Working in the present while preserving the past for now and the future

Stories by Miriam Simoens

Trapping in the 1950’s

 

Jack Tuokko, my Father, became a trapper in order to supplement the farm family income.

 

His natural affinity for roughing it in the bush made this activity an adventure which he tried to instill in his children. We were all taught how to set and check traps and dress furs for sale. My older siblings would snare rabbits in winter along the bush trails to school. Dad learned how to handle guns while in the Finnish Army and passed that knowledge unto us as well.

 

Dad would start out on his trap line before day break with his backpack of supplies, compass and knife at his waist, and a rifle slung over his shoulder. It was understood that at times he would be too far down river to make it home at night. However, we were confident of his ability to survive alone in the wilderness. Trap lines criss-crossed somehow, and he would sometimes meet up with fellow trappers. They had an honor code to never steal from another’s traps. Shacks were set up along the way that would offer basic shelter from the storms and the night.

 

Once in late spring with a heavy pack of furs, he tried to take a shortcut home across Pinawa Bay and fell through the ice. He managed to use the sharp point of his knife to slowly pick his way back to safety. Once back on shore, he built a fire to regain his body heat and dry his clothes before continuing home with his pack of furs.

 

He was often proud of his catch and very good at dressing the skins. One day he arrived home quite excited because he managed to catch one of those elusive wolverines. Artfully hand-made wooden stretchers and forms were used to shape and dry the skins for sale. In spring the local fur man would come to barter for a best price of each piece and then cart them away to the bigger fur market in Winnipeg.

 

The older boys would accompany him on the trap line sometimes. Albert once decided to go on his own. The lake ice offered him safe passage heading out, then strong winds caught and moved the ice pack leaving him stranded on the far shore. As he waited for favorable weather he ate every morsel of food from his pack, so he staved off hunger by eating and enjoying the muskrats from his catch. We celebrated his safe return home a few days later.

 

None of us became trappers when we grew up, but that sense of outdoor adventure stuck with us.

 

Written by Miriam Simoens, and submitted to The Leader

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