By James Wastasecoot
It’s a 45-minute bus ride from Peguis Central School to Tommy’s Point Cultural Camp on Lake Winnipeg. Today the Grade 7’s are out with Bernie McCorrister, the land-based education teacher, school safety officer, Vic Sutherland, and teaching assistant, Tyler Woodhouse, for a day of trapping in the forest around the camp. The group gathers in the main lodge to prepare for the day. At minus 15, the first thought on a teacher’s mind is to make sure everyone is dressed appropriately for the weather. “She’ll have to wear my boots but maybe they’re too big,” says Bernie, handing boots to one of the girls. Bernie has extra clothing at the lodge for students who may need it. Fortunately, the wind-chill isn’t a big factor today, the trees providing a wind break on the trail.
Inside the main lodge, Bernie hands out clothing, traps, boxes, scent, and other tools for the hike. Today the grade 7’s will learn how to set traps for marten who abound in the forests around the camp. Lake Winnipeg and its shores afford an abundance of wildlife. Marten, which fetches a price of about $100 per pelt, is common in the area. Soon everybody is ready and we head out on the trail.
The trail leads us into the thick forest along the lake. So far, snow fall has been light for this time of year, making the hike an easy walk through the woods. Still, wolves have been spotted in the area and Victor Sutherland, brings up the rear to make sure there are no lone stragglers. Victor, who has emergency and safety training, is a member of the team for each outing. Twenty minutes into the hike, Bernie walks into the bush and calls the students to follow. Then he proceeds to demonstrate how to set a marten trap with the students gathered around. The trap is a Conibear trap. The trap consists of two rectangular frames with a trigger, that when activated, slams shut on the body. It’s supposed to be an instant-kill trap. Bernie invites students to assist him in the handling of the trap as it is primed and then placed inside the wooden box. The box with the trap inside is then nailed to a tree truck and secured with a wire or cable. Bernie carries a jar of scent which he dabs on branches around the box. “The scent stinks but that’s what attracts the martin to the trap.”
The group sets up four traps near the trail as we walk deeper into the woods. Along the way, the adults point out the numerous tracks in the snow. Squirrel, rabbits, weasel and marten criss-cross the trail. A gray jay is curious and comes to investigate. Another trap is set. And then a small group of students breaks away - as teens will often do – and the rest do their best to catch up. Before we know it, we’re rounding the last bend and the lake comes into view. Some students are testing the shore ice by jumping on it. “Stay off the ice!” yells Bernie. A light wind is blowing off the lake and everyone feels it. It’s time to head toward the camp.
It’s good to be in the warmth of the main lodge. The students enjoy a lunch of sandwiches and drinks and then there’s time to explore the camp buildings before boarding the bus and heading home. Peguis School will have all the high school classes out to the camp over the next month.