2. The Distant Past
3. First Nations
4. The Fur Trade
7. Railway Era
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The first European to explore this part of the prairies was La
Verendrye, who in 1838 made a journey south from the forts he had
established near Portage La Prairie and Winnipeg, in search of the
Mandan Indians, who were supposed to know a route to the western
sea. His route took him through this region.
In April 1742, his two sons, travelled up the Assiniboine and Souris
Rivers, in another visit to the Mandans. There is every reason to
believe they camped at Sourisford, as mention is made in their records
of the Antler Creeks; called in Cree "He-a-pa-wa-kpa" or "Head and
Horus Creek", mention is also made of David Thompson in 1897 and
Alexander Henry in 1804, also passed this way
The Fur Trade
In the 18th and 19th Centuries, fur trading posts along the Souris
River had access to the surrounding plains - the grazing grounds of the
bison. They were key to the production and supply of pemmican, which
supported the rest of the fur trade. A total of 18 posts – belonging to
companies and independents alike – grew and faded from the Souris River
between present-day Souris, Manitoba and Minot, North Dakota.
The area was home to an American Fur Company Trading Post believed to
be near where North Antler Creek enters the Souris.
The Metis Hunting Grounds
Beginning around 1820 large hunting expeditions originating in the Red
River Settlement set out twice yearly to supply the settlers and the
HBC with pemmican and hides. Often the Souris Plains supplied all they
needed but as the bison population fell sharply they had to travel for
weeks before they came into contact with the animals.
Around 1820 when the hunting expeditions began, 540 carts were
involved. The passing of several decades saw these numbers grow to 820
and reach its peak in 1840 with a record of 1,210 carts. There were two
organized hunts each year: a larger one in summer and a smaller one in
autumn. For days in advance of a hunt the Red River Settlement would
shut down as preparations for the expedition were under way. After
everyone was gathered the rules and regulations for the hunt were laid
down with solemnity. The officials of the hunt were also chosen before
the five- or six-mile train (eight to 10 kms) of Red River Carts set
off in search of the bison.
The hunting communities varied in size; some only several families
large, others with populations that reached 1,000. Métis families
congregated in these communities for convenience as well as for safety
and protection due to the presence of competing First Nations, such as
Dakota and Assiniboine. The villages were made up of roughly built but
sturdy huts which provided sufficient protection from winter weather
and harsh temperatures. It often took no longer than a day or two to
construct such a hut with the aid of a single axe and a knife.
Wealthier traders would often have multi-room dwellings which were used
to house religious services and dances. These social activities were
the main source of entertainment throughout the long winter of hunting,
processing and tanning hides and making pemmican.
general locations of the some of the wintering communities that existed
in southwest Manitoba. CREDIT: Adapted from John Welsted "Geography of
A wintering community generally consisted of hunters and their families
and a few Métis fur traders. The leader or chief of each community was
often the most accomplished hunter or main fur trader. In the 1850s and
'60s, a missionary priest was often present as well, and he frequently
assisted in leadership duties in addition to aiding in the relief of
social discord, the presence of which could challenge the integrity and
effectiveness of the community altogether.
Buildings were usually constructed in late fall in preparation for
winter and abandoned in early spring. Sites of past communities were
not generally returned to year after year because of changes in the
bison's wintering range, and also due to the fact that rival First
Nations would often burn the buildings to the ground as soon as they
were unoccupied. New camping places were chosen every year.
At least until the 1860s, Métis hunters returned to the Red River each
spring to sell their robes before returning to the prairies for the
summer bison hunting season. As the bison disappeared in the late
1870s, wintering communities lost their economic function and most of
them simply disappeared from the prairies, with the exception of a few
that made the successful switch to agricultural communities. Métis
hunters either started up homesteads of their own, joined First Nation
bands or settled in other established communities.
Métis wintering communities were created in response to social and
economic conditions in Manitoba. Though practiced for only a short
time, the formation of wintering communities was a crucial element in
the emerging Métis identity and pre-railroad prairie culture.