Discovery Room: Winter Transportation

Happy New Year from the Programming Team at the Musée Héritage Museum

Getting around in the winter can be challenging at the best of times so can you imagine getting around without the modern conveniences that we have today?

Looking back in time we see how people adapted to traveling during the winter. Father Lacombe would travel by dogsled from Lac St. Anne to St. Albert and Fort Edmonton on a regular basis this way. Records show that travel was often done at night and we do know he travelled along the Sturgeon River.

There was already a community in the area, known as Mishtihi Sakikikan (Michif Cree) or Big Lake Settlement, when Bishop Tache and Father Lacombe established the St. Albert Mission in 1861.

Courtesy of Michif Cultural Connections


In the photo you see tools that would have been used if you were travelling by dogsled. Dogsled was a main mode of transportation during the winter months and as the rivers froze, they became the winter roads in many instances.

Items in the photo, from left to right:
Fur Hat with Mittens made with hide and beaver fur.
• In the middle is a Tuppee; a dog blanket embroidered with bells and teams of dogs would have matching tuppee’s. The bells would jingle to let others know that a dog sled was on the trail or that the sled had arrived at their destination.

                                  TUPPEE is a word from the Michif language which translates to Dog Blanket

• A handmade leather whip was used to signal the dogs to start running.
Mukluks, fur lined with bead work, included an extra layer of fur that would keep your legs warm in the colder  temperatures.

Below: A closer look at the embroidery work on the tuppee

Courtesy of Michif Cultural Connections


In the painting (below) you see the dogs with their Tuppee’s, the person in front with snow shoes and the Cariole (sled) carrying the passenger.

Artist Peter Rindisacher


Because of their size, bison ribs could be used as sled runners.

Program collection Musee Heritage Museum


Hats were essential but also shared your story, this style was mainly used by voyageurs and made with stroud – a thick wool material.

Program Collection Musee Heritage Museum


Mittens were essential for outdoor travel. Mitts made with animal hides and fur would include a liner made of stroud to keep the cold winds and frigid outdoor temperatures from freezing your skin.

Woven strings were used to attach the mitts so that when you needed to take one off you did not lose it on the trail. Beadwork would demonstrate your wife’s skills as a beader and highlight your skills as a trader—good beads demonstrated that you provided good furs for trade.

Programming Collection Musee Heritage Museum


Snow shoes were worn to help you move faster across the snow! Can you guess what animal First Nations watched hopping across the snow that inspired the creation of the snowshoe?

Program Collection Musee Heritage Museum


Here are some resources that you can look at to learn more about getting around and living in the west during the winter months in the 1800’s:

RESOURCES: tuppee activity

Wikipedia page: Cariole

And make sure to check out next week’s blog as we will delve into winter clothing and how people stayed warm as they worked and moved about throughout the winter months on the Prairies.