Living off the land

Perhaps some of the oldest activities on the face of the planet are hunting, fishing and trapping and over time the ways to undertake the activities have been most diverse. Foraging for food has always been something that humankind has had to do, dating back to the beginning of any civilizations known to man. Foodways (the eating habits and culinary practices of a people, region, or historical period) were marked by the seasonality of available foods. The early pioneers in the Seigneurie of Metis made use of the food around them; they were able to hunt, trap, and fish to provide the necessities for survival – meat and fish for sustenance, and fur for clothing, bedding and shelter. In the last 200 years, food consumption has changed in Metis and very few of us today eat the food that our forebears consumed. Today only a few still hunt, fish and trap in the Metis area.

Throughout history, people have learned to preserve food, again taking on different forms depending on the time of year, the place you lived, or the social or occupational situation. By the late 18th and up to the early 20th centuries, perishable foods could be preserved by drying, smoking, pickling, stewing in sugar, and salting. Salt is one of the most effective preservatives and was frequently used for meat and fish. Some animals, birds and fish were tough and not very tasty, but all of them could be eaten, and the Metis pioneers soon learned quickly the best ways of cooking different types of meat, birds and fish.

Hunting animals in Metis during the summer was not done because the animals were too lean after surviving winter to hunt and the warm weather made it difficult to keep the meat from going bad quickly. Hunting was and is done in the late fall or early winter, once animals had or have fattened up, with the colder weather also helping to preserve the carcasses.  Meats not immediately consumed could be preserved for later use. The early pioneers talked about partridges, nearly approaching the size of Scottish pheasants, and how when you came upon them, they generally took to the tree, and were easy to shoot. They also spoke of deer being so numerous, and that their flesh was much more superior to that of the deer in Scotland.

Fishing has existed since long before recorded history and is practiced worldwide, with seafood being the major source of food for many cultures. Summertime in Metis was a good time for fishing with the rich supplies of fish found in great numbers only a few miles from the shore and fishing even possible in shallower waters nearby (for example, using weirs and even off of wharves. Farmers, clerks, tradesmen, and their families set about catching and processing (i.e., salting, drying and smoking) and enjoyed the benefits of its rich nutritional value during the winter months.

Trapping has been a part of human history since our prehistoric ancestors, who were hunters and gatherers. They invented the original pit traps, snares, capture nets, and deadfalls. Winter was a busy time for the men in Metis as they checked their traps, removed the animals, moved the traps to new places, watched for fresh tracks, and studied the habits of the animals. The early Metis pioneers mentioned that the hares were half the size of those in Scotland, but were excellent in soup and stew.

1896 Astle boys Hunting party

Mr. Mathewson hunting ducks

Turriff-Hunting

Youths fishing-Astle collection

Mathewson c1900s fish

Mr. Ferguson from Lorna Pitcher

Turriff -catch of fish (Turriff Beach)

Fred Turriff and his little helper C.1950

Turriff nets drying

Fish Nets Drying Near Metis Beach

A childhood memory

Delmar Tuggey, when younger and living in Metis, used to trap between McNider Road and Grier’s Hill. One spring afternoon in the early 1960s, I met up with him. Though he was an adult and I but a 7-year-old child, Delmar – he was always known as Delmar rather than Mr. Tuggey even to kids – asked me how things were going and I told him about this rabbit foot that I wanted.

It was a fad of the time to have this popular lucky keychain rabbit foot that ranked up there with the four-leaf clover and horseshoe in terms of having your wishes come true. These lucky rabbit key chains were dyed different fluorescent colours and all children seemed to have one, except me. I had heard the children saying that if you had one it would bring you good luck, happiness, and you could even be courageous in adverse situations. Just what I needed, I thought, as at this time in my life I seemed to be getting into trouble a lot.

It was about two weeks later when I met up with Delmar again, and he said he had a gift for me.  Well, I thought to myself, this was going to be a great day. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a hind leg of a hare’s foot that he had trapped, and he gave it to me saying to me that the left rear foot was the luckiest. I thanked him – and remember thinking that it looked nothing like the key chains that the others had, and what was I going to do with it.

The foot ended up in my trinket box where it stayed for many years, and on and off I would look at the foot and stroke the soft fur. The older I got and the more I thought of Delmar and the lucky hare foot that he gave me, I realized that knowing Delmar was lucky for me because he taught me the quality of being kind and giving, because he thought about other people’s needs and wants, even to a child’s.

What I wished for…

What I got had a lot more meaning