Making replica Red River carts helps Métis man build and share a sense of culture, pride

Garry Patterson from Canwood, Sask., started making replica Red River carts in late 2019. He often gives them away, but proceeds from sales go to support his daughter's entrepreneurial efforts.

Garry Patterson was intrigued by the unique design

Garry Patterson started making replica Red River carts in late 2019. (Submitted by Garry Patterson)

Although he's retired, Garry Patterson has found a way to keep rolling by making small replica Red River carts, an iconic symbol of the Métis people.

The retired plumber, a Métis Nation-Saskatchewan member who lives in Canwood, about 130 kilometres north of Saskatoon, decided to try making a cart while researching them. 

The carts were used to travel across the Prairies, hauling goods pulled by horse or oxen. They could also transform into a raft or a shelter. They contain no screws or nails, just wood mechanisms. But Patterson said it was the wheels that piqued his interest the most.

Because of the uneven prairie landscape, the cart's wheels had to be adapted. He said they are built offset to create a smoother ride. 

"That's the one thing that sets the Red River cart apart from anything else; it was the way that Métis people had adapted the wheel to work on the Prairies," he said. 

Patterson got his first wheel measurement off of a margarine container and went from there. So far since late 2019, he has made about 25 carts.

Using reclaimed wood, it takes him about 20 hours to make one, depending how intricate they get. 

Each of Patterson's carts has its own unique design, so no two are the same. He's given a few to various organizations and family members. 

Along with the carts, Patterson also has other projects like making guitars out of wooden orange boxes. (Submitted by Garry Patterson)

The carts are sold online through his daughter Kelsey's website, alongside her own handmade wares like jewelry. Patterson donates his proceeds to help with costs of her full-time business. 

"I'm retired, I really don't need that much," he said. 

"If I build these carts, it goes to Kelsey, helps build her website, she gets a little more recognition out of that," he said. 

Kelsey Patterson said her dad's carts are a conversation starter for anyone who sees them.

"My dad sent me one and it sits in my living room," she said.

"I don't have anyone who comes over who doesn't ask about it. Everybody's into reconnecting and learning what they couldn't before, right, and it's a great piece to start with."

Thank-you for author 

Patterson said he finds joy in giving his carts away, saying it's more important to share culture than make a profit.

As a second cousin to the renowned Métis author, professor and playwright Maria Campbell, Patterson said her 1973 memoir Halfbreed inspired him to celebrate his Métis identity. He said he gave her a cart to thank her for her work. 

It now sits in Campbell's living room. 

"It's really intricate," she said.

"It was kind of a surprise, I didn't realize anybody in our family was doing that. I love it. It looks good." 

Campbell collects Indigenous art and said Patterson has a great eye for what he does. 

"He's an artist; he's not just somebody who cuts wood and puts it together."

Patterson made this cart which sits in the Gabriel Dumont Institute in Saskatoon. It features skis instead of wheels. (Submitted by Garry Patterson)

Campbell also said it's neat that he uses recycled material, because his grandfather used to do the same thing to make furniture for the family. 

"It's kind of folk furniture," she said. 

"I always call it road allowance furniture. I have a house full of it, all of the beautiful, old homemade pieces." 

Patterson said he's started plans to build a full-size cart so he can display it outside his home.


Renée Lilley

Reporter, CBC Indigenous

Renée Lilley is a reporter for CBC Indigenous based in Winnipeg. She is a recipient of the CJF-CBC Indigenous Journalism Fellowship for 2022 and is a recent University of Winnipeg grad with a BA in rhetoric and communications. She has reported for radio and online news in her hometown of Portage la Prairie, Man. She is also a proud Métis mama of four girls.