Nfld. & Labrador

Fall is trapping time in Labrador: A Land & Sea archival special

Trappers in the Big Land kept heading up the hills to search for furs, including the elusive lynx, but were finding the takes smaller every year.

Every autumn, trappers head up rivers and into the woods to find pine martens, beavers and lynx

Woodrow Lethbridge hoped to switch all of his 100 traps to the more humane spring-loaded traps. 'This is the cleaner trap,' he said. 'You've got a cleaner animal to deal with. It doesn't do any moving whatsoever.' (Land & Sea 1985)

Every fall for 35 years, Louis Montague had travelled on Labrador's Naskaupi River setting traps in the high, thin forest on the hills coming up alongside it, working to catch animals for fur.

In the earlier years he made the trip with his father after working as a guide in the summer months. In 1985, he was still working a few of those lines on his own, hoping to snag a valuable lynx but so far finding the take scarce.

He wasn't the only one. That year ended up being one of Montague's worst ever, with just a few marten, beaver and otter to show for his work. In other parts of the Big Land at that time, trappers were finding it difficult to earn a profit from their work — even though the passion — not the profit, was their main motivation.

Humane trapping

Frank Phillips trapped part time, but also worked to educate other trappers through his job with the provincial wildlife department in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. 

Frank Phillips found the paths beavers used to get to their dams by feeling along the bottom of this pond with his feet. The spring-loaded beaver traps were then laid along the path, lying flat. (Land & Sea 1985)

His trapping education program taught trappers how to get better prices for their pelts by dealing directly with the local trappers association, but Phillips was also passionate about encouraging trappers to use more modern and humane traps. For example, muskrat cages like the ones he was using on a small river, which trap the animal inside so it quickly drowns.

"Once he's in there, he stays in there," Phillips said. 

"He doesn't last too long. Three or four minutes, and that's it."

The more humane spring-loaded traps came in several sizes, from these for smaller animals like pine marten to larger ones used for beavers. (Land & Sea 1985)

Phillips was also trying to encourage trappers to switch from the old leg traps to spring-loaded traps designed to kill the animal quickly and cleanly.

Woodrow Lethbridge, who had been setting traps on Churchill Road for three years, had replaced about half of his 100 traps with the new spring-loaded ones and hoped to make the switch completely.

Trapping in the Big Land: Click the player below to see this archival episode

Though for him trapping was more about his passion for it than the financial take, and Lethbridge didn't agree with protestors that called for the practice to stop.

"I'd take any of them any time on my trap line," Lethbridge said.

"I feel that we're advancing so well now in humane methods of trapping that I could prove to them that it's not as bad as they think it is."

Louis Montague had a bad year for trapping in 1985, getting just a few smaller animals. His cabin mate, Lee Bakey, had better luck, getting two valuable lynx. (Land & Sea 1985)

Would you like to see more Land & Sea archival episodes? Visit the playlist on our YouTube channel. 

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