Dogs of the Fur Trade
Many popular 19th century books on the Canadian West featured the adventures of white visitors touring the region in pre-railway times. Depicting a variety of personalities and situations, the books’ authors also repeatedly mentioned dogs. Some of the tours involved travel in every season, including by dogsled in winter. Domestic dogs, often descended from and interbred with wolves, had a long history of service in the West. Some of the best regional books gave lively portraits of the semi-wild but hard-working dogs of the North Saskatchewan River.
The narrators of these first-person accounts travelled from fort to fort and benefitted from the locals’ hospitality, which sometimes included transport to the visitor’s next stop. One of the most famous of the Western travel diaries is Wanderings of an Artist Among the Indians of North America, because its subject is Paul Kane, Canada’s renowned painter of mid-century scenes and residents of the West.
Kane stopped at several Prairie trading centres in the late 1840s on his tour to and from the Pacific. After attending a January wedding at Fort Edmonton, he went with the wedding couple a few hundred kilometres down the Saskatchewan to Fort Pitt (just east of today’s Saskatchewan–Alberta border), when they invited him to come to the groom’s home. They travelled in carioles, one-passenger, partly covered, toboggan-like sleds. Having celebrated until midnight after the wedding, Kane perhaps wasn’t expecting the early start the following day.
“Next morning I was awoke by the yelping of the dogs and the ringing of the bells on the dog-collars, accompanied by the shouts of the men thrashing the brutes into something like discipline, as they harnessed them to the sledges and carioles. On coming out into the yard, I found our party nearly ready to start... We had three carioles and six sledges, with four dogs to each, forming when on route a long and picturesque cavalcade: all the dogs gaudily decorated with saddle-cloths of various colours, fringed and embroidered in the most fantastic manner, with innumerable small bells and feathers, producing altogether a pleasing and enlivening effect. Our carioles were also handsomely decorated, the bride’s more particularly, which had been made expressly for the occasion, and was elaborately painted and ornamented...”
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