People & Culture

Traditional trapping in the North

Once a traditional way of life across Canada, trapping survives and even thrives in communities throughout the North, including Colville Lake, N.W.T.
Many Colville Lake locals spend their time in and around trapping cabins, preparing the pelts they’ve collected. Expand Image
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“In the Northwest Territories, we look at fur as an industry that provides local people with an income,” says Francois Rossouw, manager of fur marketing and traditional economy for the territorial government. That’s certainly true in Colville Lake, a tiny settlement about 745 kilometres northwest of Yellowknife. One of the most traditional First Nations communities in the territory, its economy relies mainly on trapping, hunting and fishing.

In October, trappers journey into the bush to set their line of quick-kill traps, a more humane way of trapping that the territory adopted in the mid-1990s. Come December, they collect their bounty and return to Colville Lake to prepare the fur for auction.

The furs are inspected, and each trapper is paid an advance per pelt — they receive more money after the auctions, which are held in January, February, May and June in North Bay, Ont., and Seattle. Meanwhile, Rossouw documents each pelt in a database, a record that helps ensure the harvest remains sustainable. “In our mind,” he says, “trappers are an endangered species, and we do our best to make sure they can still operate.”

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Adrian Oudzi, one of Colville Lake’s younger trappers, shows off his marten pelts. 
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Margaret Brown feeds her huskies frozen lake trout. 
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Locals such as Modeste Eddibar, seen here scraping a wolf hide outside his cabin, rely on the fur harvest for part of their income. 
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Modeste Eddibar hangs and dries his wolf pelts in the kitchen area of his cabin — each pelt can fetch up to $400. 
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Marti Lys (left, in red), a renewable resources officer with the government of the Northwest Territories, and Francois Rossouw stop to rest during their day-long snowmobile journey from Norman Wells to Colville Lake for the December fur harvest.
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Francois Rossouw and Marti Lys count and tag pelts, which can include those of wolverines, martens, foxes and wolves. 
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Marti Lys counts and tags marten pelts. 
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Francois Rossouw examines pelts and other trapping-related artifacts at a private museum owned by the founder of Colville Lake, Bern Will Brown. 
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Daniel Tutcho (centre) piles pelts on a table for younger students of Colville Lake school to examine. 
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Teacher Sheldon Snow displays a cheque made out to the Colville Lake school’s youth fur trapping program. 
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Youth trapper Dakota Orlias waits for a signed cheque from renewable resources officer Marti Lys. 
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Along with hunting and fishing, trapping remains a key source of income and a way of life for many locals, including Robert Kochon. 
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Marie Kochon, a community elder, wears mitts made from Arctic hare. 
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Bobby Manuel displays his furs inside the Wildlife Officer’s cabin.
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Bern Will Brown, a missionary, founded Colville Lake. 
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Our Lady of the Snows mission was built by Bern Will Brown in 1962. 
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The modern neighborhoods in Colville Lake include huskies, a Ford F-150, ATVs, satellite TVs and a teepee. 
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Travellers snowmobiling between Norman Wells and Colville Lake can rest at cabins like these. 
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