Rural transportation before snow plows

The Bombardier is a cultural symbol representing Métis life in St. Laurent, Manitoba. In Saskatchewan, the Bombardier took kids to school.

Hello Flatlanders,

Last week, we looked at Lake Monsters, and a reader named Angie wrote me to share that, according to a Woodland Cree legend, there is a giant serpent living in Reindeer Lake, which straddles the Northern Saskatchewan/Manitoba border.

Southend, Saskatchewan, sits on the southern shore, about a six-hour drive northeast of Prince Albert. Brochet, Manitoba, a fly-in-only community, sits on the northern shore.

The Cree named this serpentine monster Mishinigoshu, which means a big fish or creature from the big water.

The southwest part of Reindeer Lake is called Deep Bay.

Topographical, geophysical and geological evidence suggests a meteor impact created this circular bay.

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  • Samples collected from drilling in the area back in the 1960s found metamorphic rocks.
    • Metamorphic rocks start as one type of rock but are changed after being subjected to high heat or pressure. 
  • There were also deposits of what geologists would call allochthonous, mixed breccias.
    • Allochthonous means rocks that come from somewhere else, like rocks being thrown out of a crater when a meteor hits and spreading out around the crater. 
    • Breccia is angular, broken rock fragments.

The broken rocks found around Deep Bay were likely flung through the air when a meteor hit the area. 

The circular bay is about five kilometres wide and 220 metres deep, whereas the rest of Reindeer Lake is quite shallow. 

“Who knows what could be living in its depths,” Angie wrote. 

The shore of Deep Bay is partially surrounded by a ridge that reaches 100 metres above the lake. The rocks that make up this ridge are also metamorphic rocks transformed by high heat. 

Angie said there are people in the area that won’t cross the bay in a boat because of the monster. There are also people in Southend who think the beast is a gentle one.

A Bombardier in St. Laurent.  

Now for a different kind of lake story, as one reader suggested, I write about the Bombardier snow machine and its importance on the Prairies.

L’Auto-Neige Bombardier, or the Bombardier snowmobile, was invented by Quebecer Joseph Armand Bombardier in 1935 – a vehicle with skis at the front steers the cars, and a rubber-treaded track covers the wheels.

The golden age of the Bombardier snow machine began in the 1950s. These snowmobiles were about five metres long and 1.5 metres wide. 

The Bombardier, which had a blue wooden body, seated seven people who could look out the port windows along the side.

One Flatlander reader, Chris, recalled how growing up in rural Saskatchewan, he had to take the Bombardier to school during the winters because there was no snow plow to clear the country roads. 

You can read his story here

In Manitoba, the Bombardiers were and still are used for ice fishing. The vehicles play an essential part in the cultural identity of the Métis in St. Laurent.

The community sits on Lake Manitoba and has been a part of the province’s commercial fishing industry since 1895. 

As early as 1824, Pembina Métis moved to the St. Laurent area for the fishing. By 1850, 12 Métis families had settled in the area, and the community quickly grew. It became home to many Michif after the Red River Resistance in 1870.

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The regular commercial season for most fish species on Lake Manitoba is winter. It has been that way since 1905. 

The season begins on November 1; if there is ice on the lake by then, a fisher can cast the nets. The season ends on March 31 and sustains about 30 fishing crews.  

Since the 1950s, when the ice freezes, many fishers in St. Laurent take bombardiers to the lake. Before then, fishers had to have horses to haul a caboose (basically a fishing shack on sled rails) out on the ice. 

Men and their horses would stay out on the ice for a week—so provisions included hay and oats for the horses, which would be kept warm by being wrapped in blankets, and they would be stood close to the caboose to shelter from the wind. But the introduction of the Bombardier meant fishers can return home each night instead of only coming home on weekends.

In 2004, the community of St. Laurent was invited to include an exhibit in the newly opened Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

The St. Laurent exhibit included an antique Bombardier, which was used to highlight the Métis culture in the Our Lives section, which focused on tribal identities. The exhibit also included fishing equipment and a video filmed by the Smithsonian, showing daily life in St. Laurent. 

The exhibit was displayed for 10 years before being returned to Manitoba. It is now housed at the community’s welcome centre.

Unfortunately, the St. Laurent Métis traditional way of life, which includes fishing and trapping that is essential for their subsistence and economic well-being, is being threatened by climate change.

People in the area are finding winters are getting shorter, fishers can only get onto the ice in December, and the ice thickness is no longer safe by mid-March. 

So fishers are losing a month and a half of harvesting time, which means they are losing a lot of money. They would typically turn to trapping, but the swamps in the area have dried up, killing the local muskrat population.

Elders in the area say climate change threatens their culture by diminishing this traditional way of life. 

If you are interested in learning more about St. Laurent, Bonjour Manitoba, in partnership with Prime Time Outdoors, is offering the public a chance to go out on a Bombardier and ice fish for a day on March 18. If you are interested, you can learn more here.  

Five stories from Manitoba you may have missed

  1. Better fire protection needed in northern, isolated communities, say leaders
  2. Memorial planned to honour lives lost in Lake Winnipeg 
  3. Convict pleads guilty to smuggling Indian migrants over Canada-U.S. border
  4. Winnipeg man says palliative home care failed his dying partner 
  5. A new approach to flood mapping could be on the way for Manitoba First Nations 

Five stories from Saskatchewan you may have missed

  1. First batch of Saskatchewan liquor permits sells, Regina sees highest bid at over $1.4M
  2. Sask. education system underfunded and stagnating: survey 
  3. Sask. foundation holds reverse auction to turn cropland into natural prairie 
  4. Town of Gravelbourg seeking fresh bids to repurpose historical convent
  5. A woman died after going missing. The RCMP never called in search and rescue.

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