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Home >> From 1600 to 1867 >> Identity, Culture & Communities >> Audio/Video

Daily life and challenges for the various groups involved in the fur trade.

Image 1
Speaker(s): Louis Bird
Year Recorded: March 5, 2003
Transcribers: Jennifer Orr; editing by Tanja Hutter. This audio clip originally appears on OurVoices.ca under the title 0138 - Fish Nets.

L'audio en français n'est pas disponible.
Location: Recorded in English, in Peawanuck, Ontario
Copyright Holder: Louis Bird & University of Winnipeg (OurVoices.ca). Photo: George Fulford

Listen To Audio File: Part I
Listen To Audio File: Part II
Listen To Audio File: Part III

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  (L4) Tale of Other HBC Employees (Part 4): Fur Harvesters & Goose Camps

[cont'd from Tale of an HBC Mailman Part 3]

[audio 1 - fastforward to 1:11]

"The next one I’m gonna talk about is the person that worked again for the Hudson Bay Company, somewhere around 1682 — when the fur trading company that’s known as the Hudson Bay Company, begins to operate all around the Hudson Bay and James Bay.

Having to have a distant place to do fur trade with the people, with the First Nation, and also to get all the fur around the bay, requires a lot of volunteer work, or even hundreds of trappers have to travel distances to bring their furs to the trading post. And, also, the departing point or receiving point has to be located, which was then, at the beginning, at the York Factory.

York Factory was the centre of the activity at that time, and so is recorded in the Hudson Bay history. But never was recorded very much about how the Natives cooperate. There never is any, any given credit to these people—and they are the ones who established the company. Not the fur-traders, but the people who gathered the furs, harvest the furs of all kinds.

They work at the same time, they were the local people who were hired to do all the labour. To help the factors, make settlement of the Europeans to stay alive, to get the wood, the heating supply, and all those things. And the food, to be able to feed the people who work there during the summer.

And also, especially in summer, they would have to have food to feed them in early spring when they begin to work. And, there were many. When the ships begin to come, there were more coming, and there was no food. There was, actually, there was not enough food for them and they had to have local food. And it was said that time then, the Hudson Bay Company had a harvesting activity. Let’s say, local food. Therefore, they established some sort of a goose camp operation, and also a fishing camp operation.

Now we come to the point of goose camps. Some local people, elders, some are elders in James Bay who remembered the stories from their grandfathers who passed on to them, have mentioned about how the Hudson Bay Company used to set up the goose camps, and hired the locals to shoot the geese, and then the geese would be stored into wooden kegs where the bacon and those things had been brought in.

And there was a trade. It was in those wooden kegs, you know, the snow geese were packed and in salt. And these kegs would be shipped into York Factory. By these a little York food for them that I have mentioned. [end of audio 1]

[audio 2]
And the keg of salted geese is heavy. I think they can pack about thirty to forty geese in those large ones, and they were very heavy.

They have to be shipped to York Factory, and then there are also local people who did fishing, at the same time. After they shoot the geese, they begin to fish. And they were those employees of the Hudson Bay Company, something like Moose Factory, and maybe Kashechewan and Fort Severn, in the years later, that they begin to harvest the geese and the fish. And the fish they have, the local people prepare them and preserve them.

They make a smoked fish, and they make a powdered fish, for Ni-wa hi-jun. Many people call pemmican just because of day is made. But actually, it is dried meat and also fish, dried and grounded into a powder. And then when it’s cooked, when it is mixed with the oil, or anything else, that’s when it’s called pemmican. Not before.

So that’s a story about these kinds of things that happened. And so, it was then that things begin to happen. When the goose hunting comes we establish and also the fishing. So the story is centered now into the Winisk area. Winisk is one of the finest places for the geese hunting.

And, the company really benefited from it. All they have to do is bring in one of their staff, employee to come and bring the black powder in, shell, shots, and primers for the gun, and the local people will do the shooting. It was said that a pound, a cup of, measuring cup of gunpowder was given to each person and a few pound of shots. And this cup, they say you could fire maybe eleven shot. What you got left after you have shot five geese, that belongs to you, as a payment.

And, when this thing was over, when there’s no more way to be able to preserve the geese or to store them away for the shipment to York Factory or Fort Severn, that’s when they stop. And this man, who have brought those shots, I mean powder and the shots, he turns his attention to fishing. He has nets, keel nets, and also he has a seine net.

And so the local people begin to fish. And, the women try to fish and powder the fish, and all these were packaged and delivered to Fort Severn, or either to York Factory at the last fine season of the year. That is Indian days. So sometimes the people, the sailors from the York Factory were able to come and sail, and pick up all these preserved food, then take them to York Factory.

It was one of those people that we talked about in Winisk. And these, these men who worked they were called fishermen. He who come to fish, whatever it is, he who come to set a net was his name — Opaakitahwe. [end of audio 2]

[audio 3]
Again, here is not...there is not a sureness that there was only one person who did that. They could have been a series of men, and most of them were home guards from Fort Severn or from the York Factory. And they, most of them they were half-breeds.

One of the stories that we got, is that one, the last one that was there from York Factory, came to be very old and turned blind, and wasn’t able to walk. And his trainee, which eventually was known as Bird, Pennishish. This the last Opaakitahwe, the last fisherman, was carried back to Fort Severn by his servant. Carried him on his back like a, like a baby (chuckles). Taken back to the Fort Severn for retirement. His name has never been known. That’s the only thing that is known to this kind of person is Opaakitahwe.

That’s a name given to this employee. And, the question is, when did this operation begin? And when did it stop? Who were the names? And, in Winisk story, the last one that did the job was a family called Bird. The first Bird, and then his son, and then finally, the service was not required. I don’t know what year was the last Opaakitahwe came, from Fort Severn or York Factory. So that’s one other thing that happens during that time.

Many of those people have done an extraordinary work for the Hudson Bay Company but they’re all totally forgot. And they were some, the local people who did most of the work and they were not even mentioned in there, in the great Hudson Bay Company. They were the people in my opinion who created the Hudson Bay Company. So, this is the end of my story. Thank you for listening."

Other Related Material
Learn more about the aboriginal people who helped establish the HBC - enter 'Louis Bird' in the search box to your left.

Read more excerpts from James Isham - enter 'Isham' in the search box to your left.

Who is Louis Bird?

Visit OurVoices.ca - for more stories (beyond the fur trade) by Louis Bird, available in Cree and English.

Did You Know?
Although the Omushkego Cree supplied the HBC with valuable geese, it was up to the Englishmen to preserve the meat.

In 1753, Chief Factor James Isham complained about receiving spoiled meat from one of York Factory's goose tents: “Was it possable for the Dead to rise certainly the Geese salted at North River last spring when I had a Cask opened would have flown away.”