When the hunting season ends and the trappers return from their winter trails, they enjoy a respite at home mending fishing nets, repairing boats and making things tidy and ship-shape for the summer’s fishing. Everyone is now looking forward with keen anticipation to the first run of fish. From the time the ice goes out all one hears along the coast is talk of fish. “Any signs of fish, b’y?” One hears it everywhere, for everybody is asking everybody else that question.
In Hamilton Inlet and Sandwich Bay salmon fisheries are of chief importance. Salmon here are all salted down in barrels and not tinned, as on the Pacific coast. Once there was a salmon cannery in Sandwich Bay, but the Hudson’s Bay Company bought it and demolished it, as there was doubtless less work and more profit for the Company in salted salmon. Elsewhere the fisheries are mainly for cod.
In a frontier land it is not easy to earn a living. Everybody must work hard all the time. Men, women, boys and girls all do their share at the fishing. Women and children help to split and cure the fish. It is a proud day for any lad when he is big enough and strong enough to pull a stroke with the heavy oar, and go out to sea with his father.
The Labrador, or Arctic, current now and again keeps ice drifting along the coast the whole summer through. When ice is there fishermen cannot set their nets and fish traps, for the ice would tear the gear and ruin it. Neither can they fish successfully with hook and line when the ice is in. When this happens few fish are caught.
Then, too, there are seasons when game and animals move away from certain regions, and then the trapper cannot get them. Perhaps they go farther inland, and too far for him to follow. I have seen times when ptarmigans were so thick men killed them for dog food, and perhaps the next year there would not be a ptarmigan to be found to put into the pot for dinner. I have seen the snow trampled down everywhere in the woods and among the brush by innumerable snowshoe rabbits, and I have seen other years when not a single rabbit track was to be found anywhere. It is the same with caribou and the fur bearing animals as well. In those years when game is scarce the people are hard put to it to get a bit of fresh meat to eat.
When no fresh meat is to be had salt fish, bread (rarely with butter) and tea, with molasses as sweetening, is the diet. There is no milk, even for the babies. If all the salt fish has been sold or traded in for flour and tea, bread and tea three times a day is all there is to eat.
People cannot keep well on just bread and tea, or even bread and salt fish and tea. It is not hard for us to imagine how we would feel if every meal we had day in and day out was only bread and tea, and sometimes not enough of that.
THE SEAL HUNTER
No less perilous is the business of fisherman and sealer than that of hunter and trapper. Every turn a man makes down on The Labrador is likely to carry him into some adventure that will place his life in danger, at sea as on land. But there is no way out of it if a living is to be made.