Now That Summer Has Ended: An Exhibit about Winter Activities During the Fur Trade Era

Now That Summer Has Ended

is an exhibit on the second floor balcony at the Heritage Center opening in March - October 31, 2023.
The following selections are from the exhibit, which also includes historical artifacts used during the winter.

A painting of snow-covered pines with people and dogs around a cooking fire.
Manner of Making a Resting Place on a Winter's Night
George Back, 1820

Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada/ George Back fonds/2913492

When the hustle and bustle of summer ended and the temperature began to drop, fall was days away. Large canoes arrived at midsummer loaded with trade goods from Montreal, and in early August started the six week journey back, heavy with pelts for a world market. These seasonal voyageurs looked forward to the welcoming arms of loved ones in their home parishes along the St. Lawrence River.

As the seasons changed, so did life for the Anishinaabe and remaining fur traders. Historians know little about Grand Portage during the “off” season. The number of men who stayed dwindled from perhaps a thousand to less than a couple dozen. Several of the buildings were too large to heat in cold weather and some were simple warehouses without chimneys. Archeologists discovered a few smaller buildings with several fireplaces, likely winter homes.

North canoes delivered furs over the summer and headed back carrying trade goods to as many as 100 trading posts among the villages in the continent’s interior. Les hommes du nord, or winterers, wasted no time reaching the posts before water routes froze. There, Native trappers eagerly awaited goods paid for earlier in the year with furs they trapped and prepared. The next seven to eight months involved a quest for food, supplies, trapping, and working together to survive the harshest of seasons.

Nearer to Lake Superior, normal seasonal movement for Anishinaabe meant following food and shelter. On foot or in a canoe and eventually with snowshoes and sleds, people left the lakeshore for traditional wintering grounds and sometimes caches for a winter of finding sustenance, beading, sewing, and teaching through story telling.

Painting of snow piled up outside a wood building.
Stable Yard after Snowstorm
Mary Millicent Chaplin, 1842

Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada/Millicent Mary Chaplin Fonds/c2833319

Snow and Cold

...they were stopped by Ice about fifteen miles below Swan River Fort, and from whence they will be obliged to bring the Goods on Sledges.

-Daniel Harmon, Swan River Department/ Manitoba,
October 21, 1802

...coldest day I have experienced – in fact the cold is so intense that our hunters do not like to leave their lodges, and of course kill nothing, yet they as well as ourselves have little to eat.

-Daniel Harmon, February 1, 1802

A painting of two people in historic clothing, riding a toboggan down a snow-covered hill.
An Aboriginal Couple Sliding on Toboggan
James Duncan, 1860

Courtesy of McCord Steward Museum - Montreal Social History Museum, Canada

Nabagidaabaan (toboggan)

The word toboggan comes from the Anishinaabemowin words: nabagi (flat) and odaabaan (sled).

My winter stock of provisions is complete- all good, fat buffalo meat, and my men have little to do. They, therefore, amuse themselves by sliding down the bank on sleighs from the S. gate. Their descent is so great as to cause their trains to run across Red River. The Indian women join them, and they have excellent sport.

-Alexander Henry, Pembina River/North Dakota,
January 19, 1801

Painting of two people with spears, hunting muskrats.
Spearing Muskrats in Winter
Seth Eastman, 1849

Courtesy of Minneapolis Institute of Art


...the hunter then cuts a hole with his trench…he introduces his bare arm into the hole, and seizing his prey by the tail, drags it on the ice, where it is dispatched with a spear.

- John McLean, Grand River/Northwest Territories, 1831

People in historic clothing playing lacrosse on an icy river.
Ball Play of the Dakota on the St. Peter’s River in Winter
Seth Eastman, 1848

Courtesy of Amon Carter Museum of American Art

Baaga'adowewin (lacrosse)

This winter sport has long been recognized as one of the great games developed by Indigenous people of North America. Well before the days of hockey and Zambonis, skilled players took to the ice in winter for fun and sometimes to settle disputes.


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Grand Portage National Monument

Last updated: December 1, 2023