Passing on the Métis tradition of trapping

With files from: Ontario.ca 

Nelson Montreuil_trapping
Nelson Montreuil checks one of his traps along his trap
line near Mattawa. Click here to view a larger version of the
picture.

Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) citizen Nelson Montreuil is a shining example of someone who lives and breathes his Métis culture. He is an active citizen and currently serves as the MNO Mattawa Métis Council President and is a Commissioner on the new MNO Commission on Métis Rights and Self-Government. He is also an avid Métis harvester and is proud to continue the tradition of Métis trapping within his own family―a way of life that has been passed down to him from his ancestors. 

Nelson has been trapping in the Mattawa area since 1980 on the same waterways used by his family since the 1870s. Nelson’s grandfather was a Métis trapper and a canoe builder. Although he never got the chance to trap with them, he grew up hearing stories of his grandfather and great great grandfather’s trapping adventures. He is happy to be carrying on this Métis tradition and that he is able to pass it on to his son and grandchildren.

“I carry out the same traditions in hunting, guiding, canoeing and trapping that my Métis ancestors used many generations ago,” said Nelson. “To be able to say that I am Métis and am continuing on the tradition of harvesting that goes back to the mid-1700s, is pretty special.”

Nelson’s registered trap line in Ontario is approximately 100 trapping
Nelson Montreuil on his trap line. Click here to view
a larger version of the picture.
square miles and runs along the Antoine Creek and is between the historic Mattawa and Ottawa River watershed near Mattawa. Nelson traps beaver, muskrat, mink, otter, fisher, martin, weasel and fox. He also hunts deer and moose.

Trappers are only allowed to trap during open seasons. Nelson says that trapping has three distinct seasons: the fall season; the transition from rain to snow; and the solidification of ice. A skilled trapper will know how to modify the way in which they trap during each season in order to be successful in their efforts.

At the beginning of the trapping season, Nelson says it takes him close to two weeks to lay out all of his traps. Trapping requires dedication and physical traps must be checked often so that the animals do not spoil or get taken by other animals. Nelson says he checks his trap every two to three days depending on outside temperature―covering nearly 120 km to complete his route!

Trapping also requires expert knowledge of the land as you need to be able to study your territory to know the best spot to lay traps. Nelson says that “once you learn the land, you know where you should be looking. The beaver will give you signs that he is there. You learn that with experience.” He also adds that, “most of your time is spent alone in the elements—no cell trapping2
Nelson Montreuil holds two animals caught on his trap line.
Click here to view a larger version of the picture.
or help—safety is extremely important.”

When asked if he uses GPS coordinates to remember the exact location of his traps, Nelson laughed and said that he simply uses his memory. He explained that “you learn to have that type of memory or you’re going to be a poor trapper. It’s either in you or it’s not.”

Harvesting and trapping for Nelson is more than just catching animals. Through harvesting, Nelson says that he is able to find a spiritual connection with the land and his Métis ancestors in a way unlike anything else.

“For our Métis ancestors, harvesting meat was the only means of survival during the winter months,” he says. “Our ancestors did not have the luxury of being able to go to the grocery store to purchase meat. Instead, Métis people had to learn how to survive in the bush and harvest meat in order to feed themselves and their families.”

Nelson says that the passing on of these traditions that were so essential to Métis people is sadly not that common. He points out that there is the need to pass on “not just the knowledge of harvesting meat but the traditions and knowledge of harvesting as well.” trapping3
Nelson Montreuil on his trap line in the winter. Click here to
view a larger version of the picture.

Nelson continues to work very hard to ensure that he is doing his part to pass on this vital Métis tradition and knowledge to his own family. Some of the fondest memories he has of trapping includes moments he has shared with his family such as when his son shot his first partridge, moose and deer.

He has also enjoyed bringing his grandchildren out into the bush with him. Even though his grandson is only five years old, he says that he is able to help him hunt animals and drag them out of the bush. As he likes to put it, “when they are old enough to walk, they are old enough to carry a muskrat!” All harvesting activities are done as a family unit and include jobs such as wood cutting for heat, trapping, or meat for the winter, guiding, canoeing and repair work. Through activities such as these, Nelson says that children learn not to fear the bush and are instead taught to respect nature.

Nelson says that it is so vital for his grandchildren and the youth of today to witness first-hand this circle-of-life as “they learn that food doesn’t just come from a grocery store, it comes from the forest. Most importantly, they learn that it’s not about the kill, but it’s about the animal giving its life for us to survive.” Nelson says that he has also taught his grandchildren how to prepare the meat, ensuring that the highest amount of respect is always given to the animal.

In addition to trapping, Nelson and his wife are also the proud owners of Algonquin North Wilderness Outfitter—a tour company that runs guided canoe tours and canoe rentals in the Mattawa/Algonquin Park area. The family owned-and-operated business opened their doors in 1997 to fulfill the need for an outfitting company in the Mattawa area. Nelson knew that with his knowledge of canoeing and wife’s knowledge of Algonquin Park, they were sure to succeed.

Twenty years later and their business is still going strong! Nelson is thrilled that his son Logan Montreuil has shown an interest in carrying on the business. Logan currently manages the day-to-day business and also refinishes the older canoes.

For more information, please visit the Algonquin North Wilderness Outfitter website.

Every trapper that harvests fur must have a trapping licence, which helps ensure that tracking is regulated. Trapping in Ontario is governed by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF). At this time, the MNO does not have a trapping agreement with the MNR. For more information, please visit the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources website.

Published on: January 18, 2017

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