considerable political force. At least their votes count. On the other hand, the Treaty Indians, as pensioners and wards of the federal government, have no electoral rights.

Today, Malcolm Norris is a special field officer of the government. His job is to encourage the exploration of the still undeveloped mineral wealth of the province. He helps train prospectors, but he is also training his own people to become prospectors.

I went to one of his lectures in a shack at Buffalo Narrows, the trappers were there, to be shown films of the refining of gold and copper and to hear him and a young geophysicist. His colleague explained how with magnetometers, electromagnets and scintillometers, airplanes and helicopters had detected deposits from the air minerals buried in the mountains or under the lakes. Using his air survey maps, he told them where they should look. Then Norris, with all the saltiness of a veteran woodsman, talking to his own people told them what they should look for.

Malcolm Norris.
Malcolm Norris (centre) with J.C. Paulsen (left) and Saskatchewan Government Airways
pilot Al Hartley at MacIntosh Bay, Lake Athabasca, July 1948.
Saskatchewan Archives Board R-A9302 .

He produced specimens of the rocks they might find along their trails, iron, chromium, copper, mica, silver, gold, lead, tin and dozens of minerals known to exist in this region. Then he introduced them to the minerals of the atomic age, graphite, beryllium, coarse emerald and lithium (used in the H-bombs).

He showed them a bit of a rock with a bright yellow scar, and held a box about the size of a camera over it. The box started to click fiercely, "That's uranium," he said, "and we know it exists in these parts." Uranium, the source of "Eskotik otchit kanchipyik", which in Cree means "lightning that comes out of rocks," or, less poetically, atomic energy.

Uranium Ore.
Uranium Ore sample.

Chronicles of Condon, Second of Series one 20, has made an enormous contribution to man's triumph over the atom. And although his estimate is a casual one, made in part for his own amusement; and instruction, it has a serious significance of its own.

It serves to point up a fact that very few people even those in the higher reaches of Washington officialdom have really grasped. A new kind of thermonuclear weapon (it should not properly be called a hydrogen bomb) represents a "quantum jump" at least as important as the first atomic bomb. "Quantum jump" is scientists' shorthand for an unprecedented situation, transforming scientific break-through.

First the simple, disagreeable fact is that American scientists and Russian scientists too, alas, have done what was previously thought to be inherently impossible. They have found a way to use uranium 238 natural uranium, the stuff that is dug out of the ground, as bomb material.

This has been public knowledge, at least among scientists, ever since the Japanese announced the presence of split atoms or uranium 238 in the fall-out from our Pacific thermonuclear tests. How it is done is of no interest to the layman, what is of interest to the layman is that this enormous scientific advance opens up the possibility of genuinely unlimited destruction at very low cost. Combined with the fall-out phenomenon, it basically transforms the whole world situation.

For example, since the entire Soviet stockpile of atomic bombs can now be used as mere triggers for the immensely more powerful thermonuclear weapon, the Soviet stockpile has been multiplied by a factor estimated as high as 100. The Soviets have thus presumably overnight entered the age of atomic plenty. The superiority of the American strategic air command over the Soviet "long range air force" still provides the U.S. with an important margin of superiority. But this margin cannot be expected to last forever.

What happens when it is lost, when the Soviets can visit wholly unlimited destruction on this country, as we already can on Russia? Will not the U.S. strategic air force, the centre of American military power, then be neutralized? The U.S. air force itself has recognized that this is a serious problem to deal with.


Author: Webmaster - jkcc.com
"Date Modified: May 12, 2024."

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