Manitoba History: “The Storehouses of the Good God:” Aboriginal Peoples and Freshwater Fisheries in Manitoba
by Frank Tough
The recent conflict between Mi’kmaq communities and lobster fishermen that followed the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in R. v. Marshall, was an expression of fundamental disagreement about the exercise of Treaty and Aboriginal rights in modem times.  The Court found that “... the 1760 treaty does affirm the right of the Mi’kmaq people to continue to provide for their own sustenance by taking the products of their hunting, fishing and other gathering activities, and trading for what in 1760 was termed ‘necessaries,’” and that nothing less would hold up “the honour and integrity of the Crown.”  While there was much discussion of the contemporary meaning of a treaty signed in 1760, the Supreme Court denoted a commercial dimension to the right: “The treaty right contemplated in 1760 was not a right to trade generally for economic gain or the accumulation of wealth, but a right to trade for ‘necessaries.’ In a modem context this would be equivalent to a ‘moderate livelihood’ which includes such basics as ‘food, clothing and housing, supplemented by a few amenities’.”  The Court recognized the commercial relations at the time of the treaty and interpreted the treaty in a manner that permitted the recognition of these rights within the meaning of section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. The Marshall judgment not only identified a limit for the scope of the commercial right, but also asserted that the right could be regulated: “Catch limits that could reasonably be expected to produce a moderate livelihood for individual Mi’kmaq families at present-day standards could be established by regulation and enforced without violating the treaty right.”  As with many Aboriginal rights cases, historical documents loomed large in the evidence presented at trial. Also at issue in the Marshall case was the use of “extrinsic evidence” (documentation on the historical and cultural context of a treaty) for removing ambiguity from the written terms of a treaty. 
Although the Métis have been recognized as an Aboriginal people whose rights have been affirmed and recognized by the Constitution Act, 1982, the judicial recognition of Métis rights, lags behind the recognition of Treaty rights by the courts. Recently, courts in Saskatchewan have been confronted with Métis hunting and fishing rights. In R. v. Morin and Daigneault, Judge Meagher of the Provincial Court of Saskatchewan found that in the region loosely known as Treaty Ten: “... Métis of northwest Saskatchewan have an Aboriginal right to fish and that the right arose prior to 1870. I find that no legislation or agreement with the Crown has extinguished that right, I refer in particular to the Dominion Lands Act, 1906, and Order-in-Council 1459.”  The absence of any evidence to show that a right had been clearly and plainly extinguished was crucial. Subsequently, in 1997, Judge Laing of Queen’s Bench dismissed the Crown’s appeal in Morin and Daigneault, thereby providing further judicial recognition of a Métis Aboriginal right to fish. 
The judicial recognition of an Aboriginal right entails a satisfaction of certain legal tests, which often result in a close examination of history. Judge Laing stated: “... it should be noted that the case law makes it perfectly clear that Aboriginal rights are site specific and the finding of an existing Aboriginal right in one group in one location does not establish the same right for another group in a different location.”  In R. v. Van der Peet, Lamer C.J. indicated the specificity of an Aboriginal right:
Thus the recognition of a Métis Aboriginal right to fish in parts of Saskatchewan does not mean that the same right will be automatically accepted in other provinces.
In Van der Peet, the Supreme Court indicated a test for determining Aboriginal rights in Section 35 (1) of the Constitution: “identifying those traditions, customs and practices that are integral to distinctive Aboriginal cultures will serve to identify the crucial elements of the distinctive Aboriginal societies that occupied North America prior to the arrival of Europeans.”  Again Lamer C.J. stated: “... in order to be an Aboriginal right an activity must be an element of a practice, custom or tradition integral to the distinctive culture of the Aboriginal group claiming the right.”  In this sense, the activity can not be incidental or occasional.  The courts are to look for evidence that “...the practice, tradition or custom was one of the things which made the culture of the society distinctive—that it was one of the things that truly made the society what it was.”  Lamer C.J. stated: “The task of this Court is to define Aboriginal rights in a manner which recognizes that Aboriginal rights are rights but which does so without losing sight of the fact that they are rights held by Aboriginal people because they are Aboriginal ... the Court must define the scope of s. 35 (1) in a way which captures both the Aboriginal and the rights in Aboriginal rights.”  The judicial recognition of Aboriginal rights do not arise by happenstance.
To demonstrate that freshwater fish was integral first to Indians, and then to a Métis way of life, it will be necessary to consult a variety of historical records. This article will outline the importance of freshwater fish to the development of Manitoba and concomitantly the integral nature of fishing to the traditional modes of life followed by the Métis. Historical documents and sources are used to highlight and illustrate the substantial role that fish resources have played in the past. With respect to the Métis, the importance of fish has been under-appreciated as early research grappled with the relative merits of buffalo hunting and agriculture. 
Manitoba has considerable water resources: major rivers that drain vast regions, its own “great” lakes of Winnipeg, Manitoba and Winnipegosis and thousands of smaller lakes in the Shield. These diverse water resources provide a variety of habitats for numerous species of freshwater fish. All of Manitoba waters are part of the Hudson’s Bay Drainage Basin which supports 79 species of freshwater fish in the province. When Bishop Taché compiled his scientific sketch of the Northwest in 1868, he noted that only four taxonomic orders of fish were present, and that some of the orders had only one family and that some of the families only had one genus and some genera had only one species; but he argued:
Taché lamented the lack of diversity according to scientific classification, however, he conveyed the importance of fisheries by recording a Métis perspective.
The most significant fishes in terms of supporting human populations in Manitoba include: lake sturgeon (Acispenser fulvescens), lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush), arctic char (Salvelinus alpinus), tullibee (Coregonus artedii), lake whitefish (Coregonus clupeaformis), goldeye (Hiodon alosoides), northern pike (Esox lucius), yellow perch (Perca flavescens), the sauger (Stizostedion canadense) and the pickerel (Stizostedion vitreum).  The fact that these species occupied different habitats and were found in different regions of the province, and that they congregate at different times, meant that a steady supply of fish was available.
Fisheries prior to European Contact
Fisheries were a source of abundance for Aboriginal people. Classification of Indians as “hunters” has obscured the importance of fish, and the location of many archaeological sites at narrows and rapids is indicative of the use of fish. Archaeological evidence also suggests that fish took on increasing importance over time.  Because fish could be harvested relatively easily at spawning times Manitoba’s numerous fisheries were a reliable food resource for Indians before contact with Europeans. The seasonal availability of a variety of fishes throughout much of the year ensured a reliable source of food. Fish were also reliable in the sense that when other more preferred sources of food failed, fish were available and prevented hardship.
The use of fish by northern plains Indians is perhaps a good test of the importance of fish in a geographical region that has been regarded as fish poor and a cultural area whose population has been purported to be totally dependent upon the bison. Archaeologist Brian Smith has provided evidence that there has been an over-emphasis on the importance of bison in parkland and plains.  He challenged the long established view that the culture of northern Plains Indians can be characterized as an absence of fishing.
Smith’s excavation of the Lebret site, a campsite on the Qu’Appelle River valley, revealed that plains groups had long exploited the nearby fishery.  While some bison bones were found, most of the faunal remains were from fish. He found that: “The archaeological evidence from the Lebret site demonstrates that, for 3,000 years and as recorded by historical observers, spring and probably fall occupations at fish camps were most common.”  Smith suggested that prairie rivers and lakes had a natural capacity to support large fish populations, that the silting of rivers with agriculture and the depletion of fisheries had obscured the fact that the prairie and parkland region were once “vastly abundant in fish resources.”  His appraisal of the availability of several species of fish found that the spring and fall spawning runs could support a regional band for several weeks or months. 
The seasonal movements of bison meant that they could not always be hunted in the parklands. Smith explained that: “During this time, notably in the spring, when lean periods were most likely to occur, fish would provide a reliable and abundant resource.”  Fish prevented starvation. He concluded:
Clearly, for some Indian Nations that occupied the parkland/plains region, fishing played a notable role in the annual cycle of economic activities.
In the northern Boreal Forest region, fish were even more available and were a crucial resource in an economy that was based on a mixture of gathering, hunting and fishing. The importance of fish to Indian livelihood prior to European settlement has a relevance to the mode of live developed by the Métis. Fishing was an important part of the seasonal economy during the early fur trade era when Cree and Assiniboine middlemen transported furs to the HBC trading establishments on the Hudson Bay coast. 
Fur Trade Fisheries
In his classic study, The Plains Cree, anthropologist David Mandelbaum noted the importance of fishing. Since this was an ethnographic study, he was not concerned about describing Plains Cree culture at a particular point of time. For the Plains Cree occupying the grasslands and parklands “Fish were eaten as a change from a steady diet of meat. When poor hunting forced the tribesmen to subsist on dried meat, fresh fish were especially welcome.”  Mandelbaum provided a detailed description of the construction and operation of a fish weir. He summarized the importance of fish to a culture that had a hunting orientation:
Because fish could most easily be caught when they concentrated, fishing sites were important locations in the seasonal rounds of Aboriginal people. Clearly fish provided sustenance, but fishing as an activity satisfied social purposes as well.
Fine-day (Kamiokisiskwew) was a key source of information for Mandelbaum’s field studies. Fine-day told Mandelbaum: “The whole camp would go to use a weir. There might be two or as many as fifty or sixty ... There were some places in the river that we came back to time after time ... No matter who made the weir, all encamped around it got an equal share of the fish.”  Fine-day’s account indicated that the camps could be large or small, that river fisheries were exploited regularly and all benefited from the harvests of the weir. Mandelbaum also recorded that “Dried fish were pounded, mixed with berries and fat, made into pemmican.”  The technique of preserving fish as pemmican indicates that this resource was not merely a diversion from bison, but that fish could be stored in order satisfy food needs long after the fishing season had passed.
Considerable ethnohistorical details on another major Aboriginal nations co-occupying the grassland and parklands of Manitoba has been compiled by Laura Peers. The Ojibwa came to southern Manitoba after migrating from the east and thus Peers felt that the large-scale fisheries conducted by the Ojibwa in the Lake of the Woods and Rainy River area were relevant.  Peers noted in her study of the Ojibwa of Western Canada that “consistent references are made in trade journals to Ojibwa harvesting fish ...”  Based on these records she reported that at Pembina the stock of sturgeon may have equaled or exceeded bison, that fish was an important food in the summer, and that major fisheries existed at Netley Creek/Red River, on the Assiniboine River near Brandon House, and the mouths of rivers emptying into Lake Manitoba. She concluded that “In general, though, fish remained a major staple of the Ojibwa diet.” 
In the fur trade era, fish were an importance source of “Country food” for provisioning trading posts. Importing English provisions by the Hudson’s Bay Company, even to the posts of the Hudson Bay coast, was expensive. Country provisions, including fresh meat, dried meat, fowl and fish, lowered the operating costs of the trading companies. When fur trading companies expanded inland, posts were located near well-known and productive fisheries. Much of the daily routine of post life was absorbed by tending nets and hauling fish. Reliable freshwater fish often ensured the survival of Aboriginal peoples and trading personnel when other food resources were scare.
Even in southwestern Manitoba, fish were of interest to the fur trade. In his 1819 report on the Red River district, Peter Fidler noted the fish rations for Brandon House: “Fish 7½ lb p day for man but in general they have more when they can be got.”  He also described the sturgeon which then frequented the Assiniboine River:
By use of a fence or weir to pen sturgeon Natives ensured that sturgeon were available for much of the summer.
During the winter of 1818-19, John Richardson M.D., surgeon to John Franklin’s arctic expedition, sojourned at Cumberland House post and he observed that whitefish is “a most delicious food, and at many posts it is the sole article of diet for years.”  With respect to the northern pike Richardson commented: “The pike abounds in every lake in the northern parts of America, and contributes much to the support of the Indians, as it is the only fish that is readily caught with the hook in the winter time; from the circumstances it has obtained the name of eithinyoo-cannoosh oo or Indian fish.”  After moose meat, Richardson observed that fish “forms almost the sole support of the traders at some of the posts.” 
A description of the qualities of the whitefish was given by Bishop Taché, a long-term resident of the Rupertsland:
Freshwater fish, especially the whitefish, were an essential source of sustenance for the populations of Rupertsland.
Fish were a considerable resource for both Europeans and Aboriginal peoples during the fur trade. Manitoba historian W. L. Morton noted that in the more northern regions “... dried whitefish and caribou venison kept the lonely traders from starvation.”  Even the marginal fisheries of the Hudson Bay Lowland provided important Country Provisions. At York Factory in 1874 some 30,981 fish made their way into the post’s provision shed.  But fish were also important to trading posts in the prairie/parkland region. In 1807-08, 41 people living at the HBC Pembina post consumed 1150 fish of various kinds and 775 sturgeon which weighed between 50 to 150 pounds.  With respect to the parkland area just west of Manitoba, Bishop Taché described the Qu’Appelle River as “... a small stream running through a delightful valley, and of which the expansion forms eight lakes, where the best kind of white fish [sic] abounds.”  Certainly our appraisal of resources has changed since the fur trade era, in part because the original fish stocks have been affected by more intensive exploitation and changes to habitat.
Norway House post journals between 1872 and 1876 indicate a cycle of fishing which took full advantage of the seasonal availability of different species. The fall whitefish season provided a major food inventory which was stored at the posts. In the early spring jackfish or northern pike were sought, in the early summer sturgeon were brought in, in the fall whitefish were the mainstay, and whitefish were again caught after freeze up and Indians traded sturgeon to the post in late winter. Fish were not only consumed by post personnel, but fish provided the main source of food for sled dogs. Moreover, Native peoples could come to the post for fish when other sources of food were scarce. After 1870, fishing remained an importance source of food for HBC posts such as Norway House, Fort Churchill, York Factory, Oxford House, The Pas, Moose Lake, and Berens River.  In terms of the commitment of labor time, post journals reveal that more time was spent fishing (repairing nets, setting and attending nets, hauling fish) than trading furs.
Red River Settlement
Today, it is scarcely imaginable that the waters of the Red and Assiniboine rivers in the vicinity of Winnipeg harbored productive fisheries. Yet from the beginning of the colony until its development as a relatively large, diverse settlement, and even after its joining with the Dominion of Canada, the river and nearby lake fisheries were an essential resource. Again an emphasis on the buffalo hunt in historical writing on the colony has overshadowed the less dramatic gillnet fishing.
In particular, during the first few years of the initial effort to establish a European agricultural settlement, fish provided essential sustenance. Upon the arrival of the Selkirk settlers in 1812 W. L. Morton noted that “the fish of the Red River met their immediate needs ...”  In a 1813 letter to Lord Selkirk, first governor of the colony, Miles MacDonell reported: “The Cos [HBC] people were nearly as ill of as ourselves—the river was therefore the main source of us all, which, from our being very scarce of hooks afforded by a scarcely supply of fish for so many people ...”  The problem then was the lack of a means of fishing and not the availability of the fish. MacDonell explained the importance of fish to the future settlement:
Clearly, even at a date long before the demise of the herds, bison and freshwater fish together provided complementary sources of food for the development of the Red River Settlement. The colony could not quickly or easily secure more stable food supplies and Morton stated: “Fortunate as the harvest was, fish from the river and the buffalo hunt at Pembina were once more the staple support of the colony during the winter of 1815-16 ...”  Even with the development of agriculture at the Settlement, fish remained a significant source of food for the livelihood of the inhabitants. The livelihood of the first European agricultural colonists was crucially dependent on local fish, but fisheries would remain an significant resource for the Red River Settlement long after 1812.
The form of land use, land tenure and land survey at Red River was essentially egalitarian. The levees and flood plain were dissected by legal divisions of narrow river lots. Thus everyone had access to the river, the treed belt running along the river banks, the higher and well drained soils near the river banks and the hay lands that were lower and located further from the river. Any other division of the land would have resulted in the misallocation of the natural resources found along this topographic profile. W. L. Morton noted that the Métis “... built their cabins in the wooded fringe of the river front for the sake of shelter and fuel. From the river itself they drew water and fish.”  Similarly, Morton noted that for the Métis of White Horse Plains (Parish of St. Francois-Xavier) the buffalo hunt and the fishery of Lake Manitoba were “the chief occupations.”  Historical geographer John Warkentin noted that “the settlers farmed the lots in the hope of supplying the Company with produce, but they were also engaged in hunting and fishing ...” and that the river “was as essential an element of the settlement as the very best land they tilled, and therefore it was natural that everyone should desire to live along it.”  More specifically, Barry Kaye, Wayne Moodie and Doug Sprague have observed that: “In the Parish of St. Francois-Xavier the population was largely French Métis; buffalo hunting, fishing, and the fur trade were their major foci of interest, resulting in small amounts of cultivated land.”  Thus the land system at Red River complemented an economic strategy that drew on a variety of natural resources.
In 1852 Alexander Ross, a long-time resident of the Red River Settlement, described the Métis population of Red River: “Hither, in fact, have flocked the half-breeds from all quarters east of the rocky mountain ridge, making the colony their great rendezvous and nursing place; while their restless habits lead them from place to place, from camp to camp, from the colony to the plains, and from the plains to the colony, like wandering Arabs, or the more restless Mamelukes, wherever hunting or fishing hold out to them a precarious subsistence.”  Although Ross was not impressed by a hunting livelihood which lead to a “vagrant mode of life,” he did document Métis use of resources.  His preference for agriculture caused him to overlook the adaptive flexibility and mobility of the traditional Aboriginal livelihood. 
Ross divided the Métis population into huntsmen, fishers and a group of extremely poor people—in order “To do them justice, however, we ought to remark that like other communities, they are distinguished into several classes.”  He recounted the lake fisheries:
While Ross’s descriptions in The Red River Settlement are not always chronologically specific, certainly by the early 1850s Métis use of lake fisheries indicate some occupational specialization. Ross’s views about the precarious subsistence of traditional pursuits may not be cogent today; but he provided documentation on the importance of fisheries to the Red River Métis. In fact, Ross identified fishing as a class of livelihood between the better off hunters and the relatively poor Métis. The fact that the nets were to be paid for out of the proceeds of the catch suggests that the means for fishing were provided on a credit basis.
Although occupational specialization was evident, obtaining food from a mixture of hunting, farming and fishing was a more secure means of livelihood in the long run. In reference to Canadians and Métis, Ross stated: “They are not, properly speaking, farmers, hunters, or fishermen; but rather confound the three occupations together, and follow them in turn, as whim or circumstances may dictate. They farm to-day, hunt to-morrow, and fish the next, without anything like a system; always at a nonplus, but never disconnected.”  This account of the allocation of labor time is characteristic of a diverse and mixed economy.
Joseph James Hargrave, historian and observer of the settlement after his arrival in 1861, narrated events in his book titled Red River. Hargrave noted that “The chief reliance of the colony for food lies in its agriculture, its Plain hunts, and its fisheries.”  He explained:
His account of the importance of fisheries is consistent with other observers.
Throughout the 1860s, fisheries remained important to the food needs of the Settlement. Trading fish was an activity of Red River society. For example, a HBC ledger of “colonial and country produce” for the Lower Fort Garry establishment gives account of a variety of commodities brought in for trade (1861-1862). In particular, a Mrs. Kippling frequently visited Lower Fort Garry to sell fish.  In 1863-64 Sioux from the United States camped at the Red River, but even these renowned buffalo hunters came to rely on fish. Hargrave recounted that: “To the great dissatisfaction of the Saulteaux they then spread themselves in bands over the country. A large number of them went to Lake Manitoba and were extremely successful in catching jackfish under the ice.”  In 1865-66 crops at Red River had been affected by grasshoppers, but more significantly, the fall buffalo hunts “turned out a more complete failure than had been known for years,” however, “the lake fisheries succeeded as well as usual.”  Indicative of the economic importance of fish, Hargrave included price data for various Red River commodities which had been published in the settlement’s newspaper The Nor’Wester (18 November 1865). At that time, whitefish sold for 25 shillings per 100 and sturgeon 2 shillings each.  With the failure of the fall hunt, the prospect of famine threatened the Red River Settlement in 1868. A Red River Co-operative Relief Committee was organized and one of the actions of the Council of Assiniboia was to allocate £500 for net twine, hooks, and ammunition “... to be distributed among such settlers as desired to attempt the fisheries in the neighbouring lakes.”  Joseph James Hargrave and Alexander Ross, as participants and observers of changes at Red River society, provided important evidence of the fisheries pursued by its residents.
Historian W. L. Morton provided a general description of the fisheries supporting the Red River Settlement in 1850:
Morton also considered fishing as an improvident means of existence, but recognized that the various species of freshwater fish (whitefish, pickerel, pike, goldeyes, catfish and sturgeon) were a significant source of sustenance for many Red River residents.
In some respects, Morton understated the strategic importance of the lake fisheries to the Settlement. As the range of buffalo herds contracted away from the Red River flood plain and as the population of the settlement increased, lake fisheries took on additional significance. The first movement away from the settlement belt that hugged the Assiniboine and Red rivers was a noticeable establishment of Métis people to Lake Manitoba at St. Laurent and Oak Point. In 1851, the Bishop of Rupertsland visited the Church Missionary Society mission at Fairford; enroute he arrived at a Lake Manitoba community, “a little duster of protestant houses, occupied by some families formerly resident at Red River, but now settled thereon account of a ready supply of Fish from the Lake.”  These lake locations had the advantage of good fisheries. Hargrave’s observations indicate that fish were a reliable food when survival was threatened. Evidence of prices for fish and occupation specialization of fishing illustrate that fish resources had a significance to Manitoba’s economic history that is not captured by terms such as “improvident.” Journals kept by Samuel Taylor, a long time member of Red River society, indicate that the residents of Red River engaged in fish activities and that fish were important to the diet.  For example his journal recorded that William Taylor and T. Moar went off to angle jackfish in April of 1863. 
Further evidence that the Métis of the Red River Settlement were involved with the I ake Winnipeg fisheries was provided in 1890. In July of that year Lieutenant Governor John Christian Schultz investigated a conflict between fishing companies and the Berens River Indian Band by meeting with the Band at Treaty Rock, Berens River. After Schultz suggested that the traditional Indian mode of fishing may have depleted the southern portion of Lake Winnipeg and that the commercial companies were not responsible for depletion, Indian spokesmen countered with a variety of reasons, including this observation by a councilor from the Band:
Both English-speaking and French-speaking Métis were involved in fishing. A fairly large-scale fishery was conducted by Red River Métis on Lake Winnipeg. Apparently this activity brought the Métis to Lake Winnipeg twice a year.
In 1868, a near famine occurred at Red River, and a relief committee imported food aid.  George Winship provided an account of the importance of fish in 1868:
While Winship did not have the same appreciation for freshwater fish as Richardson and Taché, he nonetheless recorded the absolute utility of fisheries as life-sustaining resource. The hunger of 1868 foreshadowed the great changes for the Settlement that came with the surrender of the HBC Charter of 1670, the Transfer of Rupertsland and the Northwestern Territory to the Dominion of Canada, Riel’s Provisional Government and the creation of the Province of Manitoba. But even after these events, freshwater fisheries remained important.
Freshwater Fisheries after 1870
The addition of Rupertsland and the Northwestern Territory to the Dominion of Canada in 1870 did not change the importance of fish to the local economy. In 1872, the first Fisheries Department report on Manitoba noted “that the white fish [sic] forms a staple article of food with the Indians and half-breeds.”  Local Fisheries official W. T. Urquhart reported that the whitefish, “as an Indians hunter said to me ‘Is to us [the Indians] in the water what the buffalo is on the land.’”  In 1872, Urquhart also provided an assessment of the state of the resource:
Fish were very much appreciated and recognized as an essential resource for effective human habitation of Manitoba.
Prior to 1870s fish were caught for subsistence purposes or local exchange, such as the trade in fish with the HBC, nonetheless, occupational specialization was developing. In the 1870s, prices existed for fish at the settlement, indicating that a local market existed. In 1872, an effort to create a larger scale fishery failed, but Urquhart reported that a large number of whitefish were “brought down from the lake, for sale at Winnipeg” and that the price of whitefish was sixteen shillings per 100 at the fishery.  The Dominion fisheries reports for 1876 and 1877 recorded yields, itemized gear, noted price increases, and documented that hundreds of men were involved in fishing lakes Winnipeg and Manitoba and the Red and Assiniboine rivers.  Thus, the existence of both a lake price and a Winnipeg market price, and the large number of fishers in the mid-1870s clearly indicate that a local Winnipeg market provided adequate demand to encourage a gradual economic development of an industry. In the mid-1870s, the Métis remained the largest group among Red River Settlement populations. 
The traditional fishery carried out by the Red River inhabitants continued after Manitoba became a province in the Dominion of Canada. In the mid-1870s, Fisheries Overseer D. Gunn provided Dominion officials with useful information on Manitoba fisheries. Gunn’s published descriptions of the local fisheries provide details on the conduct of the traditional fishery after 1870. Consistent with the account of Winship about the catfish, Gunn noted that “this fish contributes largely to the support of our population during three months of the year.”  In his first report on Manitoba fisheries, Overseer Gunn explained how a variety of fish were exploited. His account of the jackfish is of interest:
Lake whitefish and lake sturgeon became notable commercial catches, however, the common jackfish was a distinctive resource in the traditional economy.
The customary manner in which the catch of the fall whitefish was handled was described in detail by Gunn:
This technique of preserving the fall catch of whitefish was also carried out at trading posts throughout Rupertsland.
For the inhabitants of Red River, the decline of the buffalo hunt did not mean an end to traditional modes of livelihood. More likely, effort was directed from hunting to fishing. Gunn described the geography of the fisheries in the early 1870s:
The original boundary of the postage stamp province of Manitoba failed to include the Lake Winnipeg fisheries with the settlement belt of the Red and Assiniboine rivers. Given the level of fishing activity of its inhabitants, Gunn’s concern about an oversight concerning a political boundary is understandable.
Gunn also described the Lake Manitoba fishery: “In the first week of October what is termed “the fall fishing” begins; scores of Red River inhabitants lash their canoes or skiffs on carts, and trudge over the intervening plains to Manitoba Lake for the purpose of taking whitefish ...”  With respect to Lake Manitoba, Gunn’s report documented important details about the fishery:
Gunn’s discussion of this fishery clearly identified the importance of a variety of fishes to Aboriginal people. Northern pike were a crucial source of sustenance in the spring, a critical time when food shortages after a hard winter could easily cause hunger. Both Lake Manitoba and Lake Winnipeg provided local residents the opportunity to engage in seasonal economic activities. Again in 1875 Gunn commented “our people have gone to the Lakes in considerable numbers to try their fortune at the fall fishing.”  For 1875 Gunn documented the continued importance of non-commercial species of freshwater fish:
And in the post-confederation period, jackfish proved to be a valuable source of food in hard times, as Gunn reported in 1876:
All combined, whitefish, sturgeon, goldeye, catfish and northern pike provided basic sustenance on a year round basis. Thus from 1812 through to the mid-1870s freshwater fish were of particular importance to the residents of the Red River Settlement, a place known as the Métis Homeland. At least by 1850, the lake fisheries provided a specialized source of economic security for particular Métis and through the 1860s, with increasing populations and a declining buffalo hunts, the freshwater fish provided security.
As a prairie province, the economic landscape of Manitoba has been dominated by agricultural development. In fact, very little of the province’s surface topography can be described as prairie. Freshwater fish have played a notable role in the development of the province’s economy, even if conventional perceptions have not appreciated the historical significance of fishing.  In fact, freshwater fisheries have been an important and vital resource in the economic history of Manitoba. Fish were essential to Aboriginal livelihood prior to the development of the fur trade, were extremely useful or even an indispensable resource for both Europeans and Natives throughout the fur trade era, provided the raw material for a profitable export industry after 1880 and have remained a source of income and food for many Native communities. In the 1880s, an export demand for whitefish and sturgeon propelled a capitalist frontier northward. 
The creation of the Province of Manitoba was a significant event for Métis communities, however, it did not put an end their involvement in the freshwater fisheries. Métis people continued to feed themselves by fishing in all seasons, engaged in a petty trade and when an export-oriented commercial fishing industry developed on the larger lakes, Métis were involved in this industry. In 1881, Dominion Land Surveyors working on the township/range survey for southwestern Manitoba observed that some Métis had “squatted” on Marion Island on Oak Lake at a location where there were “plenty of pike in the lake and creek.”  In the 1880s, the emerging small-scale local market-oriented fishing industry was replaced by export-oriented companies. On Lake Winnipeg, fish companies such as Reid and Clarke and C.W. Gauthier carried on their own fishing operations but also traded with Indians and other fishermen “whose catch is small, and who part with their fish either in the local markets or sell them to larger dealers who export them to the United States.”  The labour force included Canadians from Ontario, Icelanders, and Native peoples. In 1887, the two largest companies (Reid and Clarke; and C. W. Gauthier) employed 80 white men, 40 half breeds, and 185 Indians. 
From the commencement of a large scale fishing industry until today, the Métis remained involved in commercial fishing industry.  They did this by selling fish under domestic or commercial licenses, or by working as hired hands on larger boats. And on occasion, even rough fish afforded livelihood, as the Deputy Minister of Fisheries, F. Gourdeau summarized in the 1901 annual report:
Similarly, with the development of the pickerel industry on Lake Winnipeg, W. S. Young, Inspector of Fisheries reported: “While it is true that a number of the commercial fishermen are engaged in this industry, yet the bulk of the men are settlers and Indians, residing on the lake, and it is a source of livelihood for them, especially so in as far as the Indians and half-breeds are concerned.” 
Even prior to the demise of the bison, various species of freshwater fish were essential to the survival of Aboriginal peoples in the parkland region of the northern plains. The development of the Canadian fur trade was facilitated by a ready supply of fish. Observers have tended to emphasize either the large buffalo hunting expeditions or else the agricultural progress of Red River society, yet a careful reading of the historical evidence shows that this predominately Métis settlement was also dependent upon fish. With the demise of bison, fishing efforts intensified and the importance of fish to the Métis was undiminished. From the original adaptation to the parkland and grassland environments, as evident in archaeological evidence, through the development of the fur trade and Red River society, fish were integral to the development of a Métis way of life. Efforts to argue for an Aboriginal right before a court without making use of the available historical evidence are likely to fail.
I would like to disclose to readers that I gave testimony in the Morin and Diagneault case. A report for R. v. Braconnier and Vermeylen (Provincial Court of Manitoba) served as a draft for this article. Comments made by Clem Chartier, Jean Teillet and Lesley Tough on the draft of the report were helpful. Chris Andersen assisted with verification.
10. R. v. Van der Peet, p. 200 [emphasis added]. In this judgment, the Supreme Court recognized that the pre-contact test of an Aboriginal right was not necessarily relevant to the Métis. R. v. Van der Peet, p. 207.
15. For a dichotomous view of the Red River economy, see G. Herman Sprenger, “The Métis Nation: Buffalo Hunting Vs. Agriculture In The Red River Settlement (Circa 1810-1870)” Western Canadian Journal of Anthropology vol. 3, no. 1 (1972) pp. 158-178; which is republished in Antoine S. Lussier and D. Bruce Sealey, eds. The Other Natives: The Métis vol. 1 (Winnipeg: Manitoba Métis Federation Press, 1978) pp. 115-130.
16. Monsignor Taché, Bishop of St. Boniface, Sketch of the North-West of America, Trans. Captain D. R. Cameron, (Montreal: John Lovell, 1870, French publication, 1868) pp. 205-206. The significance of this early scientific description should be appreciated by the fact this material was republished as an “Extract From Bishop Taché’s Sketch of the North-west,” in the Annual Report for the Department of Fisheries and Marine (1872), Canada, Sessional Papers, 1873, Paper Number 8, Appendix T, pp. 187-192. (Hereafter referred to as CSP, Fisheries.)
17. This list did not include species of fish from the sucker family (Catostomidae) and catfish family (Ictaluridae). For information on these freshwater fishes see W. B. Scott and E. J. Crossman, Freshwater Fishes of Canada Bulletin 184 (Ottawa: Fisheries Research Board of Canada, 1973).
18. See William J. Mayer-Oakes, “Prehistoric Human Population History of the Glacial Lake Agassiz Region,” Life, Land and Water W. J. Mayer-Oakes, ed. (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1867) p. 347.
19. Brian J. Smith, “The Historical and Archaeological Evidence for the use of Fish as an Alternate Subsistence Resource among Northern Plains Bison Hunters,” Aboriginal Resource Use in Canada: Historical and Legal Aspects Kerry Abel and Jean Friesen, eds. (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1991) pp. 35-49.
20. This site was located between Mission and Katepwa lakes. Lebret is a place were a Métis population concentrated. The parkland vegetation zone is usually described as a transition between the species found in the grassland and those found in woodlands. In terms of species, the parkland region is also described as aspen grove. In the Swan River district in the locale of San Clara, the vegetation pattern can be classified as mixed woods, and as such is sometimes referred to as southern boreal forest.
34. Provincial Archives of Manitoba, Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, B.22/e/1, Brandon House, Report on District, 1819. By comparison fresh meat rations, exclusive of bone, amounted to 5 pounds per day. (Hereafter HBCA.)
35. HBCA, B.22/e/1, Brandon House, Report on District, 1819. Later in his report Fidler more or less repeated his description of sturgeon by way of indicating an advantage of the Brandon House location: “Sturgeon which passes by here (Brand. [Brandon] House) about 10th May every Spring would afford a very ample supply for many people. Some of them ascend as high as Shell river more than 800 miles by the River—The natives frequently make fences of wood to prevent their descent to Lake Winipic and by this means preserve a constant and very ample supply for Summer. The Traders sometimes pursue this Indian method a few Burbot or what is commonly called here Cat fish about 8 to 12 lb each. There are also flat fish about 1/2 to 3/4 [pounds] each besides 2 or three other kinds.”
36. John Franklin, Narrative of a Journey to the Shores of the Polar Sea, In the Years 1819-20-21 and 22 (Edmonton: Hurtig 1969, Originally published in 1823) John Richardson, Notices of the Fishes, Appendix VI, p. 711.
44. For details of post economies in this era see Frank Tough, “As Their Natural Resources Fail”: Native Peoples and the Economic History of Northern Manitoba, 1870-1930 (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1996) pp. 20-34.
46. Chester Martin, ed. Red River Settlement: Papers In The Canadian Archives Relating To The Pioneers (Archives Branch, 1910) p. 18. Letter No. 8, Canadian Archives, Series M, 735, Selkirk Papers 3, pp. 764-794.
51. John Warkentin, “Manitoba Settlement Patterns,” Papers Read Before the Historical and Scientific Society of Manitoba, series 3, no. 16 (1961) p. 64.
52. For a detailed cartographic account of the seasonal activities and seasonal cycle of the Red River Métis see Barry Kaye, D. Wayne Moodie and D. N. Sprague, “The Red River Settlement,” Plate 18, Gentilcore, ed., Historical Atlas of Canada; The Land Transformed, 1800-1891, Vol. 2. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993).
53. Alexander Ross, The Red River Settlement: Its Rise, Progress, And Present State with some Account of the Native Races and Its General History, to the Present Day (London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1856, republished 1984) p. 84. The preface to Ross’s book is dated 1852.
55. See also Sprenger, “The Métis Nation: Buffalo Hunting vs. Agriculture;” and Arthur J. Ray, “Periodic Shortages, Native Welfare, and the Hudson’s Bay Company 1670-1930,” Shepard Krech III ed., The Subarctic Fur Trade: Native Social And Economic Adaptations (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1984) pp. 1-20.
59. Joseph James Hargrave, Red River (Republished by Helen Doherty, 1977, original 1871) p. 175.
60. Hargrave, Red River, p. 177.
61. HBCA, B.303/d/84, Lower Fort Garry, Account Books, 1861-1862. Kippling is identified as a Métis surname in D. N. Sprague and R. P. Frye, The Genealogy of the First Métis Nation: The Development and Dispersal of the Red River Settlement: 1820-1900 (Winnipeg: Pemmican Books, 1983) Table 1.
62. Hargrave, Red River, p. 315. See also page 318.
63. Hargrave, Red River, p. 390.
64. Hargrave, Red River, p. 506. The whitefish would be worth approximately $6.25 and the sturgeon would be worth about 500.
65. Hargrave, Red River, p. 447.
69. PAM MG2 C13, Samuel Taylor’s Journal (1849-1863) p. 50. These journals provide details of the coming and goings of fishers, the success and failures of harvesting, the types of catches and the techniques employed. Taylor even purchased fish from the HBC.
70. PAM, John Christian Schultz Papers, MG12 E3, box 19, notes of an Indian council at Treaty Rock (12 July 1890). This document has been published in Native Studies Review vol. 3, no. 1 (1987) pp. 117-127.
71. See Gerhard J. Ens, Homeland to Hinterland: The Changing Worlds of the Red River Métis in the Nineteenth Century (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996) pp. 90, 110.
78. This is evident from voting behavior. See Ens, Homeland to Hinterland, pp. 140-149.
90. T. R. Weir, “Settlement In Southwest Manitoba, 1870-1891,” Papers read before the Historical and Scientific Society of Manitoba, series 3, no. 17, 1961-1962, (Winnipeg: 1964) p. 60, citing a Dominion Lands Survey Report.
93. Nonetheless, low incomes of fishing lead some to suggest alternatives, see Jean H. Lagasse, The People of Indian Ancestry In Manitoba: A Social and Economic Study 3 vols. (Winnipeg: Department of Agriculture and Immigration, 1959).
Page revised: 14 October 2012