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4 winter activities you may not know have Indigenous origins


Tobogganing during a snowstorm in Toronto in December, 2013. (REUTERS/Aaron Harris)

Winter is the perfect time to get outside and try something new — or something you’ve done a million times before. What you may not know is that many of the activities we do every winter are part of the history of Canada’s Indigenous people.


Jordin Tootoo of the Chicago Blackhawks shoots a puck on the ice

Inuk hockey player Jordin Tootoo of the Chicago Blackhawks, December 2016. (Photo by Jonathan Diel/Getty Images)

Hockey is the national winter sport of Canada and was first played by First Nations people hundreds of years ago.

In the 1600s, European settlers saw ice hockey being played by the Mi’kmaq people on the east coast. Legend states early pucks were made of frozen road apples before they began carving them out of cherry wood.

Ice skates were made using an animal bone that was tied to their feet to help them cross the ice quickly.


historical photo of three Inuit children sitting on a toboggan

Inuit children tobogganing in, date unspecified. (Credit: Henry Larsen / Library and Archives Canada / e010787420)

Who hasn’t spent a winter day flying down a hill on a toboggan? Most people don’t realize that tobogganing was used by First Nations people as well. Toboggans were used to travel and transport things across deep snow. They were sometimes pulled by people, or sometimes by a team of sled dogs.

Early European settlers adopted toboggans not only as a method of transportation but also for fun — it became a popular sport by the late 1800s.

Today, toboggans are still used for transportation but can also be seen zooming down snowy hills all over Canada.


historical photo of an Indigenous woman making snowshoes

Indigenous woman making snowshoes, 1928. (Canada. Dept. of Interior / Library and Archives Canada / PA-044223)

Snowshoes were a necessity to First Nations people who travelled by foot over all kinds of terrain.

There were many different types of snowshoes that were suited to different climates. Oval shaped snowshoes (or 'bear paws') were ideal for hard packed snow and thick forests. The teardrop-shaped snowshoes (or 'beavertail') were great for more open terrain and deep powdery snow.

Snowshoes were made of hardwood that was soaked and then bent into the desired shape and then laced with strips of deer or caribou skin.

Ice Fishing

historical photo of an Inuit woman out on the ice with crab all around her that she has fished out from the water

An Inuit woman fishes for crabs through a hole in the ice in Canada in 1924. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Indigenous people had to fish year-round to survive. During the winter, Indigenous people of northern Canada would chip holes in the ice covering the water with tools such as axes. They would use hand-carved wooden fish to lure the real fish over to the hole. A spear made of wood or bone was then used to catch the fish. Later, rods with hooks were used.