Trappers want to keep northern Manitoba practice alive despite low turnout at Thompson Fur Table
Some hobby trappers sell catch on their own, and others see activity as chance for family bonding
Attendance at this year's Thompson Fur Table was at its lowest this year, and trappers say with rising expenses and fading interest, the practice is becoming more a hobby than a way of life for many in northern Manitoba.
The Thompson Fur Table has been hosted by the Manitoba Trapper's Association since 1979, and was held as a two-day event in the Thompson Regional Community Centre this year. Trappers from the north can bring in their furs for quality assessments before receiving payment from southern buyers, like Fur Harvesters Auction, who then take the furs to international markets.
"Some of the numbers that used to come through those doors — 175, 260 trappers," said Terry McLellan, a Thompson-based trapper of 30 years.
"This weekend we had, I think we had 70."
In 2019, 127 trappers showed up to the fur table, with $159, 278 earned in estimated value of pelts, according to the event summary from that year. The 2020 event was cancelled due to the pandemic.
But the numbers thinned out with only 61 trappers coming out to the table this year between Dec. 16-17, with a total of $106,622 in estimated total value of pelts, this year's event summary said.
"It's been a lot lower," said MTA president Kenneth Woitowicz.
Shaun Kopeechuk, regional director at the MTA, said that the drop is partly due to those who pursue the practice as a passion not coming to the table directly, instead wishing to sell their catches on their own.
"More of the hobby trappers don't come here as much," he said.
"They'll send their fur straight off to the auctions 'cause they're not relying on that instant cheque," Kopeechuk said, referencing the cash payout trappers get at the Fur Table.
Charles Muchikekwanape, an MTA member with 40 years of trapping experience, feels the amount of money earned at the fur table — coupled with northern expenses — may also be part of the lower turnout.
"I've been coming here for 20 years now, maybe more," he said. "It helps people that are from up north, but when I look at it, the price of everything up north is so sky high."
"They probably just break even on what they make here."
Other veteran trappers like McLellan attribute the lower turnout to the practice itself fading out, as many who started trapping decades ago are now getting further along in their life.
"Believe it or not, we're all getting older," he said. "All the older ones are all getting older. And if we don't teach these kids, our community, now, they'll never get it."
McLellan officially started trapping at around the age of 29 after becoming a helper on an existing trapping line, which he would receive following the passing of his mentor.
He hopes that more can be done to help younger generations find a love for trapping like he has.
"I wish we had a system where all these young kids who come around here, from the schools and this and that, could get involved in trapping," he said.
McLellan is doing his part with his YouTube series Furs from the line, where he provides details on what he catches.
Families keep it alive
Other trappers, like Jeff Laliberty of War Lake First Nation, also said they're trying to keep trapping alive through their families as a bonding activity, but that their communities just aren't as involved.
"It's slowly dying out," said Laliberty. "There's only four trappers in our community."
Deja Tait, a 16-year-old trapper from Wabowden, Man., says trapping is a family activity, and that not many people from her community partake in it.
"There's only a couple people, but my family loves it," she said. "Like we all go out together. Not the community though, they don't really do that."
Despite there being fewer trappers at the table, the MTA has been doing their part to keep it alive by hosting trapper classes for those interested in learning about the practice.
Woitowicz says the MTA and the fur table are still important for those who showed up, as it's still a way of life for some, especially during the holiday season.
"This is still their way," he said. "So this is their chance. They get to have Christmas presents, buy Christmas dinners for the family, everything for the holidays."
Kopeechuk echoed that sentiment.
"This is their Christmas money," he said. "This is how they buy all their Christmas groceries and gifts for their children and things like that."
Woitowicz does see the challenges in trapping today compared to in the past.
"Being a trapper in today's world is a really tough place to be," he said. "You have the price of the humane traps we all use now, right, to the price of the equipment, the snow machine, the gas just to go on the line."
"It is really hard to make it compared to long ago."
Despite this, he still feels that keeping this way of life alive is possible.
"There is still hope and there is still a lot of interest for the younger generations coming in," he said.
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