Tuesday, 20 November 2012


The conclusion of Martin Hunter's Snow-shoes and Snow- shoeing, written around the turn of the century (1900) - from the Nipigon Museum Archives

"There was never any stinting of provisions for these trips by the company, but we, the fellows who "hit the trail", hated like everything to carry an over-abundance. On a journey of 200 or 300 miles, a day's extra grub was taken, but if more was forced on us it was usually cached the first day out, and we abided the consequences."

"It is not generally known that continuous walking on snow-shoes lengthens a man's stride very considerably. I have known men whose usual summer step about the fort would be twenty-nine or thirty inches, to have increased by spring (after considerable tripping on snow-shoes) to thirty-three or thirty-six inches. This lengthening out is imperceptibly acquired and it takes then a month to get back to the short, quick step of the previous year."

"With good footing one gets over distances much quicker and with less fatigue on snow-shoes than he does without them. Men of the North prefer to wear their snow-shoes even on four inches of snow rather than be slipping about with their moccasins only. Four or five inches of snow on a good solid foundation such as ice or frozen muskeg, makes ideal walking, and a young, vigorous man will reel off the miles, three or four an hour and keep it up all day, yes, and for days on end. However, to keep this up one has to eat frequently to have the steam at the right pressure and prevent wear and tear. With trippers on the long trail the custom is to make a fire about every ten miles, or in other words, after walking steadily two and a half or three hours, one wants a little change from putting one foot before the other without ceasing and the body requires refreshment. It is a little bit out of the ordinary to be able to get the inevitable bundle off one's back and potter about boiling tea and frying pork, and then, seated on newly cut boughs before a cheerful blaze, with that relish and gusto one swallows incredible quantities of strong black tea, eats his share (and longs for more) of the fried bacon or pork. And then he and his "pard" alternately dip pieces of galette trans-fixed on the point of their sheath knives into the remaining grease in the frying pan. Grease or sugar is life in the cold woods and is never wasted."

"There is no work so exhausting as tramping on snow-shoes with a pack on one's back. It keeps a man as hard as nails, but in perfect health. A man in our service walked with me for several years. His weight all that time stuck pretty close to 160 pounds while mine varied very little from 145. In due time we both received promotion and our duties no longer required us to leave the posts. As a result he ran his weight up to 225 pounds while mine through the same inactivity has increased to 185."

"Yes, snow-shoes are of the first importance in the North country. Without them thousands would die of starvation and as so much depends on their being good and durable, the best are none too good."

Tying the Snow-Shoe

"I have omitted the tying of the snow-shoe to the feet. There are several ways of doing this and each tribe of Indians thinks its mode the best. The Montagnais Indians use no bridle for the toe, but merely pass one end of the string over the toe and through the post-hole of the other side. If the string's slack they merely loop the whole string over the toe piece and keep rolling until they have it short enough, or slack it if too tight. The Algonquins have a separate piece of leather for the bridle and it is laced in and out of the meshes of the main knitting each side of the toe-hole, and left slack enough where the toe goes in to allow of three fingers on edge being introduced beneath it. The snow-shoe string proper ought to be five feet long and three-quarters of an inch broad. Thick dressed moose hide is what is generally used, as once it is thoroughly stretched it remains so. Dressed caribou skin is used by the interior Indians, but it is not satisfactory, stretching to all lengths when wet and shrinking tight up to the feet with the frost toward evening. The best strings I ever used were strips of well dressed calfskin such as is used for uppers of boots. Once I had them adjusted they remained so for months without altering; frost or mild weather had no effect on them."

"To make the tie, place the toe under the bridle and draw the two long strands of the main string up through the post-holes until the loop sets comfortably on top of the heel under the ankle bone; pass the left side over to the right in front, passing the end under the bridle; take the right-hand side string and pass its end under the left-hand strand and on top of the bridle - this makes them crisscross with the bridle engaging the two. The strands are then looped one on each side of the foot, a little back of the band and the two ends carried and tied behind the foot out of the way."

"It is a great comfort to have one's snow-shoe strings so that one can slip the foot in and out in a moment without using the fingers in bitter cold weather. It is not necessary to tie and untie each time the shoe is put on or taken off. To take off, stand one snow-shoe on the other, bend the knee forward and the toes at the same time. With this action the front part of the foot will readily slip out sideways from the bridle and the whole foot slip from the double loop. The shoe is put on in the same way reversed."

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