The locally run general store in Whapmagoostui, Quebec's northern-most Cree community, has begun selling traditional foods such as ptarmigan and beaver to those who can't hunt and those who can't afford to.

When James George opened Whale-mart last year, he stocked the shelves with everything from laundry soap to winter coats. The store is owned by the band council in Whapmagoostui, also known as Great Whale River. Part of George's plan has always been to resell wild meat from local hunters.

"When we made the business plan, we thought of the residents especially elders who would want to eat traditional foods," George said. 

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Whale-mart started out selling everything from laundry soap to winter coats. Now it's adding country food to the mix. (Submitted by James George)

So far hunters have been selling George just a few ptarmigan at a time for resale at $5.56 each. Whale-mart also sold beaver meat during the holidays and is hoping to offer caribou soon.

"We are looking for fresh ptarmigan, already cleaned," George said. "We do not buy old ptarmigan from people's freezers. We want them to fresh because we want to ensure the quality of the bird."

'It's expensive to hunt'

Customers say they like being able to buy wild meat because they can't always get out to hunt themselves. 

"It's expensive to hunt and trap," said George Diamond of Cree Public Health. He says the Cree tradition of sharing the harvest with extended family and community members is still strong, but with the increasing cost of snowmobiles, gas and equipment, many hunters appreciate being able to sell their surplus.

"We say it's the best food for Cree people," said Diamond. "It was given to us by our Creator."

George said the products sold out in no time. 

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Whale-mart's sunny logo. (Submitted by James George)