Alex Lafferty

Hunter, Trapper, Bull Cook, Log Canter, Deck Hand, Commercial Fisherman, Claim Staker.

My Dad’s name was Napoleon Lafferty, he died of old age about 22 years ago. My mother, her name was Catherine Beaulieu, the daughter of “Petite Pierre” Beaulieu. All my grandfather on my mother’s side, the oldest one was Jean-Marie Beaulieu. The next one was Paul and then my grandfather, my mother’s Dad’s name was Pierre. There was Michel and there was Louison and there was old Johnny Beaulieu. They were my grandfathers on my mother’s side.

On my Dad’s side only old Alexis Lafferty was his name. I’m called Alexis after my grandfather’s name. He died in Fort Simpson. My grandfather died in Good Hope. When I went down there I went to his grave site and his grave site was right in the middle of town right on top there, little river bank, the creek right in the middle of town. The old guy, old Albert Lafferty, told me he was buried in the back of the town, he said. So he walked with me over there. His name was Modeste Lafferty. So we were, I guess my dad’s, on both sides, they were in the Northwest Territories in early 1800’s. There’s not very many of us left now, I’m the oldest, [born 1929] I got a brother that’s younger than me, he’s 71, I think, or 72. I’m over 75 now.

When I was seven years old [1936] my mother put me in a convent. It was a mission school and there was in the neighborhood of 70 boys and 70 girls. The girls were on one end of the building, the boys were on the other end of the building. I had a sister in there and I can’t even say hi to her because it’s about 100 yards apart. The nuns were looking after us and they were pretty strict.

I stayed in school in the mission for three years, but I was out in June till first of September and we moved back in for another winter. The last year I stayed there, there was a nun that was pretty rough on me. After three years, the fourth year coming up, I didn’t want to go back into the convent because I can’t stand it. It was too rough on me and so I cried. I cried every day. I’d start crying around August, I know I had one month to cry, so I did it. I cried every day, followed my Dad around. I was with him all the time anyway, and I said, “Dad I don’t want to go back to school, the nuns are treating me rough and one time one of the nuns hit me with a can of peanut butter.”

I had a big cut, I still got that scar on my head and when I think of that I didn’t want to go back into the convent, so I told Dad about it. I don’t know how many times, every time I was alone with him, I told him that I didn’t want to go back to the convent. So I remember one night, I heard my mother out loud saying that, “O.K. Napoleon you look after him. If he’s not going to school he’ll have to go with you.”

So I was so happy when I heard that. Mother packed everything, all my moccasins were made for the winter and my winter clothes. I left with my Dad second week of September [1939] not coming back till Christmas. So that’s how I was in the bush since I was 10 years old till I was over. I was with my Dad right up to I was over 20. Over 10 years I traveled with him all over.

We trapped from Hook Lake right across to Taltson River, from Taltson River across to a place we used to call it Pine Lake, now they call it Tsu Lake. That was the end of our trap line. Dad had a little cabin there on Tsu Lake. There was a good rat lake there too so we used to trap over there and I used to trap over there and we used to trap all winter. When we get to Tsu Lake we used to spend three or four days there running net, we had a net there. I remember it used to be good trout there and very good fishing and we hauled some fish back to Hook Lake. We always had meat because Dad used to hunt all the time and it was really good.

So when I got to be 18 years old muskrat was only 75 cents when I was a young guy. Mink was only 70 dollars for a good one. Well, fox brought about 16, 17 dollars for red fox. It’s got to be a good one to get 18 dollars. Lynx were not bad, about 40 dollars; that was the top price for Lynx. We weren’t getting too many but there was lot of fox them days and the muskrats.

The people from Fort Rae, my uncles, came and visit Dad on Easter and they said, “Oh Napoleon you should go for rats over there, anyplace past Yellowknife around Trout Rock there’s lots of muskrats.” The price for muskrats happened to go up to two dollars and 50 cent, which was very good, more than what we used to get. So they had a meeting, just the old-timers, there was no hunters and trappers [organization], they just get together and talked and finally got together and they got about six or seven teams from around Resolution an a couple of teams from Rocher River. I remember everybody. I was just a young man. There’s not very many of us left. I think there’s only two of us left out of the 13 people that went to spring hunt in the Yellowknife country. There’s only me and Jimmy Thomas left I guess.

All together there was 13 dog teams, there was even two from Fort Smith. There was a guy by the name of Johnny Beaulieu. He was the son of old Antoine Beaulieu and he had an adopted brother. His name was Harry. Harry, we used to call him Harry Needle and they came all the way from Fort Smith to Trout Rock by way of dog team. That’s a long way to go. Everybody made a big hunt. Well that’s all you had to do was kill muskrats and there was plenty there. Everybody got in the neighborhood of about six or seven hundred muskrats which is over a thousand dollars which was lots of money in them days, in the early forties.

There was Dad and I and my brother Ed and his father-in-law Pierre Casaway and from Little Buffalo there was Pierre Calumet and my brother-in-law Fred Dawson from Resolution, and from Hay River there was Jimmy Thomas, Ernest Sibbeston, Maurice Sabourin, Gabe Sunrise and William Sonfrere. There was even two teams from Providence; Vital Bonnetrouge and William Squirrel. Everybody made a killing. My Dad was kind of a funny guy, he sold about 20 muskrats in Yellowknife for a few little things that he needed, tobacco and stuff like that. We waited for the first boat that went to Yellowknife and it was a boat by the name of Hearne Lake.

Dad was trapping for the Hudson Bay Company so that was our transportation going back to Resolution, dogs and canoe, and sleigh and everything going on. Well, the barge was empty. They unloaded all the freight and they dropped us off at Slave River Delta at the mouth of Nagle Channel and we paddled back to Res. to get our boat and get the dogs and everything was good.

We were doing really good and I was a young fellow then and Dad used to work for the mission so he used to go on the mission boat. He was a pilot on the mission boat. They go down to Aklavik and so I had to look after the dogs and I told him that I would look after the dogs. We had a couple of nets, one in the big lake and one across the portage for jackfish. When the fish get scarce there in the summer you have to go to across the portage, set a net for jackfish for dogs and oh boy busy all the time. There was no such thing as being bored because there’s things to do all the time. You have to water the dogs, you have to haul the water for the dogs from down at the lake, you haul the water for your mom and little bit of rain water that we gather. Well, Dad had a big garden. We had to hoe potatoes and oh busy everyday from morning till night.

About two years after that I start working for the mission with a guy by the named of Victor Mandeville and they wanted me to be a deck hand on the boat, which was very good for me because I worked for the mission few years every summer when I got time I used to work for them so I got to be a deck hand. Oh I was proud of myself, two dollars a day. In the spring we went to Fort Smith to get the first barge load.

In Resolution there was a hospital with about 60 beds in there. There was kids in the convent and in the neighborhood of about 25 – 30 nuns, and the brothers and five or six priests. They had a big store there. The mission had a big store, only for the people that worked for them, and the mission kitchen. You get 60 dollars a month working.

I was getting 60 dollars a month as a deck hand. I’m telling you, that was hard work, especially in Good Hope. In a place like Good Hope that was bad because we had to pull the bales up the hill by rope, two guys rolling and one guy with a rope on top of the hill. Well, everything was manhandled, every piece of freight. Like in Aklavik, there was two days there unloading the barge. We head back after two days of unloading and it’s not like now days. The river wasn’t marked. There was no markers on the river, they just went straight to Aklavik. They had to be good pilots.

There was an old timer from Fort Smith by the name Pierre La Hache. He came from around Good Hope area so he was the pilot for the mission, which was very good. He trained one of the Brothers to be a pilot later on that Brother [Brother Henri Sareault] went to Winnipeg and got his Skipper’s paper. That’s when I worked for the mission.

We had to clean the deck every morning right after breakfast. Start the old pump, clean the deck right from the bow to the stern. There’s not a piece for dirt on there, in fact you can even eat off the deck cause we washed it with soap every morning. This had to be done every day. He couldn’t stand looking at us standing around I guess. After we do the deck, well, there is nothing else to do. Everything is ready for the next landing and everything. But we had to tie up every night because only in daylight we traveled coming back. It takes about a month for a trip. We used to make three trips in the summer. Right from Fort Smith to Aklavik and back; there was no vacation days.

There was a school in Aklavik too and every community had a little, there was a priest in every community in them days. It was really good, like in Norman Wells was not bad because the priest there had a jeep and a wagon to haul the freight. Like in the other communities, like Wrigley, we had to pack everything in. In Simpson they had a team horse, but then like flour, like in Good Hope you had to pack everything up the hill right up to the mission, which was about 400 yards. About 100 yards going up the hill and there was 300 yards down the road. That’s where the mission warehouse was located so we had to pack every piece of freight by hand.

Nobody crying about the wages, now they’re getting ten dollars an hour and I hear lot of them guys crying. Well I was only getting two dollars a day. But you’re happy. No place to spend the money anyways. In Resolution there was a little café and you go there for a cup of coffee and a piece of pie which was 25 cent which was very good. And later on there was two cafés and there was an old bakery there. A guy by the name of Fred Green, he used to sell bread for 25 cent, and if you would do any wood splitting for him well he would give you a couple of loaves and a pie which was very good. When I grew up I had a great time. Always busy because dogs was only transportation in the winter. When I was over twenty years old, I was twenty years old, my Dad told me “You can have them, the dogs here you using, it’s going to be yours, your rifle, the outfit I’m using.” He just told me from now on you look after yourself.
I trapped all my life. Well, after my Dad retired I took over his trap line [1949] and I used it up right to I left in 1980, in Resolution. But I trapped all around this Great Slave Lake. All around. I trapped at Trout Rock. I trapped around the Simpson Islands different places and I trapped up towards, we called it Tsu Lake now but we used to call it Pine Lake. Well I did a lot of trapping there in my young days and we used to spring hunt over there at Tsu Lake and come down the Taltson River right to Rocher River. There was the community there, we used to come there and paddle along the shore to Resolution. We go up there in April by dogs and we paddle back down, every year we used to do that.

But that was hard work but that’s the only way us guys made a living I guess because there was hardly any job in the summer time. There’s a little work in the, at the mission and there’s little work at the saw mills. The saw mills started, they start paying 90 dollars a month, which was pretty good in them days. I was only 18 – 19 years old. I got hired as a bull cook and I start working in the sawmills every summer where I got pretty well acquainted with the things. I was canting for the Cinnamon Brother’s for a few summers. That was the best saw mill in Slave River. Bob Winn (Wynn?) was the biggest but Cinnamon Brother’s they made money in the sawmill. I worked for them about five summers. That’s only one guy left still alive that worked there with me.

The sawmills were good because people used to move there and they can fish. Some of them can fish there for their own use. There’s always fish in the Slave River and there’s always good for meat because there’s a lot of moose in them days. People used to live very good. I’m talking about moose in August, in the middle of August. People used to get together and they say, “Oh we got to go moose hunting up the river.” The berries are ripe, put up some berries, oh everybody was happy. Anybody with boats they used to go up the Slave River right up past Hook Lake. Each one of them would shoot a moose, sometimes two each, and make all kinds dry meat, come back and now it’s time to put up the fish for your dogs. You start putting up fish around the 20th of September. Put up fish on the lake. Then we would go to Little Buffalo River in October, the first week of October on that big white fish run. We used to put up fish for our dogs, which was very good, everybody done it.

I remember in Resolution they got fish stages all over and every fish stage was just full of fish because every household had two, three dog teams, depends on the boys I guess and the men. Everybody had dogs, that was really good life.

I went spring hunting a lot of times but the best spring hunt I had was with one of my cousins, a guy by the name of George Lafferty. We were allowed to go out. Somebody said, “Oh there’s a lot of beavers,” but the government said there’s no beavers. So they gave us only five and you’ve got to trap them five beavers, not shoot it. So you have to trap under the ice. That keep on for about five years and then they give you ten beavers. And then that carried on about all together about ten years. Then you can shoot them. Then there was somebody said there was a lot of beavers so five trappers was picked from Resolution, I was one of them. The guy said, “Alex Lafferty, he’s got good line he’s always talk about he’s got a lot of beavers.” I had a lot of beaver around the country. So I said OK. He said, “You come back with 75 beavers till the fifteenth of May. I left there the fifteen of April and as soon as the beaver was coming out I was hunting. Every day I got four or five, every time I when out I come back and I make 75 beaver. The following spring I had a cousin George, the guy they call Joe Louis, came with me. We got over a hundred.

Originally he was born in Resolution but he moved to Fort Smith and that’s where he was raised. He moved back to Res. when he got married to one of my nieces. He was a good bushman. We always talk about him and I say where you learn how to trap, he said, “Oh I trapped with old John James and cousin Boucher,” and he even showed me pictures of when he trapped and he had his own dog team. He was pretty handy in the bush, oh he was good. As long as he’s got Copenhagen that guy was happy all the time.

Yes that was the best trapping we had, George and I. We got over a hundred. One night between the two of us and the last one we shot about 10 o’clock in the evening. Three o’clock in the morning he had it dried already, fleshed, stretched and dried. I said how the hell are you going to dry it, he said, “I know how,” he said. He made a rack and put a canvas on top and put the beaver stretcher on top the rack and he had a little fire going and we went to sleep. We got up the break of daylight and the beaver was dry. Oh everybody had their ways. Yes, you’ll never see them days again.

Talking about trapping, I trapped around Hook Lake area most of my life and I trapped different places around Taltson River. When I moved to Hay River I trapped back at Pine Point for three or four years. When I moved to Hay River I was looking for a spot to go trapping. There wasn’t very many trappers here but there was trappers on the Reserve, but they go to the Wood Buffalo, Big Buffalo Lake, so they go in the Parks. And we can’t go to the Parks, so I had to find a place and I took off to a place called Cameron Hills. I trapped there Three years.

You couldn’t go too far with skidoo. It’s a good country for where there’s animals that you can trap. But to get at it, it was one of the hardest things because a skidoo can’t climb like dogs could. You would have to take a run at it and lots of places you can’t make it. Tried to make a road on the side but then you got to have the speed to climb so it was really bad. I only trapped there three years. I was talking to one of my friends there at a meeting one time he said, “I trapped on Cameron Hills too partner,” he said. “Took me a week to go up and just a few hours, half a day, to come back down.” That was really good country that Cameron Hills. Yes those were the good days, you’ll never see them days again.

Then I got back to Hay River and the following year I wanted to go across the lake where the people used to say there used to be good trapping. Used to be, but nobody goes over there so I trapped over there for about seven years. I’ve done pretty good around Gypsum Point, Moraine. I had a cabin on Moraine Bay and that was my base camp. I trapped that way to Falaise Lake and right down to Gypsum Point. Boy there was good trapping, cause that was the best trapping I did. I did good trapping around Hook Lake area too but when I hit that Gypsum Point there was lot of lynx there and I made a good living out of trapping, all my days I made a good living.

I did lot of trapping in my young days because I learned that since I was a kid. Like I said, my best year was in the 70’s, late 70’s. This one time I left Resolution first of November by boat and it was getting late already. I had all my stuff at the camp so I took my little family and moved back to our camp and I start trapping. I usually start trapping around the 15 or 20th of November because Dad was pretty strict about trapping. He said “Don’t start trapping early because you’re just losing money.” That’s the way he used to talk to me, so I used to start trapping around the 20 of November.

That year the lynx was plenty. Before Christmas I bought in 160 lynx at Christmas time. I had a sleigh full. The wife had no place to ride on the sleigh because it was too much fur; foxes and lynx. I made 36,000 dollars in two months and a half which was pretty good wages. I’m telling you there was lot of work, from morning till night. We never had days off. At the same time I used to shoot the odd buffalo cause the wife, she wanted something to do too, besides looking after the two boys. I used to bring in meat so she’d make dry meat and we had packages of dry meat in the warehouse and fresh meat.

We come back at Christmas time and oh everybody’s happy to see us back. We got a lot of dry meat to give to your friends and thing like that. I did a lot trapping and I even did commercial fishing on my own. I had my own outfit, I had men working for me, but I didn’t make a big go at it. I used to go there when I know there’s going to be fish there. I know around the first part of August when the fish is moving into Simpson Islands. I know exactly where there’s good fishing so I used to move in there and fish like hell for one month. One month I used to clear 10,000 dollars which was very good.
That’s the way my living was. It was really good, because fishing was just like a game for me. I’d go out there and just like playing and I’d make money and my men was always satisfied. They’re still alive, the guys that fished for me. A guy by the name of Chummy Campbell, he’s still alive and a guy by the name of Gabe Yelle. There was a guy that passed away, he fished for me four, five years too. Joe Drygeese, Mazola they called him. I fished for about 15 seasons. I just summer fished, but before that we fished on percentage.

When there was a big fire in ’49 the whole area burned from Hook Lake right to the mouth of Taltson River. Right through Rat River right through back of the community right to the mouth of Taltson River. It just hit the River a few times but it didn’t burn into the community. There was a lot of smoke and all that area just burned to nothing. There was hardly any fur. We went trapping in ’52 when I went back there to trap, we used to trap there in ’48, boy, it was good trapping. My dad couldn’t go any more because he lost all his traps.

Well, you know a long time ago you used to hang your trap, but some traps we picked up because the ones we hung in a safe place where the water can’t get at it. You always find a good tamarack in a swampy place and hang your traps on there and it’d be there the next year. Then traps is heavy for the dogs, so you just hang them up. Some you just hang up wherever it was set. Then you know, after that big fire there was nothing to trap so we went fishing.

The three of us brothers, Norman, went fishing, we went fishing on percentage. I was on percentage so I was giving them wages. Not much money. A hundred and eighty dollars a month that’s what I was paying my brother. We stayed there two, three years in the wintertime, but we had our own dogs so the dogs eat, we caught fish but we don’t make much money. Well you fish all winter and you’re lucky to get out of there with five, six hundred bucks, which was a lot of money in them days. Besides paying your wages, well there’s caribou right there you got your meat right there and you have fish for a change once in a while. Oh that was a good living. I fished right out of Pearson Point and I fished over at the Gap, they call it Gap, it’s about 20 miles from Pearson Point where the water and the two big hills meet together. There’s just a little gap in there, oh boy good fishing there for trout because big drop off.

Well the trout was the top price them days. White fish was next, now it’s the other way around, the pickerel now and then the conney. Before jackfish was only seven cent, seven cent a pound that is, and white fish was 11, trout was 12. When we went fishing on percentage, I’d get 35% and the owner of the outfit gets 65%. Out of 35% I had to pay for my groceries but then I don’t have to pay for freighting the fish. That was OK, that deal was made by the owner of the camp and that was Phil Dow. I was all over in the east, I traveled all over east. I trapped a little bit at Beaver Foot one time, well wherever I fish, I trap. Beaver Foot is half way between Taltson River and Snowdrift on the main land, on the east arm. There was good trapping there for mink and otter, well there’s fox anyplace. We caught that right on your fishing line, set fox traps. You had to do something like that all the time.

One time I went down to a place called Snap Lake. I went up there with an old timer, he’s still alive in Fort Smith. His name is Archie Larocque. We staked for the Cinnamon Brother’s just across from where Snap Lake Mine is going to be located. Just across the lake from there and there’s another guy that staked around where the mine is located he’s still alive he lives in Resolution. His name is Peter King. He staked there at the same time; it was in about August I think. That year was 1957. No, ’56, the summer of ’56.
I stayed in Yellowknife till ’57 then I moved to Fort Smith because there was a lot of work there. They’re building schools and that’s when the first Kaeser Store was built and that big cathedral was built by a company by the name of Saint Laurent. There was a lot of things going on in Fort Smith then. So I was all over the Northwest Territories, trapping and working and fishing, staking. So I’m glad I did that. Now when they talk about things like that, yah I was there, yah he was there with me too.

Lots of these places I walked. I walked right from Hook Lake to Fort Resolution lots of times and that’s a hundred and some miles. I walked right from Otter Portage, that’s just close to MacDonald Lake, I walked right from there to Resolution. Every step of it in the wintertime, which was good, it didn’t bother me. I had a nephew that walked from MacDonald Lake to Resolution for his wedding. He always talked about that. Long time ago you had to walk, now it’s skidoo, trucks and they got roads all over now. Long time ago you have to walk.

I remember people coming in for Christmas when I was young from as far as Reliance, some of them only had three dogs and that’s a long ways to travel. That’s 500 miles, you know, by dogs, and the poor guy had to walk because his old lady’s in the toboggan, some time she have to walk too. Lots of things like that, now it’s all different now. You go by boat. Well they used to travel by boat, sure, they used to travel by boat but lots of them paddle. I remember when Snowdrift people used to paddle to Resolution. Everyone, even the little ones had a paddle made for them, and that’s not going fast either. So you got to travel on the lake and you got to pick a certain day. Got to be good weather or you’re wind bound. Now they got jet boat. Well you go to Reliance and back same day, some of these guys. It would take a month to do that.

I still miss that life but there’s nothing I can do now, I can’t even get around very good. But I still go out with the boys when they want to take me out. I like to spend a few days in the bush. Like in the spring I always go out and that’s what I miss is the bush. Other then that, I’m pretty well done in right now. Can’t get around very good but I do little bit, I still cook for myself and look after myself good.

I still go out every fall. I got a nephew here wants to take me out all the time. I got a son that wants to take me out. I got a place to go and I always go with them. I had to build a cabin for one of my friends, he died, a young fella, he was a fiddler by the name of Cole Crook. He crashed [plane crash] about two years ago. I used to go in the bush with him. I taught him how to hunt, call moose. I still call moose. When a moose hears me he always comes because I was taught to call moose by my father. He said, “Don’t call like a bull because a younger bull will be scared of a big bull and he won’t come out, he won’t answer.” So when you call like a cow, I call like a cow, and a little bull calf and a cow calf and like a young bull. I can call like an old bull but they don’t go for that. And I always won first prize calling moose lots of times here. Boy you should hear me call moose. I don’t go calling moose anymore at the Kamba Carnival. I win all the time but I don’t want to go there just to make a fool out of myself calling moose all the time. There is no moose there.

Transcript of Alex Lafferty at his place in Hay River in September of 2004 recounting the story of his life and travels around the north country, making a living the best way he knew how.

The interview was conducted by Hay River Métis Nation Community Field Worker George Lafferty and transcribed by Hay River Métis Council Secretary Carolyn Young.

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