January 2, 1802
"The posts in the forest belt subsisted largely on fish. Often, indeed, the traders in the northern departments had no other food at all. Yet, eating nothing but fish the year around, without vegetables or even salt, they were healthier, Mackenzie avers, than the venison eaters of the west." The best fish was the whitefish.
The Savage Country - Rum, Women and Rations
The food problem, at almost all times an acute one, was dealt with by the Nor'westers under two headings: the provisioning of the posts, and the provisioning of the fur brigades on the march.
The posts in the forest belt subsisted largely on fish. Often, indeed, the traders in the northern departments had no other food at all. Yet, eating nothing but fish the year around, without vegetables or even salt, they were healthier, Mackenzie avers, than the venison eaters of the west. A prodigious amount of food was required to keep an active man going on an all-fish diet. In one house at Chipewyan, five men, a woman, and three children ate between them thirty-five whitefish, weighing between five and ten pound apiece, every day. A large post would consume a thousand or more a week.
Fortunately, the lakes and streams of the Northwest were full of many kinds of fish, which were taken by both net and line in vast quantities. In the autumn, as many as 500 white-fish could be caught in a couple of hours with a scoop net from a canoe. Long mentions a catch of 18,000 pounds of whitefish netted through the ice in two months. Trout weighing up to 70 pounds were taken by the hundreds with both line and seine. Sturgeon of 150 pounds or more, Harmon says, were sometimes driven onto sand bars and shot; "We have no trouble killing any number of them we please."
Among the kinds of fish mentioned by the Nor westers were: whitefish, trout, sturgeon, pike, walleyed pike, carp, herring, sucker, fresh-water drum, smallmouthed bass, and bream. Of all these, the whitefish - fresh, frozen or dried - was considered the variety par excellence. "It is the only fish that sauce spoils," the Baron Lahontan maintained. Nicholas Garry was no less enthusiastic: "All I had heard of its excellent quality and taste fell far short of its real excellence. I should say it is the most delicate tasted fish I have ever eat." But Alexander Henry the Elder paid it perhaps the highest tribute of all: "Those who live on whitefish for months together preserve their relish to the end. This cannot be said of trout." With all this, many a gourmet will agree; still, a steady diet of even whitefish must have sated the heartiest appetite in time. The voyageur was not one to complain much; but one of his rare cries of anguish has come down to us in a trader's journal: "Toujours le poisson!"